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Front Page: Offseason Blueprint: Building a Bullpenner

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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 07:54 PM

If we're being honest with ourselves, the Minnesota Twins probably aren't going to go out and sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this winter. Based on its history and tendencies, the front office will more likely explore creative ways to strike favorable values, while aiming to gain an edge through innovation.

The bullpenning trend has seen fledgling traction around baseball, but has yet to fully take root. The Twins, for several reasons, are uniquely positioned to lean into a bullpen-focused mindset as they fill the numerous gaps in their pitching staff.First, let's establish why it makes sense for Minnesota to fully embrace "bullpenning" as a general philosophy and team-building guideline:
  • There is going to be a ton of money thrown around at the top end of the starting pitching market. Even with aggressive spending intentions, the Twins may have a hard time hanging with big-market powerhouses in the rotation bidding wars.
  • The addition of a 26th major-league roster spot, starting in 2020, makes it easier to carry eight relievers at all times.
  • Minnesota is already off to a head-start with the bullpen, after seeing a quality core emerge convincingly in the second half.
In essence, the Twins would be following Tampa Bay's lead. The Rays had only one pitcher, Charlie Morton, make 25+ starts in traditional fashion this year (Ryne Stanek made 27 as an opener). They had 10 different relievers make 30+ appearances (the Twins had four). Tampa ranked sixth among MLB teams in starting pitcher fWAR, but led the way in reliever fWAR.

It all added up to 96 wins and a wild-card berth in the rough-and-tumble AL East, despite a paltry $52 million payroll. The Twins, with ample resources at hand and free rein to build upon a strong foundation, should theoretically be able to do it better.

Here's how I'm assembling a 2020 roster capable of taking the next step in October, while following a bullpen-first strategy and staying within comfortably realistic spending constraints.

1. Tender all arbitration-eligible players.

Sam Dyson is already out, but each of the nine remaining arbitration-eligible players comes back, amounting to somewhere around $35 million total.

2. Sign Jason Castro to a one-year, $6 million contract.

Pairing pitchers with the right batterymates is critical. Castro was a perfect complement for Garver this year, and he's still only 32, so a one-year reunion makes plenty of sense. Castro has an established rapport with the incumbent pitchers, and the veteran confidence to quickly build it with newcomers.

3. Sign Madison Bumgarner to a four-year, $80 million contract.

While this rotation will mostly be tailored to accommodate heavy relief usage, we do need one more horse at the top alongside Jose Berrios. Bumgarner fills that role and checks off plenty of important boxes: experience, durability, ace upside, postseason pedigree.

4. Sign RHP Jake Odorizzi to a three-year, $36 million contract.

This contract estimate, via the Offseason Handbook, works under the assumption that Odorizzi declines his qualifying offer, but finds a lukewarm market while tethered to a draft pick, and comes back to negotiate a multi-year pact. He's only 29 and coming off an All-Star season, and Odorizzi's biggest weakness (lack of length – he completed six innings in only 10 of his 30 starts) is negated by the bullpenning model.

5. Sign RHP Michael Pineda to a one-year, $10 million contract.

He looked very good before the suspension, and from the perspective of the team signing him, there are silver linings to be found in that unfortunate development. You don't have to pay for the 39 games he'll miss, and a late start means Pineda – whose workload will forever be a consideration – can keep his innings total in check, remaining strong into October. The Twins, with some young rotation depth and the ability to simply run bullpen games once a week if needed, are equipped to get by until Pineda can join at the end of May.

6. Trade OF Eddie Rosario and RHP Jordan Balazovic to Cincinnati Reds for RHP Raisel Iglesias.

"We want to be able to maximize the value of Iglesias," said Reds' president of baseball ops Dick Williams last year after signing the Cincinnati closer to a three-year contract, buying out his arbitration. What if the best way to maximize Iglesias's value is to deal him right now?

The Cuban native is a very good pitcher, with a 3.17 ERA and 10.4 K/9 rate over 388 major-league innings. He turns 30 in January. The Reds surely won't be eager to part with him, but this is a team that's finished in fourth or fifth place for six straight seasons. A great closer making $18 million over the next two years is a needless luxury for a team that can't escape the cellar.

My proposed package here sends back immediate major-league help in Rosario, and also a legitimate top-line pitching prospect in Balazovic, who isn't all that far off. It's a tough ante for the Twins, but Iglesias adds a key piece alongside Taylor Rogers at the back end of the bullpen. And we're not done yet.

7. Sign RHP Dellin Betances to a two-year, $25 million contract.

There are question marks surrounding Betances: he gives up walks in bunches, he missed virtually all of 2019 due to injury, and he'll be returning from Achilles surgery next spring. These factors all figure to keep his price tag in check, to an extent. But the right-hander is still gonna get paid based on his electric upside and dominant stuff. In this blueprint, we can afford the risk with the relief depth we're building, and if he returns to form Betances will add an elite weapon to Rocco Baldelli's late-inning repertoire. In seven seasons since joining the Yankees bullpen full-time, the 6-foot-8 righty owns a 2.21 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 rate.

8. Sign LHP Drew Pomeranz to a two-year, $7 million contract.

Here's our blurb on Pomeranz from the Handbook:

"The overall numbers are undeniably ugly, but they don’t tell the whole story. After going 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA in 17 starts, Pomeranz moved to the bullpen, where he posted a 1.99 ERA and 53-to-9 K/BB ratio over his final 31.2 IP, experiencing a big uptick in velocity. He has also held lefty hitters to a .625 OPS in his career."

We had a hard time pegging his projected contract. If enough teams zero in on his relief upside, he could get considerably more than $7 million guaranteed. Then again, the reality is that he's 4-16 with a 5.36 ERA over the past two years, and was traded for a modest return in July. If he costs more, I'm ponying up. Pomeranz looks like a great fit for the Twins: at worst, the solid situational left-hander they need; at best, another reliable all-purpose weapon in high leverage.

SUMMARY

With the lineup, my approach was, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Twins can bring back their record-setting offense in its entirety, and I chose to do so minus Rosario. His spot will be filled by Gonzalez, Cave, and Wade Jr. until someone from the Alex Kirilloff/Trevor Larnach/Brent Rooker group is ready.

Download attachment: offense.png

Download attachment: bench.png

On the pitching side, I'm calling for a fundamental shift. Bumgarner and Berrios are your two traditional starters, aiming for 200 innings and 20 wins. Meanwhile, Odorizzi will have a 5-to-6 inning routine, asking him only to continue the formula he excelled with this year. That'll roughly be the plan for Pineda as well once he joins, after having his spot filled by someone like Randy Dobnak for two months.

In the final rotation spot I've penciled in Brusdar Graterol. I'm of the opinion that you need to leverage an arm like this while at its peak strength. Unleashing him as a regulated starter with restricted pitch counts seems like a happy compromise between relieving, which reduces his impact, and starting, which may be too physically demanding.

Download attachment: rotation.png

The deep and versatile bullpen is the straw stirring this drink. With 26 roster spots, the Twins can perpetually carry an eight-man unit. And if they use the final spot as a rotating door, like they did throughout 2019, it's essentially nine. This enables the team to plan around routinely short starts from Odorizzi, Pineda and Graterol. It also sets the stage for frequent bullpen games.

Rocco Baldelli will never have a shortage of fresh arms, and the addition of multiple high-caliber backend relievers prevents overuse of any one guy in big spots. Meanwhile, with developing options like Stashak, Sean Poppen, Lewis Thorpe and Fernando Romero opening in the minors, the Twins will have reinforcements at the ready.

Download attachment: bullpen.png

We end up with a final payroll of around $140 million, which is well within reason. If Odorizzi accepts the QO, or the free agents cost a little more than we've guessed, bump that number up $5-10 million, but the core premise remains valid. Long-term spending flexibility is mostly preserved, and in 2020, you've got a roster that (in my opinion) is well poised to succeed in the regular season and playoffs.

~~~

What would your blueprint look like for the Twins this winter? Download your copy of the Offseason Handbook and use it to construct a champion. Share your vision for discussion in our Create a Blueprint forum thread. Meanwhile, stay tuned to TD as our writers will be formulating offseason plans from different perspectives all week long.

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#2 ChrisKnutson

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 09:07 PM

You had me until Iglesias...
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#3 Cory Engelhardt

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 10:36 PM

This is a fun one. Great to read through!

#4 darin617

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 10:45 PM

No to the Red's trade and no to bringing back Cron.

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#5 tony&rodney

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 10:51 PM

no.

 

CYasmani Grandal 20.0
1B Alex Kirillof     .6
2B Luis Arraez     .6
3B Miguel Sano   5.6
SS Jorge Polanco   4.0
LF Eddie Rosario   8.4
CF Christian Pache                   .6
RF Max Kepler                          6.0
DH Nelson Cruz              12.0
IF Ehire Adrianza   3.0
OF LaMonte Wade, Jr.    .6
C Willians Astudillo                  .6
C Martin Maldonado  3.0
Total for hitters               65.0

SP Jose Berrios    6.0
SP Madison Baumgartner  18.0
SP Noah Syndergaard 10.0
SP rookie - BG or RD or LT     .6
SPZack Wheeler   20.0
Total for SPs   54.0

RP Taylor Rodgers       4.0
RP Tyler Duffey    2.0
RPMatt Whistler    1.0
RP Zack Little      .6
RP Cody Stashak      .6
RP Randy Dobnak *        .6
RP Lewis Thorpe *     .6
RP Brusdar Graterol *         .6
RP Will Smith  14.0
Total for RPs   24.0
 * 1 as SP

Team Total              143.0

Free Agents:
Yasmani Grandal 3/60
Madison Baumgartner 4/72
Zack Wheeler5/100
Will Smith3/42

Trades:
Marwin Gonzalez Christian Pache
Mitch Garver4 Ian Anderson/Kyle Wright
Trevor May or just CP
Blaine Enlow

Byron Buxton+mlers 4 Noah Syndergaard

No Trades of Royce Lewis, Alex Kirillof, Brusdar Graterol, or Jordan Balozovic (sp?).

Maybe sign veteran CF ( 7.0 ), but keep total near 150.0 total

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#6 Danchat

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Posted 10 November 2019 - 11:04 PM

The only thing I don't like in this plan is giving Betances $25M after being unable to stay healthy. I feel like there's a high chance you barely get anything out of him on that deal.

 

I love the Pomeranz deal, though. He was unhittable at times last year, and for that price, sign me up.

 

I like the idea of moving Jordan Balazovic at this peak value. I know we need pitching, but pitching prospects can be pretty fickle, so selling high seems like a wise idea to me.

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Check out my work at Purple Pain, a Vikings forum: 

Analyzing the Past Decade of Vikings Offseasons


#7 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 12:10 AM

No Will Smith?

 


#8 TL

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 05:00 AM

Nice job. Realistic. I love the idea on Graterol. 


#9 NoCryingInBaseball

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 06:44 AM

My favorite blueprint this off-season!

You're killin' me Smalls!

#10 rdehring

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 07:20 AM

What a great look at an off-season plan, Nick.The best article I have read in a long, long time.

 

Couple of things, however.You included Romero in the group to open the season in the minors.Isn't he out of options?

 

My heart is torn from my chest every time I read one of the numerous dump on Eddie articles this winter.With that said, however, I am not opposed to trading him for the reasons mentioned.My biggest question is what his exodus would do to the chemistry of this team?  

 

Knowing not a lot about Iglesias, I question including Balazovic in that deal.We have two pitchers in the minors that I believe have a chance to become that true shutdown ACE, Graterol and Balazovic.For that reason, I would prefer trading anyone from that next group, someone like Duran, Alcala, Colina, Rijo, etc.

 

Yes, I know that the prospect you are highest on may never pitch an inning for the Twins and some other middle of the road prospect, say Ober, may become the next Warren Spahn.But let's hang on to the one or two that we feel has the best chance of being special.  

 

Finally, I expect the Twins to extend several of their arbitration players this winter, say, Buxton, Berrios and the reliever closest to free agency from the trio of Rogers, May and Duffey.They will spend several million extra as part of doing this, thus, the payroll would either need to surpass $140mm or they would need to find $5mm+/- savings from your budget above.

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#11 John Bonnes

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 07:39 AM

That's just an amazing roster. 

 

I can argue with specifics, and will likely add my own blueprint at some point (and I'd encourage everyone else to publish their own in the Twins Talk forum) but it illustrates a fundamental truth: this team is positioned to get a whole lot better without breaking the bank this offseason.

 

The whole "the Pohlads need to spend more" argument is essentially a red herring this offseason. Whether you believe it or not (and I do), it shouldn't matter much. Falvey and Levine have positioned this team to be able to make a lot of big moves with or without financial restrictions. That Nick can make all these additions and still stay at about $140M illustrates that. 

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#12 ScottN

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 08:34 AM

I'll "pick a nit" here with #2.I don't believe pairing catchers is critical.Good when the situation allows, but hardly critical.That said, Castro is a valuable player on the Twins roster.


#13 jorgenswest

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 09:02 AM

If a team is looking for a corner OF there seem to be several comparable to Rosario in free agency.

MLBTR has Avisial Garcia at 2 years 12 million. He is 28. Why trade anything for Rosario when you can pay Garcia less over the next two years and give up nothing to get him?

If not Garcia is how about Corey Dickerson at two year and 15 million?

I don’t see any excess value in Rosario. If he were a free agent would he get a better two year deal than he has coming in arbitration the next two years? Won’t there always be corner OFs who project 10-15% above league with their bats. That level is probably generous for Rosario. I don’t think the Reds take Rosario and help the payroll come in at 140 million.

If I am the Reds I would require more in prospects to get Iglesias and solve any corner OF need (if it is a need) cheaper in free agency. I don’t think taking Rosario would be maximizing teturn value for their reliever.

If you can’t trade Rosario to make this blueprint work would you give up more in prospects for the reliever and non tender Rosario to be around 140 million?

I would keep Rosario and devote less of the budget to the bullpen.
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#14 Nick Nelson

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 09:22 AM

 

No Will Smith?

Could definitely swapped in for Betances with the same overall impact. My assumption is that Smith will accept the QO from San Fran. 

 

 

Couple of things, however.You included Romero in the group to open the season in the minors.Isn't he out of options?

I had thought so too, but we determined that he's qualified for a fourth option in 2020, which is a huge relief (no pun intended). 

 

 

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#15 Nick Nelson

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 09:28 AM

 

I'll "pick a nit" here with #2.I don't believe pairing catchers is critical.Good when the situation allows, but hardly critical.That said, Castro is a valuable player on the Twins roster.

I didn't mean specifically pairing pitchers with personalized catchers or anything. I just meant that in the quest to drive quality pitching results, it's important to have good receivers.

 

 

If a team is looking for a corner OF there seem to be several comparable to Rosario in free agency.

MLBTR has Avisial Garcia at 2 years 12 million. He is 28. Why trade anything for Rosario when you can pay Garcia less over the next two years and give up nothing to get him?

If not Garcia is how about Corey Dickerson at two year and 15 million?

I don’t see any excess value in Rosario. If he were a free agent would he get a better two year deal than he has coming in arbitration the next two years? Won’t there always be corner OFs who project 10-15% above league with their bats. That level is probably generous for Rosario. I don’t think the Reds take Rosario and help the payroll come in at 140 million.

My premise is that Rosario's worth more than his 2019 numbers suggest on the surface. I don't think it's a huge reach to believe. I discussed the matter in detail here.

 

Should go without saying that Balazovic is the key to making the deal I proposed work. (And I'm not sure the Twins would even need to go quite that high; Iglesias is coming off a down year.)


#16 vavo

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 09:46 AM

After last offseason it's hard to imagine this front office going out and spending big ($ or prospects) on relievers, but this is certainly an interesting plan.


#17 Aerodeliria

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 09:50 AM

I'm in but I don't want to see Cron at first if possible. Sano can go over to first and Gonzalez can play third.

#18 Major League Ready

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:19 AM

I like 1-5 and 8.

 

#6) No way am I trading Balazovic for Igelasis. It is incredibly difficult for a mid-market team to acquire an ace via free agency or trade so trading one of the two prospects with a legit shot at being ace is a very bad plan unless it’s for an ace with multiple years of control. RPs are inconsistent and very few sustain success. No thanks. Balazovic is not going anywhere unless the FO sees something that gives them doubt.

 

Rosario is becoming Duensing. He has very modest value and any team interested in him is not going to be a team that will give up starting pitching. That whole scenario has no merit.

 

#7) RPs are the worst investment in MLB. The Twins have $ available for free agents because we don’t have any bad contracts. Take a look at recent history and spending $12M AAV on a RP is not the path that should be taken by a mid-market team. Has there been a mid-market team that has spent $10M+ AAV on a RP ever? Has to be some but it’s rare.

 

You have to believe the AAV for RPs and cost in prospects is going to come down given the failure rate in recent years. Invest FA $ elsewhere until it does.

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#19 Nick Nelson

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:48 AM

 

#7) RPs are the worst investment in MLB. The Twins have $ available for free agents because we don’t have any bad contracts. Take a look at recent history and spending $12M AAV on a RP is not the path that should be taken by a mid-market team. Has there been a mid-market team that has spent $10M+ AAV on a RP ever? Has to be some but it’s rare.

I agree as a general principle. However, the Yankees ranked second in reliever fWAR this year (behind Tampa) and three of their top 5 RPs, including the top two, were high-end free agent signings -- two of 'em signed last offseason. We saw how much of an advantage NYY's deep, experienced, proven pen was against the Twins in the ALDS.

 

If the Twins can't spend that money productively elsewhere, why not use it on short-term deals for relievers with monster upside? 

 


#20 Trov

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Posted 11 November 2019 - 10:50 AM

What confuses me, is you are trying to sell us on having "bullpen games" but then want money spent on having five man rotation.This seems to be counter to your own argument to have five man rotation.To me, if you want bullpen games you do this because you do not have five starting pitchers, and the five you listed could all be decent pitchers that would give hopefully 6 innings a start, Odo, only one that would more likely be 5.  

 

Improving bullpen is always good idea, but this just improves bullpen and starters, not embarrassing the bullpening as the article talks about.