With Donaldson in the Fold, Can the Twins Afford to Wait Until the Deadline to Trade for Starting Pitching?
Image courtesy of © Adam Hagy-USA TODAY SportsIt has long been known that the Twins were targeting impact starting pitching when the offseason commenced in October. Then Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu flew off the board, and the Twins were left in the cold of free agency. They quickly adapted, running for Josh Donaldson and grabbing the two highest upside free agent starters on the market in Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. Donaldson became a Twin, and now they are the clear favorite to win the AL Central again in 2020.
A fully healthy and reinstated rotation of José Berríos, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Hill and Bailey is hardly a disaster. The Twins’ rotation ranked seventh with 16.6 WAR in 2019, according to Fangraphs. They lost Kyle Gibson and Martín Pérez, who posted ERAs of 5.92 and 6.27 after the All-Star break, while retaining their three best starters in Berríos, Odorizzi and Pineda. The Nationals made an incredible postseason run with three phenomenal starting pitchers. Seeing this, along with the ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees, Twins fans asked for just one ace.
The trade market may not be flush with options at this time. The number of teams not competing has been much reduced from 2019. The Mets, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Angels, Rangers, Reds and Blue Jays are all looking to win in 2020. This doesn’t mean they are unwilling to trade, but when paired with the current grasp for starting pitching, asking prices became astronomical. Logical targets with expiring contracts such as Robbie Ray, Trevor Bauer, and Noah Syndergaard seem almost untouchable.
The good (and maybe bad) news for the Twins is that there are five playoff spots in each league. Come July, plenty of teams will unexpectedly find themselves far behind in the standings and won’t be demanding suddenly the moon. Some teams, like the 2019 Twins, will surprise in the first half and become buyers at the deadline. If, say, the White Sox and Angels, two pitching-needy teams who aren’t yet dubbed as contenders, are in the thick of things by mid-season, they will aggressively look to add that impact starter. Perhaps there is less of that competition now for the Twins.
Should the Twins wait until July, they risk disappointment in the first half. Bailey can’t be counted on for anything more than mediocrity, and Randy Dobnak, while great in 2019, remains unproven. Pineda will return from his 39-game suspension on May 10 and should provide more stability until Hill returns in June. In those 39 games without Pineda, 24 are against teams that had a losing record in 2019. Of the 15 games against winning teams from last year, nine are at Target Field. Just two of the first 11 teams they play made the postseason a year ago. This seems like a weatherable storm.
The Twins have momentum. Their 101-61 record was the fourth best in baseball last year and they just added a borderline top-20 player. Their youngsters will be more seasoned with playoff experience and they are led by a former MVP in Donaldson, the last decade’s home run leader in Nelson Cruz, four-time World Series champions in Marwin González and Sergio Romo, and a gritty veteran in Rich Hill. Is this team good enough to gamble on the rotation until the deadline?
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