As things stand, the Minnesota Twins have made two moves regarding their bullpen this offseason. In signing both Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke to one-year deals, they bring in proven veterans with skills in all the right places for the Twins. It seems Derek Falvey and Thad Levine sent a message in their relief acquisitions, and looking back to 2017, it is one that should be well received.
While teams have long since began venturing down the path of super bullpens, some of them go about it differently. At their peak, the Kansas City Royals seemed to do it more organically, while the Cleveland Indians moved some pieces around, and the current Colorado Rockies just threw money at everyone with a pulse. The idea that a start can be shortened through a strong bullpen is a good one, but it isn't a band-aid that can be applied to every organization.
For Minnesota, the reality is that both the starting pitching and relief staff needed work. With the cost of acquiring a starter being what it is, spending top dollar on a minimal impact role like a reliever is a tough ask. Instead, the Twins got creative by targeting high strikeout guys with strong track records. On top of that, they did so without much potential for negative repercussions considering the length and terms of each deal.
Where this story starts though, is at the beginning. Looking back to 2017, it's hard not to see Paul Molitor and his staff in a much better place when having to deploy relief help. There's no arguing that the Twins don't have an elite pen (or maybe even an above average one), but much improved is something they should have in spades.
On Opening Day of 2017, the Twins trotted Tyler Duffey, Michael Tonkin, Justin Haley, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle, Brandon Kintzler, Craig Breslow, and Taylor Rogers out to the bullpen. Of that group, only three remain, and each of them should find a spot in the 2018 pen from the jump. Assuming Minnesota goes with seven relievers (after beginning with eight a year ago), I'd imagine the group consists of: Duffey, Rogers, Pressly, Trevor Hildenberger, Zach Duke, Alan Busenitz, and Fernando Rodney.
Looking at the holdovers, you have two guys that have the ability to pitch in high leverage. While Pressly is the velocity guy, Duffey worked as a closer in college. Both can put the ball past opposing hitters, and looking for K/9 rates above 8.0 should be a safe assumption. In Rogers, Molitor gets a guy that was tested in his second year, and showed he can get batters out on both sides of the plate. Moving more towards the middle innings, he can act more as the second lefty, and be somewhat of a specialist.
In categorizing the additions, the Twins have a lot of new weapons at their disposal. Despite his age, Rodney is still pumping fastballs in the upper 90's. Yes he walks batters, but over the course of a full season, it's hard not to see him being an asset. Duke returned from Tommy John in record time, and the biggest takeaway from 2017 for him was health. He's a year removed from a 10.0 K/9 with the bulk of the season spent in the AL Central. Hildenberger and Busenitz both stepped in huge down the stretch for Minnesota a season ago. The former looked the part of a potential closer, while the latter is another velocity arm (95.8mph) that should see the strikeouts rise.
Given that this group is relatively established, and there's a bit more depth behind them, the Twins can feel a bit more at ease about their current positioning. We've been waiting on top relief arms to surface for some time, but names like Hildenberger, Busenitz, and John Curtiss simply stepped up first. Should J.T. Chargois, Tyler Jay, and Jake Reed see their time come in 2018, the overall water level for the relief corps will only continue to rise.
At the end of the day, the Twins bullpen isn't going to wow anyone on paper. For fans who've followed the organization however, it looks like one of the better groups in quite some time, and one that speaks to a certain level of sustainability. It took some time to get away from the soft tossing aspect in relief, but that doesn't appear to be the plan of action for anyone (save for Duke) who will enter the field from behind the wall. It may all blow up when the action actually starts, but there's reason for optimism with the current collection to be sure.