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  • 3 Free Agent Relief Pitching Additions Who Fit The Twins Offseason Strategy


    Jamie Cameron

    The Twins needs to add stability to their bullpen to rebound in 2022. Who are some attractive options to pursue on the free agent market?

    Image courtesy of Jayne Camin-Oncea, USA Today Sports

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    It was already over by May 1st. The futility of the Twins 2021 season was summed up by the first-half performance of its pitching staff. The Twins hurlers collected a pitifully sad 4.4 fWAR in the first half of the season, good for 29th in MLB. For the sake of comparison, the White Sox, who had the best first half, came in at 16.1 fWAR. The bullpen itself finished 26th. This is one of the occasions where the eye test and the numbers match up.

    We all remember April, Alexander Colome being sent out night after night, like an unsuspecting contestant in ‘Red Light, Green Light’ from Squid Game. It ended the same on almost every occasion, a sad, predictable massacre. 

    There was an improvement, however. The Twins finished middle of the pack by most metrics in the second half, although their outcomes belied some of the processes, with a cumulative K/9 in the bottom third of the league and vastly better BaBIP, the Twins bullpen is an important area of focus if the team is to compete in 2022. Similarly to last week, when I wrote about starting pitching free-agent options, I’m choosing to make some assumptions for the sake of looking at some targets in this piece.

    1. The Twins have some strong pieces in place. Assuming their return, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala, and Caleb Thielbar provide the bullpen with a strong spine. They have some effective pieces in place, a couple of high-leverage arms, and are all set on lefties.
       
    2. The Twins have strong options at AA and AAA. Jovani Moran and his deadly changeup made their major league debut in September. The Twins have additional high-quality, high-velocity arms that performed well at AAA, including Yennier Cano, Ian Hamilton, and Ryan Mason. Those three alone combined for 235 strikeouts in 183 MiLB innings in 2021. In addition to Moran, that’s a group that should be counted on for 1-2 spots in the 2022 season.
       
    3. 2021 will not scare the front office away from waiver wire pickups. The Twins did not show an ability to tweak or develop any waiver-wire pickups in 2021, a la Matt Wisler in 2020. That doesn’t mean that they should, or will, stop looking for value.
       
    4. The Twins need to try and add some stability to the bullpen through free agency. The organization is presented with a difficult challenge, then. Add stability to the solid bullpen foundation already in place with some consistent, reliable free-agent additions. Relief pitchers are notoriously fickle, so fleshing out the bullpen will present a tricky off-season challenge.

    There is no shortage of options available in the relief pitching market. I counted 92 free agent relief pitchers, with two-thirds of those having positive 2021 seasons. So who are some possibilities the Twins may target?

    Kendall Graveman
    Graveman made just $1.25 million in 2021 with the Mariners and Astros, so is due for a solid raise in advance of the 2022 season. He made all kinds of breakthroughs this season with his average fastball velocity climbing from 94.2 mph to 96.5 mph and his K/9 increasing from 7.23 to 9.80. Graveman finished the season with an xERA of 3.65 in 56 innings pitched and was acquired by the Astros at the deadline.

    Archie Bradley
    Bradley was a popular addition candidate with Twins fandom in 2020. He signed for Philadelphia on a 1-year, $6 million deal and should get a similar AAV in 2022. Bradley has strong velocity in the mid-90s but did see some concerning drop-offs in 2021. His K/9 fell to 7.1 (from a previous high of 10.9) and his control was inconsistent. It’s also worth noting that Philadelphia seems to be where relief pitching goes to die. Bradley would be a strong possibility for the Twins if the front office sees something they can tweak in his approach, as the stuff and the track record is there.

    Corey Knebel
    Knebel rebounded in 2021 after a dreadful 2020. Unsurprisingly, it was the Dodgers who helped him find his best stuff again. Knebel put together a 2.96 xERA in 25 2/3 innings, maintaining a healthy 10.5 K/9. Knebel is a true two-pitch reliever (fastball/curveball) who can run it up into the high 90s. The Dodgers trusted him to open a critical Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants. Knebel was tied to the Dodgers on a 1-year, $5.25 million deal in 2021. 

    Which of these candidates do you like or not like for the Twins bullpen? Which other free-agent relief pitchers would you like to see the Twins target?

     

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    With the trend in TD articles I expected to see Eddie Rosario mentioned here, but we will leave his strong but erratic arm for other posts.  I am not high on Archie Bradley, but the other two look good if we can get them. Much better than the homeless group we tried to turn into BP arms last year.  

    I do agree we need to get at least two (counting Moran) from the minors. 

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    Agree with Knebel.  Do not want another project, i.e., Bradley.  Get Ryan Tepera or Graveman though the latter is going to be pricey.  What Twins really need is a hard thrower who can get the K with men on base.  Other than Duran, no one in the minors fits this description, nor do present bullpen arms, with possible exception of Alcala.  Twins' failure to date to develop such arms is major factor in the pen's horrific inherited runs scored %.  That has to change!!

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    57 minutes ago, mike8791 said:

    Agree with Knebel.  Do not want another project, i.e., Bradley.  Get Ryan Tepera or Graveman though the latter is going to be pricey.  What Twins really need is a hard thrower who can get the K with men on base.  Other than Duran, no one in the minors fits this description, nor do present bullpen arms, with possible exception of Alcala.  Twins' failure to date to develop such arms is major factor in the pen's horrific inherited runs scored %.  That has to change!!

    What failure to develop?  They developed quite a few very good BP arms.  Most of them just pitch for other teams.

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    11 hours ago, mike8791 said:

    Agree with Knebel.  Do not want another project, i.e., Bradley.  Get Ryan Tepera or Graveman though the latter is going to be pricey.  What Twins really need is a hard thrower who can get the K with men on base.  Other than Duran, no one in the minors fits this description, nor do present bullpen arms, with possible exception of Alcala.  Twins' failure to date to develop such arms is major factor in the pen's horrific inherited runs scored %.  That has to change!!

    The Twins were one of the teams that were best in save percentage. When the game was on the line the bullpen came through.  The high percentage of inherited runners scored might be more indicative of a team that tried less hard when losing big or wining big. 

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    9 hours ago, USAFChief said:

    < 1% chance the Twins sign Knebel. He's getting a 3 yr deal at minimum, and for north of $15m

    Closer money for someone who hasn't closed in years, nor pitched a full season in the 2. How did you come to the conclusion you did for that much money

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    I like others feel Bradley s too much of a Risk. As for Knebel I don't see the Dodgers giving up on him but they have a lot of People to sign he could slip from them. I'm for either of the other 2 But Bradley can stay or go some where else.

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    4 hours ago, Prince William said:

    Closer money for someone who hasn't closed in years, nor pitched a full season in the 2. How did you come to the conclusion you did for that much money

    I think the $15M is total value, not AAV. 

    That's the problem with Knebel or Graveman, who are coming off good seasons: they could demand multi-year deals and I'm less excited about giving any reliever three years with an AAV over $5M, and both of those guys could get offers for $6-7M per year and someone could easily offer them the extra year to close the deal. Do we want that? Imagine if we were stuck with Colome for 2 more years right now. people would be talking about burning the stadium down!

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    17 minutes ago, jmlease1 said:

    I think the $15M is total value, not AAV. 

    That's the problem with Knebel or Graveman, who are coming off good seasons: they could demand multi-year deals and I'm less excited about giving any reliever three years with an AAV over $5M, and both of those guys could get offers for $6-7M per year and someone could easily offer them the extra year to close the deal. Do we want that? Imagine if we were stuck with Colome for 2 more years right now. people would be talking about burning the stadium down!

    I think 3/$15 would be a bargain for someone with Knebel's talent. Bullpens have been getting more and more important, and that trend isn't going to stop. 60 IP of really solid relief is easily worth that money. They should be signing 3 or 4 guys at that level.

    However, the Twins won't spend that. 

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    3 hours ago, USAFChief said:

    I think 3/$15 would be a bargain for someone with Knebel's talent. Bullpens have been getting more and more important, and that trend isn't going to stop. 60 IP of really solid relief is easily worth that money. They should be signing 3 or 4 guys at that level.

    If he’s available at $5M/year, don’t even bother, given what happened with Colóme. He had 0.6 WAR over 25 IP last year (proportionally, 1.4 WAR over 60 IP). $8M • 1.4 = $11M. That’s the probable price tag for him.

    3 hours ago, USAFChief said:

    However, the Twins won't spend that. 

    We don’t know this…none of us can predict the future

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    I like Knebel, with Bradley as a fallback option, I find it highly unlikely they sign Graveman, but I like that too. I think you sign one of these three, and call up Ian Hamilton from AAA. We need most of the money for SP, so if we can rely on our AAA arms with only one or two big signings that would be great.

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    Just want to toss in that I agree the Twins have some quality pieces in play already, provided Rogers is back, a long with Duffey, Thielbar and the budding Alcala. For now, I'm assuming Gant is back as a versatile and valuable swing man but I think the projected $3.7 might be a little high. Previous, solid production and what he did last year I want to keep Minaya but I think the roster crunch won't allow it. 

    I also agree AAA has about 4 arms in Moran, Cano, Hamilton and Mason that will contribute in 2022, cheap, loaded with potential and all possessing options. I wouldnt be the least bit shocked if Jax...solid FB and really nice slider...didn't surprise. I want to protect Stashak and look for him to be healthy in 2022. I don't want to see another Anderson or Littel slip away, I hope there is room to keep him.

    All of that said, all of the names and possibilities presented, I'm OK if the Twins make a SINGLE big move in the pen. Graveman, Knebel and the also mentioned Ryan Tapers all interest me, not necessarily in that order. I jump at $5-6M and MIGHT consider a little more if it gets the deal done. I'm INTERESTED in Bradley, but not as high on him as I was previously after the last year or so. IMO, the pen doesn't need a bunch of additions or huge flier numbers, What it needs is ONE MORE high quality, proven arm with some velocity/nasty stuff and K ability to solidify itself.

    The absolute #1 priority is adding 2 starters beyond Pineda and the prospects....kinda sounds like a band name lol...because I think Pineda is a given re-sign for no more than $8-10M. Next priority is a quality SS whether they go BIG or just SOLID there. And that's a different arguement for a different time and thread. 

    Maybe I'm silly or overly optimistic, but again, IMO, the pen is going to be just fine to really good if we just get that ONE GUY to add to and deepen the back end of the pen as it sits right now.

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    I hope the Twins do get some solid relief free agents this off season, but whether they work out or not is maybe 50/50. For the most part these guys are terribly unreliable year to year; if they were reliable, they’d probably be starters.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t use last year’s numbers to make my decision on these guys. I’d evaluate velocity, pitch usage and other peripherals, but I wouldn’t trust these guys to repeat what they did in 2021 any more than I’d trust a burrito I bought at a gas station.

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    15 hours ago, USAFChief said:

    That's not "closer money."

     

     

    It is closer money when the player has played only 25 innings a year. TJ one year, hamstrings the next, lat strain for three years in a row of injuries

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    It will ALWAYS come down to what each would cost.  But assuming (I know...ass-u-me) that we would spend to get one of these arms my order of preference would be:  Graveman, Knebel, Tepera.  Not really interested in Bradley unless he comes for a really "Twins" favorable deal, and Bradley is NOT my closer.  He's just another "arm" somewhere in the pecking order.  But aside from taking care of Buxton, the Twins are going to need to acquire at least 3 SP's and I would advocate FOUR because the Ryan's and Ober's (and even the Balzovic's) will all be on innings limits and pitch limits.  We need more SP's than many people posting here realize.  

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    13 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    Maybe I'm silly or overly optimistic, but again, IMO, the pen is going to be just fine to really good if we just get that ONE GUY to add to and deepen the back end of the pen as it sits right now.

    I agree. They could use one experienced RH arm to balance things out, but otherwise I feel pretty good about a bullpen featuring Rogers, Thielbar, Duffey, Alcala, Moran, and maybe Gant or Minaya plus 1 FA RH reliever. I expect they'll take a flier on a waiver wire/reclamation project for the 8th spot (which I have no objection to). With some of the other options from the minors...I think they're in decent shape there.

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