Today is the official first day of the offseason! Annnnd nobody knows what to expect. What we almost assuredly can count on is that the Twins payroll will be reduced from what it was in 2020. With that in mind, the front office will have to be smarter about how they spend their money. Here are a few “under the radar” pitching signings that could prove valuable in 2021.
The way I am looking at this is that the Twins have at least one spot open in their rotation. Ideally, I would like to see them add two this offseason and push Dobnak to the #6 spot, looking in. More on that in my 2021 “Offseason Blueprint” that I hope to write next week.
Also, with Romo now officially a free agent alongside May and Clippard, the Twins will have to look for some more help in the bullpen. I don’t fully trust Thielbar to be the lone lefty next to Taylor Rogers so I examine two lefty arms that can be had for a discount and one possible right handed replacement for May/Clippard.
Each name below could provide a solution at a relatively low price.
Smyly signed a 1 year/$4M deal in San Francisco in 2020. He appeared in 7 games in 2020 (5 starts). In 26 innings he produced 42 (!!!) strikeouts for a 14.4 K/9. He was good for a 3.42 ERA (2.01 FIP).
Between the Rangers and the Phillies in 2019, Smyly started 21 games. In 114 total innings he produced a 6.24 ERA (6.24 FIP) with a 9.5 K/9. His WHIP ballooned to 1.588, where he also posted a 4.2 BB/9. 2019 was his first full season since 2016 following Tommy John surgery in 2017.
What changed? Small sample size? Finally healthy?
Taking a look at BrooksBaseball, Smyly went from a 4-pitch mix to just 3 pitches midway through 2019. He abandoned his changeup entirely and instead focused on a four seam, cutter, and curve. He added 2.6 mph to his fastball in 2020 (from 91.2 to 93.8 mph). Opponents also went from slugging .632 on that pitch in 2019 to only .263 in 2020 (small sample size of 220 pitches). His curve was especially devastating in 2020, opponents only hit .184 in 50 PA’s. 27 of his 42 K’s were on this pitch (64.3%).
If the Twins believe his numbers are for real, and maybe there’s another gear here, he could be a solid low-cost #5 SP or swingman between the rotation and the ‘pen.
Could they sign him for a 1/$4-6M contract?
Rumored to have been in the mix to sign Taijuan Walker before the 2020 season, the Twins ultimately passed when he showed up to a tryout throwing his fastball in the mid-80’s.
Having recently come off of Tommy John as well (missed most of 2018 and 2019), there was concern about his arm.
He ended up settling for a 1-year/$2M deal with Seattle, and was eventually traded to Toronto at this year’s trade deadline.
At only 27 years old Walker put up solid numbers this year between two teams:
11 GS, 53.1 IP, 2.70 ERA (4.56 FIP), 8.4 K/9
His fastball velocity stayed up where he averaged 93mph (in 2015 - 2016 he averaged 95.1mph). He was brilliant in 5 of his 6 outings as a Blue Jay ending with a 1.37 ERA in his last 26 innings.
There are some concerns, however, with such a small sample size, the peripherals are not amazing. Other than limiting hard hit %, the screenshot below doesn’t scream ‘sustainable’.
But, if looking for a buy-low #5 SP, you could do much worse than Walker. The bet is that he stay healthy for an entire year.
Will he take another 1-year deal in the $4-5M range?
Do you also feel like Perez has been around FOREVER? Well, he has. He made his debut in 2002.
Lately, he has been hiding in Cleveland’s bullpen only to be deployed very carefully by Terry Francona. When used correctly, the 39 year old is still effective.
From 2018 - 2020 with CLE, Perez appeared in 139 games.
91 IP, 105 K’s (10.4 K/9), 2.67 ERA (2.83 FIP)
Forever considered a LOOGY, I was concerned how the new 3-batter rule in 2020 would impact Perez, but, he did just fine:
2.00 ERA in 18 innings with 14 K’s.
He is still death to lefties, and when used properly, could be a good addition to the Twins ‘pen with a lack of lefty arms behind Rogers and Thielbar (who, again, I don’t fully trust).
Perez vs LHH 2018 - 2020:
191 batters faced, .295 SLG, 52 K’s
Last year he signed a 1-year/$2.5M deal, would he take equal to or less than that in 2021?
OK. This one is a bit trickier to predict. Sean was an All-Star in 2018 with the Nationals. But since, hasn’t been great (other than his takes on social media, which are awesome by the way).
In 2018 with OAK, Doolittle was nails. He posted a 1.60 ERA in 45 innings with 25 saves and a 12 K/9.
In 2019 - 2020, Doolittle struggled. He posted a 4.26 ERA (4.70 FIP) in 67.2 IP and a 9.6 K/9. In 2020, he had a knee issue and struggled with a dip in velocity but recovered a bit before a second injury ended his season entirely.
Doolittle was however a staple in the Nationals ‘pen during their World Series run in 2019. He threw 10.1 innings only allowing 2 runs while striking out 8. He threw 3 scoreless IP in the WS.
Like Perez, he is a lefty tough on left-handed batters.
Doolittle vs LHB 2018 - 2020:
131 batters faced, .331 SLG, and 48 K’s
Doolittle will be 35 by the end of the 2021 season. It’s unlikely that he will earn the $6.5M salary he had in 2020.
Will he consider a 1-year $2-3M deal or if his market has plummeted entirely, a minor league deal with MIN?
OK. I have no clue what to expect here. There’s a lot to unpack. Kela came up as a promising arm in the Rangers organization. He had some issues with management when they put him in a minor league practice game in Spring Training, and his effort, um wasn’t there. The Rangers ended up trading him to Pittsburgh where he had some other issues including not even showing up to the Bucs for a week, getting suspended for a clubhouse issue, and delaying his 2020 season due to COVID testing.
Injuries impacted his 2019 and ultimately ended his 2020 season with right forearm inflammation.
But, when going right, Kela is one of the best right handed arms in the game. He ended his season in 2018 as the closer in Texas and was the expected closer in PIT before the injuries.
He basically just relies on two pitches, a four seam that can touch 97 mph and a curve.
Between 2018 - 2020 Kela appeared in 89 games:
83.2 IP, 2.90 ERA (3.29 FIP), 11.0 K/9, 25 saves
If the Twins can find a way to bring Kela in on a reasonable 1-year deal, there is loads of upside.
However, I do feel the interest is going to be very high among all teams for this reason given his age and potential.
So, that's it. Are there any "under the radar" pitchers you think the Twins should go after?