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5 Under the Radar Free Agent Pitching Targets


Today is the official first day of the offseason! Nobody knows what to expect, but it's assumed the Twins' payroll will be reduced. With that in mind, the front office will have to be smarter about their spending. 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.

 

Drew Smyly

 

Smyly signed a one-year/$4M deal in San Francisco in 2020. He appeared in seven games in 2020 (five 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 four-pitch mix to just three 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 Ks 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 one-year, $4-6M contract?

 

Taijuan Walker

 

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 one-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 93 mph (in 2015 - 2016 he averaged 95.1 mph). He was brilliant in five of his six 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’.

 

Download attachment: TWalker.png

 

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 one-year deal in the $4-5M range?

 

Oliver Perez

 

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. Here are his numbers over that time:

 

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 three-batter rule in 2020 would impact Perez, but, he did just fine:

 

2.00 ERA in 18 innings with 14 Ks.

 

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 Ks

 

Last year he signed a one-year, $2.5M deal, would he take equal to or less than that in 2021?

 

Sean Doolittle

 

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 a staple in the Nationals ‘pen during their World Series run in 2019. He threw 10 1/3 innings only allowing two runs while striking out eight. He threw three scoreless innings in the World Series.

 

Like Perez, he is a lefty tough on left-handed batters. Doolittle vs LHB 2018 - 2020:

 

131 batters faced, .331 SLG, and 48 Ks

 

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 one-year $2-3M deal? Or if his market has plummeted entirely, a minor league deal?

 

Keone Kela

 

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 one-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?

 

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I like Walker as a target for the rotation as he puts TJ surgery behind him and hits his peak years. Smyly is interesting. Had a 4-start string at the end of the season for SF and commanded the ball real good. Kela and Doolittle ... just no. Oli P is a LOOGY and not as valuable with the 3 min batters, so no.

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Rehab Kluber at a cheap price? Do an incentive-based low-risk contract to see if he has anything left or if the injuries have functionally ended his career.

 

Oliver Perez doesn't do much for me; would rather bring back Clippard. Are we thinking that Clippard is going to suddenly be too expensive? Dude is 35, I just don't see teams throwing a multi-year deal at him.

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The Twins need to sign a starter. Someone not on the disabled list most of the time (Hill, Odorizzi, Bailey ended up flopping). 

 

The more I think: we say bye-bye to May and Clippard and see what arms are available. 

 

Brad Hand, anyone? Bring back Kintzler for ground-ball action? We really need only one grizzled veteran arm for the current pen, unless that arm is left-handed and we part ways with Thielbar. Or give up totally on Thorpe who needs to find a palce on the opening day roster or bye-bye anyways.

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I would also like the Twins to sign Brad Hand, he is a local boy and maybe would give a slight discount.  

Also like Walker and would kick tires on Kela (do not know if his clubhouse presence is toxic).  All should be possibilities as the Twins should take advantage of the current market to find some players needing to rebuild value or just good(Walker).   I would prefer Walker over most of other names here.

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I actually like Justin Wilson too. Solid numbers and can be a good option as the second best LHP in the Twins 'pen behind Rogers and ahead of Thielbar. The problem is, he would cost a bit more. I would rather pay Oliver Perez and Tyler Clippard for the salary that Justin Wilson should command. If that makes sense. 

Anthony Bass and Justin Wilson for RP targets?

I really like Smiley as an under the radar target.

 

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I am in on a low-risk Kluber deal. I just don't think his market will bear that. I really feel some team is just going to give him a 1/$12-$14M deal which I don't think the Twins should or would do. If he agrees to a $8M deal with incentives for innings pitched (basically a slightly more expensive Rich Hill deal), it would be a good fit. 

 

And with Clippard, I think there is a good chance he is back. Maybe another 1/$2.75-$3.5M deal? My point in writing this blog was not that we should soley target these names, but they could be good affordable options so that the Twins can spend their money elsewhere too. For example, wouldn't you rather have Oliver Perez + Tyler Clippard for a total of $5M vs. paying Trevor Rothenthal a 2/$14M deal?

Rehab Kluber at a cheap price? Do an incentive-based low-risk contract to see if he has anything left or if the injuries have functionally ended his career.

 

Oliver Perez doesn't do much for me; would rather bring back Clippard. Are we thinking that Clippard is going to suddenly be too expensive? Dude is 35, I just don't see teams throwing a multi-year deal at him.

 

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I love the idea of a bullpen that features Brad Hand + Taylor Rogers. Or, like someone else mentioned here, is there a possibility to just pay Hand and non-tender Rogers? I was excited about this possibility until I saw that the experts believe Hand will get a 3-year deal. Not sure the Twins will be in on this even if there is a hometown discount. 

 

My thought with any of these buy-low targets is not that the Twins should target them solely, but they should be targeted and combined with other signings, otherwise it doesn't make sense. The hope is that they go after a guy like Walker to be their #5 SP because they already signed someone to be their #4 like Gausman or Odorizzi. If they sign Walker hoping he is going to be their #4 and then he gets hurt, well then you're stuck with Dobnak as your #4 and a Thorpe/Smeltzer/(insert other rookie here) combo, which is not ideal. 

I would also like the Twins to sign Brad Hand, he is a local boy and maybe would give a slight discount.  

Also like Walker and would kick tires on Kela (do not know if his clubhouse presence is toxic).  All should be possibilities as the Twins should take advantage of the current market to find some players needing to rebuild value or just good(Walker).   I would prefer Walker over most of other names here.

 

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