Yes, Berrios wants a hefty payday, and no, he isn’t one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball. The three players he’s most closely tied to in this contract situation are Luis Severino, Aaron Nola, and Lance McCullers. The former two got paid prior to the 2019 season. McCullers just got his payday. They are all 27 years old, save for Nola who just recently had a birthday. None of that trio would qualify as top 10 pitchers in the game either.
Nola and Severino took four-year deals at $45M and $40M, respectively. McCullers agreed to a five-year deal that starts in 2022 and is for $85M. Jose reportedly wanted something close to what the Phillies and Yankees did for their starters; that isn’t happening now. He’s going to get something closer to what the Astros paid out, and that’s more than a fair valuation. I don’t think Berrios would find a $17M AAV on the open market, but I’d be shocked if he couldn’t get something in the $12-15M range.
Really though, this conversation is less about dollars and more about sense. Over the winter Minnesota paid J.A. Happ $8M and Matt Shoemaker $2M both on one-year deals. That $10M has immediately become a sunk cost as both have been downright terrible, and the stability intended for the back of the rotation has been non-existent. I’d have preferred to see the Twins aim higher when rounding out the group, but we’ve seen that troubles there as guys like James Paxton haven’t even thrown a pitch for their new team.
I think the point with Berrios is this, you already have a commodity that you know, he should be entering his prime, and there’s never been a question of his durability. Sure, he’s faltered in August and September, but it hasn’t ever been injury related. He’s not an ace, and he may be a borderline number two at times, but it’s fair to say he’s a top-half of the rotation arm that flashes even more when he’s on. The alternative is one of unknown, or one I think we can bet against.
Touching again on the unknown, you’re dealing with bargain bin arms hoping that a middle-of-the-road veteran is enough for the sake of stability. Maybe they’re injured, ineffective, or both. The option we can probably bet against is a big ticket purchase. Trevor Bauer made a good deal of sense from a roster construction standpoint, but he was never going to be interested in Minnesota, and the Twins were never going to drop that kind of coin. Nothing precludes the Twins from spending, but top free agents don’t see this as a destination either.
Looking ahead to the upcoming offseason, there’s more than a few veteran arms that should hit the market. Plenty of them will be paid handsomely, and some of them may even be interested in talking with the Twins. Giving Jose Berrios something like $80M over the next five years isn’t going to stop any opportunity to engage those arms either. If development continues to happen, you’d hope this rotation has a desire to include Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran as soon as next season. Maybe one of them turns out to be an ace, and maybe neither do. Either way, pitching being a focus, moving on from Berrios solely to pay someone in hopes of replicating his production seems silly.
Finding an ace is among the most difficult things to do in baseball. There’s maybe 10 of those guys in the game, most are developed internally, and if they do ever hit the open market Minnesota isn’t the first choice they’ve got on their list. Building a rotation with guys that all have the ability to pitch like an ace on any given night is a much more attainable goal, and both Kenta Maeda and Berrios fit that bill. Beyond there the Twins don’t have answers. Michael Pineda has been a steadying presence, and maybe they bring him back again this winter, but Berrios should be inked into that future as much as anyone.
It's easy to spend someone else’s money, and the Pohlad’s have plenty of it, but the thought process runs deeper than that. Plenty of money comes off the books again this winter, and while 2021 has been a disaster, a new opportunity to reload will be in front of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Including someone like Berrios as part of that makes more sense than it does finding the next guy discarded from another organization to replace him.