‘We need pitching’.
Boy is that a tired and trite maxim for the Minnesota Twins. It remains true as the teams’ 2020 off-season pitching additions largely capitulated and underperformed. Matt Shoemaker, J.A. Happ, Alex Colome, all contributed significantly in digging the Twins into the inextricable hole which prevented a third straight AL Central title.
However poorly 2020s additions played out, the front office will not and should not be shy about dipping into the free-agent market this off-season. It’s a necessity. The Twins need a one-year bridge at shortstop at the very least, a few relievers, and likely, three rotation-worthy starting pitchers.
While the Twins will inevitably need to sign a free-agent starting pitcher, there are some assumptions I’m choosing to make, for the sake of this piece, before examining viable options.
The Twins will not sign a top-tier free-agent starting pitcher. With so many needs, including SS and RP, the Twins will need to spread payroll around, they are highly unlikely to sign a pitcher from the top few tiers of free agents (Scherzer, Gausman, Stroman, etc.) I’d love to be wrong about that, but let’s be realistic.
I think it’s most likely the Twins acquire their most impactful 2022 starting pitcher via trade. Again, I may be proven wrong here, but this makes too much sense. The Twins have a strong and deep farm system. In recent years, they have made strong offers to upper-tier free-agent starters (Darvish), with little joy. Trade is how they can acquire the greatest upside.
I believe the Twins will re-sign Pineda to an owner-friendly deal, which will cover approximately 160 innings in 2022. I’m therefore excluding Pineda from consideration in this article.
- Reinforcements are close. The Twins now have a stable of intriguing arms in the high minors. It’s likely that a few can contribute to the starting rotation in 2022, much as Bailey Ober did in 2021. It seems likely then, that the Twins will target starting pitchers who have a track record of solid reliability while young arms are being polished in Wichita and St. Paul.
There seems to be a sweet spot of free agents for the Twins to target. Starters who averaged between 2.0-3.5 fWAR in 2020 and fall into the category of veterans who might sign short-term deals or close to excellent starting pitchers who the organization believes they can tweak to take to the next level. Let’s take a look at some candidates.
Nick Nelson has suggested Greinke as a good fit for the Twins, and given the state of their rotation, I agree. Greinke showed one alarming sign of decline last year, a K/9 which dropped from 9.00 to 6.32, precipitous for sure. This was primarily due to a jump on HR/FB. Greinke’s other metrics remained consistent (excellent control, his fastball velocity actually increased). Greinke is going to give someone 175 innings of pitching, with an ERA in the low 4.00s and between 1.2-2.5 fWAR. If the price is right, he could be a good fit.
Twins fans’ most recent memory of DeSclafani may be struggling against a tremendous Dodgers lineup in Game 4 of the NLDS. If you remove the shortened 2020 season (which was a poor one for DeSclafani), he’s been an impressive starter in recent years. Excluding 2020, DeSclafani has averaged 2.1 fWAR per season and a 3.89 xERA. DeSclafani doesn’t walk many (6.2% in 2021) and has a respectable 22.5% K% while averaging 95 mph with his fastball. He’s exactly the kind of reliable candidate I’d expect the Twins to target in free agency this offseason.
Gray is a name that Twins fans often linked to the team as a possible trade target. While perhaps never ascending to the height that some expected of the number three overall pick, Gray has been an effective, consistent starting pitcher for several years. Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Gray has averaged 2.7 fWAR per season and a 3.71 xFIP over his last four seasons. In that span, he’s averaged around 150 innings pitched, 9.29 K/9, and has managed to pitch more effectively at home at Coors Field than on the road. Gray is another reliable, effective option for the Twins, who, like DeSclafani, can offer strong innings to the Twins as they continue to develop their impressive array of minor league arm talent.
Which of these candidates do you like or not like for the Twins rotation? Which other free-agent starting pitchers would you like to see the Twins target?