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Two Veteran Free Agents The Twins Could Target

It's one of those things that can be difficult to quantify, but without a doubt, veteran presence matters in an MLB clubhouse.

In 2015, anyone who spent time around the team will tell you that 39-year-old Torii Hunter played a larger role in the group's success than his numbers show. And this year, 44-year-old Bartolo Colon's impact after joining the roster in mid-August overshadowed his production on the field.

Colon is back on the market and reportedly looking to give it another go next season. It's sadly time for the Twins to move on from Big Sexy, but there are two other well-traveled vets that look like potential fits.
Image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez and Brad Mills, USA Today
John Lackey "intends to pitch in 2018," according to Jon Heyman. He's 39 and has thrown almost 3,000 innings in the major leagues. When we last saw him on the mound, it wasn't pretty; the right-hander was roughed up in three relief appearances during the NLDS. And in general, it was a trying season for him, as he posted his worst ERA in five years while allowing a league-high 36 home runs.

But outside of the long ball troubles, Lackey pitched fairly well. His 1.28 WHIP would've ranked third among Twins starters and his 20.4% K-rate would have ranked second. From 2013 through 2016, he posted a 3.35 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with an excellent record of durability while pitching for teams that made the postseason every year (Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs). He took home rings in 2013 and 2016.

Lackey is a capable starter with tons of experience, and he's accustomed to winning. He'll also be surely be available on a one-year deal, leaving the front office with plenty of long-term flexibility if they were to sign him.

The other name I'll be tracking is not a pitcher, but a hitter. Jayson Werth, 38, plans to keep playing and might look very nice on the Twins bench next season.

Like Lackey, he's coming off an inauspicious campaign, having hit .226/.332/.393 in the final year of a fairly disastrous $126 million contract with the Nationals. He was limited to 70 games this year by a bone bruise in his left foot. Werth hasn't had much success lately in general with a sub par .724 OPS over his past three seasons.

As a guy making $21 million and expected to serve as a regular in the outfield, Werth was a major liability. FanGraphs pegged him at -0.3 WAR in 2017.

But what if he were making a fraction of that on a one-year deal, being used more sparingly and more to his strengths? Werth posted an .820 OPS and 10/9 K/BB ratio against left-handed pitchers this year, but made less than 20% of his plate appearances against them. In his career, he has hit .293/.393/.538 against southpaws.

With the Twins, he could spend much of his time at DH while occasionally spelling Max Kepler or Eddie Rosario in the outfield corners against left-handers (though preferably not often as he'd be a huge step down defensively).

As a young team looking to build upon its success and return to the postseason, the Twins will surely have a keen interest in players that fit the veteran leader prototype. As it happens, two of the most experienced players on the free agent market look like pretty solid fits, given their needs. I wouldn't be surprised to soon hear Minnesota connected to one, or both.

Have you gotten your copy of the Offseason Handbook yet? You can read about these names and dozens of other Twins targets. Download yours now and dig in:


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123 Comments

 

I mean, that doesn't really tell the story of his impact and I'm sure you're aware of it if you followed the team this year. Colon coming in and posting a 4.09 ERA while averaging over 6 IP/start in July & August was crucial for getting this team going and moving them into a position that, by the time he stunk in September, it hardly mattered.

 

He was also repeatedly credited by teammates and coaches for benefiting the young guys a great deal with his experience. That was, in part, kind of the impetus behind this article. I do foresee the Twins looking to replicate that in some way.

 

First of all, each game matters. August games and September games all count the same. He was at best an average pitcher for six or seven games (with a huge OPS against that screams luck) before the wheel completely fell off but the Twins were past any deadline and had to keep running him out there while hoping the lineup hit and the bullpen didn't implode over six innings.

 

And I don't buy the veteran impact - that's in the vein of every poor hitting catcher being a great fielder. We make up narratives that are not backed up in fact. Berrios wasn't better because of Colon - in fact he did worse during the Colon era. And isn't Santana veteran presence enough? Teammates rarely say something awful about a guy. He may have been great in the clubhouse but c'mon, you have to play well. He cost the Twins a ton of games - way more than he kept them in.

 

I think he's a fun story but that's it, a story. He certainly isn't a reason to go sign another crappy veteran pitcher. He got brought in because he cost the Twins nothing in terms of prospects and the name value was enough to not alienate the fan base. That's not a baseball move for success, that's an attempt to tread water.

    • Vanimal46 likes this

 

Those WERE pretty much Gibson's numbers with the exception of having better K numbers but worse BB numbers.

 

Early season Kyle Gibson. Who was loathed on TD and went down to the minors while Colon still has his defenders because we love the concept of big fat old pitcher.

 

Kyle Gibson only got some love when he started to pitch well. His 11 games in August and September (3.55 ERA, .720 opponent OPS, 8.0+ K/9) are loads better than any equivalent Colon stretch. And even the love he got was pretty muted.

    • Thrylos likes this
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specialiststeve
Nov 10 2017 11:40 AM
We have better than Lackey on our 40 man and our OF is stacked with depth so neither really makes much sense.

Go all in on Shohei Otani as is a young stud that can grow with our team and can be our ace for years to come with Berrios being a
formidable 1-2 punch. Shore up the relief pitching and let's go.

Really if we can get that done we are good to go.

 

Early season Kyle Gibson. Who was loathed on TD and went down to the minors while Colon still has his defenders because we love the concept of big fat old pitcher.

 

Kyle Gibson only got some love when he started to pitch well. His 11 games in August and September (3.55 ERA, .720 opponent OPS, 8.0+ K/9) are loads better than any equivalent Colon stretch. And even the love he got was pretty muted.

Gibsons' numbers this year are practically identical to last years.IMO, this is who Gibson is until he can prove otherwise over the course of a whole year.  

 

He had a good 5 game stretch in the latter part of the season (22 Aug-12 Sep).Nice to see, but not much to hang a hat on.

Somehow I'm not excited by the prospects of a pitcher who would rank third in something on the current Twins starting pitching staff. That would mean he's better than a guy with a 5.00 ERA. 

    • Vanimal46 likes this

Pass. Don't want no oldtimers. Only want youngtimers.

    • jimmer likes this

 

Gibsons' numbers this year are practically identical to last years.IMO, this is who Gibson is until he can prove otherwise over the course of a whole year.  

 

He had a good 5 game stretch in the latter part of the season (22 Aug-12 Sep).Nice to see, but not much to hang a hat on.

 

Oh I'm not a huge Kyle Gibson guy. I think he's a cheap pitching option for this year but if he was an okay #4 starter, Twins fans would be ecstatic. 

 

My point was more that Twins fans rag on Kyle Gibson like he's a piñata and he was a markedly better pitcher than Colon last year. Better stats, better peak, more upside. The only explanation is that Colon is fun to cheer for so we forgive his warts while Kyle Gibson has crapped in our shoes for many years and we mistrust him.

    • Thrylos, flpmagikat and jimmer like this
Please, oh please can Levine aim higher for pitching than John Lackey? Puh-lease with sugar on top!

Bench bat type? Fine, prefer better fielding than Werth so as to keep the DH spot open for Mauer and Sano, but he’d be fine in a part time role.

But Pitching, especially starting pitching where there’s two solid feel good when it’s their turn in the rotation that the front of the rotation needs fortification, not the back.

Please, oh please can Levine aim higher for pitching than John Lackey? Puh-lease with sugar on top!

Bench bat type? Fine, prefer better fielding than Werth so as to keep the DH spot open for Mauer and Sano, but he’d be fine in a part time role.

But Pitching, especially starting pitching where there’s two solid feel good when it’s their turn in the rotation that the front of the rotation needs fortification, not the back.


A Lackey type strikes me as acceptable if he is the second starter added this offseason. The Twins need to add one legit starter on a multiyear deal, but a second starter on a one year deal fits well on the roster and salary structure.

A Lackey type strikes me as acceptable if he is the second starter added this offseason. The Twins need to add one legit starter on a multiyear deal, but a second starter on a one year deal fits well on the roster and salary structure.

if it’s Lackey or Bartolo, Lackey would be not cause for pitchforks and torches for the 4-5th spot in the rotation on a 1 year deal if the front of the rotation gets addressed. I’d prefer the second piece be more of the 3-4 years 10-12 mil per season type. More of a mid rotation piece, but if #1 is Darvish that isn’t happening. If it’s Cobb or Lynn or a trade maybe a mid rotation addition is feasible.

if it’s Lackey or Bartolo, Lackey would be not cause for pitchforks and torches for the 4-5th spot in the rotation on a 1 year deal if the front of the rotation gets addressed. I’d prefer the second piece be more of the 3-4 years 10-12 mil per season type. More of a mid rotation piece, but if #1 is Darvish that isn’t happening. If it’s Cobb or Lynn or a trade maybe a mid rotation addition is feasible.


I'm much less keen to lock in the 5th rotation spot like that.

Assuming they sign a 4 year guy, they'll have him, Berrios with 5 years of control, and Santana and Gibson on one year deals with an option (or year or arb left).

Combine that with probably 7 relatively legit guys that could make a start this year (May/Mejia/Gonsalves/Slegers/Romero/Jorge/Littell) and I would prefer flexibility, not locked in deals.

If they are in the hunt midseason, they'll be in a better place to make a trade than they are now to add a high end guy on a short deal. If they struggle or get smoked with injuries, better not to be locked in to multiple long term free agent deals.
    • Sconnie likes this

 

Pass. Don't want no oldtimers. Only want youngtimers.

CLARIFICATION: I would pass on Werth and Lackey. That is all.

    • jimmer likes this

I'm much less keen to lock in the 5th rotation spot like that.

Assuming they sign a 4 year guy, they'll have him, Berrios with 5 years of control, and Santana and Gibson on one year deals with an option (or year or arb left).

Combine that with probably 7 relatively legit guys that could make a start this year (May/Mejia/Gonsalves/Slegers/Romero/Jorge/Littell) and I would prefer flexibility, not locked in deals.

If they are in the hunt midseason, they'll be in a better place to make a trade than they are now to add a high end guy on a short deal. If they struggle or get smoked with injuries, better not to be locked in to multiple long term free agent deals.


The flexibility could be Gibson's spot. He doesn't have any upside left, he's not young anymore. What he's been is what he is - serviceable back of the rotation arm, but not good enough to ever be locked into a spot.

 

Gibsons' numbers this year are practically identical to last years.IMO, this is who Gibson is until he can prove otherwise over the course of a whole year. 

 

So are Buxton's.90 OPS+ 2016, 94 OPS+ 2017.  

 

Can you count on him, since he has not proved otherwise over the course of a whole year?

 

If you can count on Buxton, based on his second half, why cannot count on Gibson, based on his?

 

Gotta use the same yardstick.

 

Buxton went down, something clicked and he improved.We all hope its permanent and talking about the second coming of Kirby Puckett.

 

Gibson went down, something clicked and he improved as well.Not all of us are as enthusiastic as we are regarding Buxton, and expecting him to suck.

 

Don't get it. Really.I suspect that the truth is some place in the middle regarding both of these fine gentlemen ;)

Buxton provides top notch defense and is very young. Lots of room to improve.

Gibson is in his 30s. He is what he is.

Nowhere near the same thing.

Gibson was putting up a 4.81 ERA in AAA when he was Buxton's age. Gibson has zero upside left, Buxton is full of upside. How is comparing them in 2017 using the same yardstick?
    • Twins33 and jimmer like this

The flexibility could be Gibson's spot. He doesn't have any upside left, he's not young anymore. What he's been is what he is - serviceable back of the rotation arm, but not good enough to ever be locked into a spot.


That's a good point. I'm giving Gibson too much credit in this equation.
Personally I’d prefer to see the twins sign one high end rotation arm and fill the rest of the rotation with what they have moving out guys when a better, younger guy is ready. I don’t want to see Gonsalves killing it at AAA for to long before giving him a shot in the majors. As a secondary measure I’m ok with taking a flyer on a minor league deal to a reclamation type low cost to let go when they are surpassed by young guys. Someone like Lackey, however, would demand to high a salleey for the Twins to release him if the young guys are ready to contribute despite how he is performing.

I think we do need to find a right handed 4th outfielder who bats right handed. I like Granit a lot but we really need a right handed batter who can field well as our fourth outfielder. That might be best addressed through a trade for someone controllable rather than a free agent one year deal though.
    • birdwatcher likes this

 

Why?

Serious question. This is a common sentiment, but why? What’s the advantage? Teams carry four outfielders anyway, why not try to maximize production rather than keep trying to force a player to be good at something he’s not good at, and likely will never be as good at as a different player.

You can’t platoon everywhere, or even at more than a couple positions any more, but you CAN get cheap, increased production that way.

Let a RH hitter get most of Kepler’s PAs, and a few of Rosario’s, vs LH pitching. What’s the harm?

Sorry so late on the response Chief.A couple of reasons. I think that Werth is a really big downgrade in defense.We are spoiled now defensively, but for what we would have to pay JW to give us Willinghammer type of defense on a fill in basis, I'd just as soon spend on pitching.I've never bought into the whole lefty on lefty thing.If you give a guy enough reps, I think they will adapt which is why I'd like to see them get their reps, take their hacks, and I think it pays off down the line.

I'm also on the side of letting Kepler take his hacks against lefties, at least through the ASB, and reevaluate a possible upgrade at that point.
His upside is tremendous, IMO, and he won't improve against lefties without reps.
I do understand not wanting to sacrifice results now for progression, but I think it will payoff down the road.
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LA VIkes Fan
Nov 30 2017 03:50 PM

I posted this in the wrong trail a couple of weeks back. I think the lack of good free agent pitching is the only reason to look at Lackey, and even then we should only glance and then turn away quickly.He's unlikely to be even a short term answer as a 39 year old pitcher coming off a mediocre season in the NL whose last years in the AL weren't very pretty. His rep when he was here in LA was as a fiery, difficult guy who was liked in the clubhouse but not really a leader so I would look at talent and production only, not whether he's a good teammate. Werth looks cooked and I would much rather have Howie Kendrick, Melky Cabrera or even Daniel Nava as a 4th OF/ RH DH veteran guy.

I would seriously look at Kendrick. He can still hit at age 34, plays an average to slightly below average corner OF, and can play a little 2B, 3B and probably can play 1B given his abilities (I don't know that he's ever played 1B).He's supposedly a good teammate and has played on successful teams in the past. The negative is that he's probably going to command 8-12m for the season and may want more than one year. I think that's doable given his production, and our need for a DH will give him at least 400-500 ABs for the season since he could slot in as the regular DH and play 1-2 days a week in the field. Also, he can play in the field for 2-3 weeks if someone gets hurt. Basically, he'd be a replacement for Grossman who would be an upgrade at the plate and not a downgrade in the field.
 

Don't worry the Twins will do what they always do.Talk the good talk and then sign Lackey and or Colon for another season and walk away calling the offseason successful, LOL.You wait.

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Kelly Vance
Nov 30 2017 04:47 PM

 

How did Santana do in our most important game of the year? The playoff game?
SSS, of course...but that's sort of the point. Santana is a very solid pitcher, but lacks the "stuff" to really shut down the elite teams, and those are the teams you need to beat in the playoffs.

 

You can't expect to go far in the playoffs with Santana as your staff "ace" pitching 3 games out of 7.

And yet when his slider is working he can beat anybody and pitch a complete game