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An Early Look at the Free-agent Pitchers Who Didn’t Land in Minnesota


With the Twins in need of starting pitching, the free-agent starting pitching market was the talk of the offseason. While Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg were out of the question, there were several second-tier starters in the mix. Minnesota ultimately went a different direction, but today we’ll take an early look at what could have been.The Twins ended up getting Jake Odorizzi back on a qualifying offer, signed Michael Pineda to a two-year deal, and inked both Rich Hill and Homer Bailey to one-year deals. While Odorizzi, Hill, and Bailey have all suffered early injuries, Odorizzi’s back and Hill is set to rejoin the rotation this week. Pineda will also return from his suspension in two weeks and of all the additions, Kenta Maeda, who was acquired by the Twins for Brusdar Graterol, might be the best addition to the team.

 

All in all, a pretty impressive haul considering Jose Berrios was the only returning starter (unless you count Randy Dobnak). However, the Twins showed varying degrees of interest in several other of the top free-agent names in the starting pitching pool, and although none of them came to fruition, there’s nothing stopping us from checking in on their early results.

 

Zack Wheeler (30) – Philadelphia Phillies – 5 years/$118 million

 

There was a lot of love for Zack Wheeler amongst Twins fans as he was the closest thing to a Cole or Strasburg stuff-wise and had the potential to take it to another level under Wes Johnson. He ended up signing a big 5-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, but it wasn’t the money holding Minnesota back. Wheeler chose to keep his fiancé happy by remaining close to her family out East and so far the results have been promising. Wheeler is 3-0 in four starts with a 2.81 ERA. Interestingly, while he’s getting his normal amounts of swings and misses, his K-rate is all the way down to 11%. He’s survived by channeling his inner-Randy Dobnak and getting groundballs while only allowing one home run. It’s worked.

 

Madison Bumgarner (31) – Arizona Diamondbacks – 5 years/$85 million

 

The Twins dodged an equestrian-sized bullet when MadBum decided to join his horses in Arizona. The D-backs got Bumgarner for a relative bargain as he actually pursued them in order to live on his ranch with his aforementioned horses. To be fair, there was reason to be optimistic about Bumgarner as his velocity and spin rates were up in 2019, but there was also reason for pessimism as he would be leaving the pitching-friendly confines of Oracle Park.

 

The pessimists win! Bumgarner has been absolutely horrible in his first four starts. He is 0-3 with a 9.35 ERA while striking out just 15.7% of hitters and walking 8.4%. His four-seam fastball velocity has dipped from 91.4 mph all the way down to just 87.8 mph this year. Something’s not right, and Bumgarner was recently placed on the 10-day IL with a mid-back strain. He’s not expected to miss much time but if the velocity doesn’t come back it looks like Bumgarner might be cooked.

 

Hyun Jin Ryu (33) – Toronto Blue Jays – 4 years/$80 million

 

With Ryu, it’s all about health. When he’s been on the mound he’s been great. In 2018 he only managed 82.1 innings but pitched to a sterling 1.97 ERA. Last year was even better as he was an All-star and finished second in Cy Young voting with a league-leading 2.32 ERA over 182.2 innings. However, that was just the second time Ryu surpassed a hundred innings since 2015, so his injury history is understandably a huge concern when signing a 33-year-old to a four-year deal.

 

Ryu’s 2020 started out a little rocky as he gave up eight earned runs in 8.1 IP in his first two starts. However, Toronto has been going through a lot after not being allowed to play in Canada and switching their home games to AAA Buffalo, and Ryu has been really good in his three starts since, giving up just seven hits and two earned runs in 17 IP, while striking out 18. Ryu’s fastball velocity has also dropped below 90 mph as his four-seamer is averaging 89.8 mph, but he has a deep pitch mix and velocity has never been the name of his game.

 

Dallas Keuchel (32) – Chicago White Sox – 3 years/$55.5 million

 

The 32-year-old Keuchel has been getting the job done for a long time, but certainly seemed like he was due for regression. His fastball velocity is in just the third percentile, he doesn’t get a lot of strike outs and he walks his fair share as well, but the former Cy Young award winner continues to get plenty of ground balls. He’s actually adjusted his sinker-heavy approach and has upped his cutter and changeup usage to the point where he throws all three pitches 30% of the time (with an occasional slider and rare four-seamer thrown in). And it’s been working. While his K-rate is at only 15.8% and his expected ERA (xERA) is 4.66, he continues to get the ground balls (57.9%), has lowered his walk rate to 4.2%, and has a very good 3.07 real ERA in his first five starts.

 

It’s still way to early to have a good idea of how these signings will end up, but it seems likely that age and injury will play into more than a few of the deals. In that sense, going short term on Odorizzi, Bailey, and Hill, while having Maeda for four years on a very team-friendly contract puts the Twins at very little long-term financial risk. Missing on the others also allowed Minnesota to go out and sign Josh Donaldson, whose calf-issues have already flared up and shown the risk involved in signing an aging player with high-injury risk to a relatively long-term deal. It’s obviously way too early to judge the Donaldson signing as well, and if nothing else, it saved us from another year of cheap Pohlad talk.

 

What do you think? Are you happy with the way the Twins addressed the rotation or would you have liked to see them sign one of the bigger names? Leave your comments below!

 

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Bumgarner was only a “relative bargain” at the time if we take him and his agent at their word that they had bigger offers. That’s usually a pretty dubious proposition, and it is bearing out so here.

 

(Not that Bumgarner would look any better right now on a 4/70 contract, like the Giants reportedly offered him — but Arizona’s 5/85 was likely the best deal he could get anywhere, not a discount he was willing to take to be near his horses.)

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Nice write up.  I feel it is important to point out signing any of them would have affected other moves, like Maeda trade or Donaldson signing(jury out on how that will work out)  Also, with the age of the pitchers each will need to show they adjust to loss of velocity as they age.  Ryu was the main one I wanted to sign out of the group because as stated that is not his game.  

 

My thought on pitchers these days.  Sign the young guys with good velo, but do not sign the 30 something guys to long term with good velo because that will fade.  We have seen time and again guys that relied on high velo get crushed when it fades because they never really knew how to get by on other stuff.  Some of those guys learn, but takes time.  Look at big sexy he was velo guy, was bouncing around for years and finally became good pitcher again for few years, not like his prime with good velo, but serviceable.  

 

It will be interesting to see how Wheeler adjusts as he ages.  Mad bum I had high hopes he would adjust well, maybe injury affects him more than expected.  Does not help AZ is hitter park.  

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