Gerrit Cole. He was always going to the Yankees.
Stephen Strasburg. He was always going to stay with the Nationals.
Zack Wheeler. The Twins wanted to give him $100 million, but he wanted to stay in the east.
Madison Bumgarner. He wanted to hang out in Phoenix with his horses.
Hyun-Jin Ryu. He wanted a fourth year.
So now the Twins option for acquiring a proven impact pitcher comes down to the trade market, and there are options available.
If the season opened today (and it doesn’t until late March…), the Twins starting rotation would include Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda (after 40 games), and two open spots. Randy Dobnak should definitely get an opportunity to earn one of them. Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer deserve to be in the conversation for a rotation spot in 2020.
But if you’re looking for “impact,” then Brusdar Graterol has to be a consideration. We saw him hit triple digits often. He made throwing 98 and 99 mph look almost effortless. As he relaxed, the velocity increased, and his slider got sharper. He also has a changeup that he can be effective with. Those are the pieces that give teams and their fans hope of developing a true ace, a potential impact starter.
However, we have to acknowledge Graterol’s injury history. He missed nearly two seasons after Tommy John surgery. He missed about three months in 2019 with a shoulder injury. He ended up just over 70 innings pitched in 2019 after reaching 102 innings in 2018.
With such a high-potential arm, the Twins would be wise to take care of him. They need to. It’s possible he could be limited to maybe 120 or 130 innings in 2020. Do the Twins want to have him eat a bunch of those innings in Rochester? Or could they be creative in getting him those innings and that development in the big leagues?
Here is an idea that I would present. It’s probably a little outside the box, and yet, the Twins front office speaks often about how they like their staff (front office and on-field) to ask questions, to challenge norms.
What if the Twins went with an opener and then use Graterol has the primary pitcher?
The Opener concept was a huge conversation piece in baseball two years ago when Tampa utilized it. They had two pitchers that they planned on being in their rotation get hurt and really did it out of necessity. The Twins utilized the strategy that September when they were out of playoff contention and got a chance to get innings from several young starters.
It nearly disappeared in 2019. It’s not ideal. Teams would much prefer to have five starting pitchers who make 32 starts a season and reach 200 innings. But sometimes a strategy might necessitate creative thinking in this light.
So why might this strategy work, in my mind, for Brusdar Graterol in 2020?
- Stratify a plan for keeping Graterol at a certain pitch count and inning count in an attempt to a.) keep him healthy and b.) make sure he’s strong in September and hopefully through October.
- Why not just have him start? Well, if you’re limiting him to three or four innings per outing, at least early in the year, he can only be the losing pitcher. He can’t get wins. And while we all now know that pitcher wins and losses are immensely overrated as stats, it is something that a player can't help but notice. No need to put the extra stress on the young pitcher.
- Have him start the season by throwing 50 pitches per outing, whether that’s three innings or four innings. Gradually increase that number. Maybe it’s 65 pitches once the calendar turns to May. Maybe it’s 75 when the calendar turns to June, and 85 in July. Ideally, that would give him 30 to 32 appearances and he should be reaching around 120 innings.
The Twins developed a bullpen that became a strength late in the 2019 season. They brought back Sergio Romo and added underrated Tyler Clippard. Taylor Rogers became one of the best relievers in baseball. Tyler Duffey and Trevor May dominated late in the season. Young guys like Zack Littell and Cody Stashak showed what they can be already and there is room for both of them to grow. Thorpe, Smeltzer and others could be the guys who move up and down as arms are needed.
The Twins bullpen should be a strength in 2020, deep with reliable guys. Sergio Romo made a lot of “starts” (opener appearances) for the Rays in 2018, when Rocco Baldelli was one of their coaches. They are certainly both very familiar with the concept. Zack Littell could be a two-inning opener if needed. There are options for opener opportunities and there is enough depth to make it work.
We don't yet know, at least in practice, how Wes Johnson might feel about using an opener, or if he has another philosophy on preventative care. In 2019, we did see the Twins put Michael Pineda on the injured list a couple of times to keep him fresh throughout the season. Maybe that's a better strategy?
Would it be a long-term plan? No. In 2021, the hope would be that Graterol could make 32 starts and hit 160 or more impact innings. But 160 or more innings is likely not be the plan for Graterol in 2020. And Twins fans shouldn’t want to see him using up too many of his (probably) predetermined innings in Rochester.
And, with Graterol being a league-minimum arm for the next three-plus years, they could use “impact starter allocated money” on a big bat (like Josh Donaldson). It also wouldn’t stop them from pursuing other ‘impact” starters in trades.
Again, please note that this is just me thinking out loud. There is no inside information in this article or in the development of this plan. But I think we are all aware of how detail-oriented and analytical this front office is. “What to do with Brusdar Graterol?” has to have been a highlighted discussion topic in the Twins offseason planning.
So what would you do? How would you plan out the 2020 season for Brusdar Graterol? These would seem to be the options:
- Starter, developing in Rochester
- Starter, developing in Minnesota
- “Primary” pitcher in Minnesota
- Bullpen arm in Minnesota
- Bullpen arm in Rochester (likely not a preferred method)
Let the discussion begin.
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