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Winter Meetings: Reliever Roulette

The free agent relief market is finally beginning to take shape at the Winter Meetings. The Minnesota Twins, for now, are biding their time. And while they clearly have a need, early developments on this front are proving them wise to wait things out.
Image courtesy of Peter G. Aiken, USA Today (Fernando Rodney)
A few popular Twins targets have come off the market this week, with Pat Neshek (Phillies), Brandon Morrow (Cubs), Bryan Shaw (Rockies) and Tommy Hunter (Phillies) all reaching agreements. And while you may be feeling bummed to miss out on some of these names – especially a hometown guy like Neshek, or a reliable stalwart like Shaw – it should be negated by these two facts:

One, there are still plenty of options left in a deep class. And two, these particular hurlers signed at very steep rates.

Morrow got $21 million over two years. Neshek got $16.25 million over the same term. Shaw is looking at "three years, somewhere in the range of $9 million annually."

These are hefty prices to pay for relief pitchers, the most notoriously volatile of baseball assets. Brian Dozier will make $9 million in 2018 and is in line to be the fourth-highest paid player on the roster.

The Twins are coming into some financial flexibility, but they still need to be thoughtful about how they're allocating payroll and committing money. While we'll all agree this bullpen could use some outside help, I don't think the Twins are well served in their current position to gamble on reliever roulette with those kinds of stakes.

Dollars aren't the only finite resource for the Twins. There's also innings – this year and beyond. It seems safe to assume that (barring injury) Trevor Hildenberger, Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey will be locks for the Opening Day pen. Gabriel Moya, Alan Busenitz and JT Chargois will all have very good cases for spots, if not at the start of the year then shortly after. Tyler Jay and John Curtiss are close. And then there are whichever members of the bloated starter mix end up converting to relief roles.

This shouldn't preclude Minnesota from signing a veteran to a guaranteed contract, but it does temper the desire to hand out an expensive multi-year deal. The early action on the free agent market seems to reflect a growing trend – relievers are gaining prominence in the game, and their salaries are rising accordingly. As such, promising MLB-ready bullpen arms like the ones listed above are becoming especially valuable commodities.

I honestly wouldn't feel terrible going into 2018 with the group they have, plus a few low-wattage signings with upside, but the primary issue is this: The Twins presently have no closing experience. While GM Thad Levine says he's "open-minded" that his closer of the future might be on the roster, he made clear he isn't keen on throwing any of his young arms directly into the fire.

So the Twins are pursuing someone who can at least temporarily occupy the ninth inning from the outset next season. It's not going to be Wade Davis or Greg Holland. It probably won't even be someone in the range of Morrow and Shaw.

A trade remains possible, but the same logic applies – are you going to forfeit significant assets for a piece you're not totally positive you need? The equation changes if we're talking about a potential bullpen ace like Raisel Iglesias, but I like to think the Twins are smart enough to avoid overpaying for, say, Alex Colome's 47 saves this year.

At the Winter Meetings, Minnesota has been connected to three different veteran right-handed relievers, and all seem fairly sensible to me:

1) Brandon Kintzler. The familiarity factor is there, he has a strong bond with Paul Molitor, and he has proven he can handle the job. Kintzler isn't a prototypical closer, and I'd argue that he is more useful pitching earlier in games when his heavy sinker can be deployed on-demand in tough spots. But this is part of the reason he makes sense; he's a valuable bullpen piece even if someone else steps in as closer, and despite his All-Star showing this year he probably will cost less than the likes of Morrow, Shaw, and even Neshek.

2) Fernando Rodney. He ranks third among active pitchers in saves, and performed the job well enough as closer in Arizona this year, especially in the second half: 17/18 SV, 2.55 ERA, 11.3 K/9. Rodney's age (40) and history of wildness (career 4.4 B/9) make him a bit of a risky proposition but he can probably be had on a one-year deal and that's attractive to the Twins, even at an inflated cost. Multiple reports have connected Minnesota to Rodney, so there's definitely some smoke here.

3) Juan Nicasio. It sounds like the Twins have talked to Nicasio's agent, signaling distinct interest following a breakout year for the Dominican. Bringing mid-90s heat, he posted a 2.85 ERA and 72-to-20 K/BB over 72 innings. He doesn't have much closing experience but did finish the year in that role for the Cardinals and there's really no reason to think he wouldn't be up to the task. Given his momentum heading into free agency, Nicasio will not be cheap (Morrow money isn't unrealistic), but if the Twins believe his 2017 was legit he'd be a piece worth building around with the youngsters.

Feel free to share your own thoughts on the veteran relief market in the comments section, as well as any updates and rumors as they arise on Wednesday.


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97 Comments

A.The Twins paid Joe Nathan $11.25M per year from 2009-11. In today's market, that's about $15M equivalent

 

B. Those 3 names listed are kinda plan D to me.Rodney?Seriously?I would not mind the Twins bringing Nicasio or Kintzler back as 7th or 8th inning guys.That's where they fit in a contender.

C. Wade Davis is still around.Also, there are better options in trades.And the Twins need at least 3 back of the pen arms to contend deeply.

 

Long ways to go, but there still is time.And it does suck that they passed on Morrow and few others.

    • h2oface and theBOMisthebomb like this

 

A.The Twins paid Joe Nathan $11.25M per year from 2009-11. In today's market, that's about $15M equivalent

 

B. Those 3 names listed are kinda plan D to me.Rodney?Seriously?I would not mind the Twins bringing Nicasio or Kintzler back as 7th or 8th inning guys.That's where they fit in a contender.

C. Wade Davis is still around.Also, there are better options in trades.And the Twins need at least 3 back of the pen arms to contend deeply.

 

Long ways to go, but there still is time.And it does suck that they passed on Morrow and few others.

Our Wade Davis money is going to Yu Darvish. Rodney has been good, he'd be a great addition to this bullpen.

    • BuxtonBandwagon likes this

Use the relief arms we have - get a good starter and we will be in good shape.

 

    • caninatl04 likes this
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BuxtonBandwagon
Dec 12 2017 10:05 PM

I'd like to see us maybe get McGee assuming he is not too expensive. I like the three guys above too tho.

 

Also would anyone take a risk on Pineda? Maybe he comes back this year and could help the pen at the end of the year then next year slides in as a starter. I see an injured Smyly got 2 years $10 mil with $6 mil in incentives. I wouldn't mind a similar deal for Pineda and we sign Rodney to a 1 year deal or another guy to a 2 year deal.

    • Twinsoholic, Oldgoat_MN, Sconnie and 2 others like this
I actually feel pretty good about the guys listed here, though Nicasio is the most intriguing option to me. I'm even OK with Rodnet based on experience, a good year last season, he'd be on a 1 year deal, and just because he could start the season as the closer doesn't mean he'd end the season in that role.

Could we sign a pair? But what about another lefty also?

Doesn't it seem every year there is a run on relievers and then some good arms/bargains kind of get left out?
Hector Rondon.
    • Thrylos likes this

"Pare the payroll! Protect Pohlad's money". [Don't] "hand out an expensive multi-year deal." "The closer of the future may be on the roster"--but don't "...throw any of the young arms directly into the fire!" I need to check my calendar--is it December 2017 or years ago with Ryan as GM?

 

The Twins have lots of payroll flexibility: 

 

  • The last year of "the Mauer contract"
  • The last year of Dozier's present contract--he is a viable candidate to trade a`la Miami-like;
  • The last year of Santana's guaranteed money--sure he looks like a favorite to keep, but... ;
  • No longer paying for Nolasco--or for his "replacement".

There will always be a need for veteran pitching. One year deals are for "all-in" or "dumpster-scraping"--the Twins are better than that, but not "there" for "all-in". If the Twins sign Kintzler, it's a near certainty that it will be one of those "expensive, multi-year contracts".

 

"Not ready to throw them directly into the fire"?Why not? That's what was done with most of the "new" regular position players and Berrios. Plus some have already had a cup of coffee with the Twins.

 

All that and well below a 50% of gross revenue payroll. Yeah flexibility.

Thank you for covering the financial aspect of this.I completely agree that these guys are going for high rates right now.Naturally, the most bloated contracts will be handed out first, but it's likely that the days of getting a reliable reliever for 2 years at $2M-$3M are over.A reliable, non-exceptional reliever will give you about, say 1 WAR?1 WAR is worth about $5M/year.So these initial bullpen signings, teams are expecting above-average or exceptional performances, so they are going for $8M-$10M/year.In my opinion, that's just a lot to expect from, as you stated, "volatile" players.

 

I'd expect at this point that the Twins sign two relievers, one like a Kintzler for about $5M, and one like a Belisle or Breslow for $1M-$2M.No big splashes.They need to focus their $$ on a starting pitcher first.

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SF Twins Fan
Dec 12 2017 10:32 PM
There is absolutely zero reason to not bring in a legit closer or at least someone with 8th inning stuff. The Twins have plenty of money to spend and plenty of payroll availability. They have a ton of money coming off the books and none of their young players are going to be paid for 3 or 4 years, which is exactly how long they would need to sign a top reliever.
    • h2oface likes this

Not sure my ticker could handle Fernando Rodney for a full 162 game schedule.

    • gil4, bdodge22, h2oface and 7 others like this

Please, NO Rodney. I can't even stand watching him pitch for other teams. Colon, then Rodney? Say it will never be!

 

Hopefully, this FO has totally different and better plans than Kintzler and Rodney.

    • gil4 and VirginSturgeon like this

 

 

No big splashes.They need to focus their $$ on a starting pitcher first.

 

This team needs both. The focus, I hope, is on both at the same time.

    • SF Twins Fan likes this

Even if they sign an expensive starter like Darvish or Lynn they have the money and the need to spend on at least 1 good arm for the pen.The kids are coming has resulted in bad bullpens for multiple years now.Even if it all goes perfect and 7 of them are having mlb success halfway through the year that is an awesome spot to be in.A solid reliever is always a hot commodity at the trade deadline.  

 

Something like Kintzler and Swarzak would be cheap yet an upgrade.

 

Something like Cishek and Mcgee wouldn't break the bank and would go a long way to making the pen an actual strength this year, instead of hoping for the roses to bloom yet again.

 

Something like Holland/ Mcgee would signal the Twins really want to make noise in the playoffs.

    • gagu and SF Twins Fan like this

Here's hoping they add a reliever who's at least better than Fernando Rodney. I'll pass on him, we've had enough with older relievers with volatile performances. Most of the other names would suffice, though I think they should focus on finding a guy for the 9th inning.

    • Twins33 and SF Twins Fan like this
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tytybuckets
Dec 13 2017 12:11 AM
I have a really strong feeling that either tomorrow or Thursday we are going to sign Darvish. That is what’s holding up other moves at the moment. After that I fully expect Kintzler to be brought back and assume we will be targeting some relievers in trades. Raisel Iglesias is a guy I’d be willing to move Gordon, Jay, Wade and another decent prospect for, he is the kind of bullpen weapon that can be deployed as a closer or in the middle innings when we are in a jam. He also has I think 3-4 years of control left.
Not sure how Busenitz isn't at least as much of a lock as Rogers, or Duffey for that matter.
    • Twins33, Dantes929, bluechipper and 2 others like this

It's completely obtuse to believe that they don't need to added proven bullpen arms. Injuries will occur. Underproduction will occur. They need to add high quality addition. People here are worried about the cost? If they have another winning season fans will start buying tickets and actually going to games again. The cost will be covered by winning. 

    • USAFChief, gagu and SF Twins Fan like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 13 2017 06:27 AM

Even with the 5 Nick mentioned, I'd want two arms... and good ones, not crap shoots. Pair that with a starter or two and I think this team is ready to compete.

    • USAFChief, Twins33, DocBauer and 2 others like this

 

It's completely obtuse to believe that they don't need to added proven bullpen arms. Injuries will occur. Underproduction will occur. They need to add high quality addition. People here are worried about the cost? If they have another winning season fans will start buying tickets and actually going to games again. The cost will be covered by winning. 

 

But, is it worth spending about 1/10 of your team's payroll on an 8th-inning bullpen arm?

    • Doctor Wu likes this

 

Even with the 5 Nick mentioned, I'd want two arms... and good ones, not crap shoots. Pair that with a starter or two and I think this team is ready to compete.

 

According to the TD Offseason handbook, the Twins have about $96M committed already, and their record payroll was $113M.If the Twins sign two good bullpen arms at the rates they are currently going at (let's say $8M and $5M), then add Darvish ($25M), that puts the Twins at *ahem* $134M. 

 

According to the TD Offseason handbook, the Twins have about $96M committed already, and their record payroll was $113M.If the Twins sign two good bullpen arms at the rates they are currently going at (let's say $8M and $5M), then add Darvish ($25M), that puts the Twins at *ahem* $134M. 

 

Unfortunately, being realistic, if the Twins sign 1 ok-good bullpen arm ($5M), 1 questionable veteran bullpen arm ($1M-$2M), 1 somewhat reliable #3 starter ($12M), that already puts them at a record $115M payroll.And, they should still be adding a RH bat, ideally.

Well written article and good analysis, Nick. As you so accurately stated:

 

These are hefty prices to pay for relief pitchers, the most notoriously volatile of baseball assets.

 

While it would be nice to bring in a veteran reliever with some firepower, I would hesitate to pay big bucks and a multi-year contract to some guy like Rodney who might implode in the first half. Frankly, I'd rather take my chances with the kids we have in the system already.

 

According to the TD Offseason handbook, the Twins have about $96M committed already, and their record payroll was $113M.If the Twins sign two good bullpen arms at the rates they are currently going at (let's say $8M and $5M), then add Darvish ($25M), that puts the Twins at *ahem* $134M. 

 

Which would have been 15th highest (smack dead in the middle) on opening day 2017.That's the minimum they need to be.

    • diehardtwinsfan and SF Twins Fan like this

 

But, is it worth spending about 1/10 of your team's payroll on an 8th-inning bullpen arm?

 

Possibly, yes. It really depends on payroll. Why should us fans care that much about payroll? 

If you want to debate realistic scenarios(and I am not saying any of the above aren't realistic) than you need to care about your club's history of spending.Otherwise, I would really like us to give Darvish 250m, Harper 350m, and Kershaw 450m because who cares about the payroll...:-)

 

Personally, I am more likely to sign a reliever than I would be giving up major assets or prospects to get one via trade.A true high leverage reliever is perhaps the exception, but I don' think there are really that many available out there either.  


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