With a lens on 2022, we're judging these acquisitions in terms of immediate impact, so we'll rank them by the fWAR (Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement) in their first season after coming aboard. These are the seven names that stand out.
1. Michael Pineda, 2019 (2.6 fWAR)
Signed as a free agent (2 years, $10M)
This wasn't actually the first year after Pineda came aboard, because Minnesota signed him ahead of the 2018 season, knowing he'd miss most or all of it while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Once Big Mike was ready to get rolling in 2019, he was every bit the rock-solid mid-rotation starter they sought, posting a 4.01 ERA over 146 innings while leading the team to a 16-10 record in his starts.
His PED suspension in September soured the overall season, especially because it prevented him from being able to make an impact in the playoffs (and led to Randy Dobnak starting Game 2). But all that aside, he was a key part of the team's success in 2019, and continued to provide value to the team after re-signing on another two-year deal, posting a 3.57 ERA between 2020 and '21.
Takeaway: Patience is a virtue. The Twins were willing to commit money up-front and wait out Pineda's surgery rehab, and it has paid dividends for three years since.
2. Jake Odorizzi, 2018 (2.5 fWAR)
Acquired from Tampa Bay in trade
The Rays were looking to unload Odorizzi's salary ahead of the 2018 season. Finding a lack of demand in the market, they settled for a trade with Minnesota that brought back middling shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios. It was a mystery to me why Tampa couldn't get more for Odorizzi, who posted solid numbers in 2017 and had two years of control remaining. Maybe it was the timing of the move, just before spring training.
One could purport he fell into the Twins' laps, but alas, they made the move and no one else did. They were glad it was them. Odorizzi was once again solid in 2018, becoming a much-needed veteran fixture in a rotation that ended up getting nothing from Ervin Santana in the final year of his deal. (In fact, the condition of Santana's surgically-repaired finger when he showed up in camp was likely the primary driver of this move in the first place.)
Of course, the real value in Odorizzi's acquisition came the following year, when he blossomed as an All-Star with 4.3 fWAR.
Takeaway: If you're willing to take on salary from a small-market team, you can sometimes take advantage of weird desperation moves late in the offseason.
3. Kenta Maeda, 2020 (2.1 fWAR)
Acquired from Los Angeles in trade
Ranking Maeda third on this list doesn't do him justice. He is easily the most successful pitching acquisition by this front office. If you extrapolate his performance from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season into a 162-game sample, he'd have registered a 5.7 fWAR, which is Cy Young territory. (Accordingly, he finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting.)
But to keep things consistent, we'll place him here, and it's fitting in a way, because he wasn't as much of a pure value-add as the two above. Whereas the additions of Pineda and Odorizzi cost the Twins only a bit of money and a dispensable minor-leaguer, acquiring Maeda required the organization to part with its top pitching prospect, Brusdar Graterol.
Takeaway: Pay to play. The Twins' most impactful pitching acquisition during this regime has also required the greatest sacrifice.
4. Martin Perez, 2019 (1.9 fWAR)
Signed as a free agent (1 year, $3.5 million)
I know, I know. Many of you are rolling your eyes and scoffing at the notion of Perez as a "successful" acquisition. For what it's worth, I'd agree with you, and so would Baseball Reference's WAR calculation would agree with you (it had him at 0.1). For whatever reason, FanGraphs' version of the metric is charitable toward his 2019 season even though he posted a 5.12 ERA and 4.66 FIP, unraveling after a strong start.
I will say this much: Perez took the ball every fifth day and did enough for an offense-driven club to go 17-12 behind him in 29 starts. Realistically that's probably the kind of thing we need to hope for from a Twins fourth or fifth starter next year.
Moreover, while his poor results in 2019 were plain to see, Perez nevertheless found a new home in Boston the following offseason, and has made 48 appearances (34 starts) for the Red Sox over the past two years, not including his four appearances in the most recent ALCS (!).
The Twins saw something in Perez and it's hard to say they were entirely wrong.
Takeaway: This was an analytics play. The Twins were intrigued by Perez's late-season velocity jump in 2018, and by his experimentation with a cutter. They were onto something – his cutter held opponents to a .269 wOBA in 2019, during which he posted career-high strikeout and swing-and-miss rates. That just didn't end up being enough to offset his shortcomings.
5. Tyler Clippard, 2020 (0.8 fWAR)
Signed as a free agent (1 year, $2.75 million)
The last three names on this last will have the same caveat applied as Maeda: their performances came in a shortened season, so the cumulative WAR comparison is not apples to apples. Clippard's 0.8 fWAR would've been pretty decent for a regular full season (Tyler Duffey was worth 0.8 fWAR this year), but when projected to 162 games he'd have been at 2.2, which is like, prime Joe Nathan territory.
Clippard did everything for this bullpen. He opened, he closed. He was effective against righties and lefties. He threw strikes, he limited hits, he kept the ball in the yard. Clippard was everything you could ever want from a free agent reliever signing, albeit in an abbreviated sample.
Takeaway: The free agent relief market is volatile, but sometimes when you take an inexpensive flier on a veteran who's been consistently good for many years, it works out.
6. Rich Hill, 2020 (0.7 fWAR)
Signed as a free agent (1 year, $3 million plus incentives)
We can't fairly extrapolate Hill's 2020 season in quite the same way as we can the others. He was recovering from elbow surgery and wouldn't have been available until June or July even if the season started on time. The late start enabled him to join the rotation out of the gates, and he proved to be a quality asset at the back end, posting a 3.03 ERA in eight starts.
Nothing special, but for such a low-cost investment, this is exactly what you hope to extract.
Takeaway: Like with Pineda, the Twins were rewarded for their patience. They were willing to pay up-front and wait out an elbow rehab. Sometimes that type of willingness can be a differentiator for mid-market teams seeking impact pitching talent.
7. Matt Wisler, 2020 (0.6 fWAR)
Claimed off waivers from Seattle
Wisler was waived by Seattle after posting a 5.61 ERA in 2019, then the Twins snagged him and watched him put up a 1.07 ERA over 25 ⅓ innings in 2020. It's the kind of fix-up we were hoping to see frequently from this front office, and seemingly a recipe they tried to replicate in 2021 with pickups like Brandon Waddell, Ian Gibaut and Shaun Anderson – to little success.
Takeaway: The Twins love to find a slider they feel they can unlock and unleash. In this case, they were right on the money. In others, maybe not so much. This speaks to the hazardous nature of gambling on fringy talent discarded by other organizations.
So what did we learn here? What kind of insight can we extract from looking at these seven acquisitions from the past four offseasons? A few things strike me.
Patience reaps rewards. The Twins were willing to wait on Pineda and Hill. This played to their advantage. Looking at the current market, one could apply this thinking to someone like Kirby Yates (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last March) or James Paxton (TJ surgery in April). Either one of these free agents could offer massive upside at a relatively low price. By the way, the patience factor also applies to the rhythm of the offseason itself, because this front office pulled off two of its best trades (Odorizzi and Maeda) in February.
Rely on analytics to fill the fringes. Say what you will about Perez, but there was validity to the uptick detected in his arsenal. As a low-cost addition at the back of the rotation, he worked out fine. Wisler was a lower-tier bullpen cog, so his emergence was more of a luxury than a necessity, but it sure helped. So long as the Twins are making these kinds of bets in non-essential roles, I hope they'll keep making them.
Go big or go home. While this front office has made several good pitching acquisitions, only one could be described as a true immediate slam dunk, and that's Maeda. The Twins needed an ace to slot in front of José Berríos – a monumentally tall task – and they managed to do it. The cost was a brilliant young arm in Graterol. We haven't seen this regime make such an aggressive bid for high-end starting pitching outside of that trade. The only starter they've signed to a multi-year deal is Pineda, which has turned out pretty well but was altogether low-stakes (in both cases). Their interest in Zack Wheeler was well known, and that obviously would've been a big hit if they could've made it happen.
Will the Twins find a way to entice a top-tier target of their choosing this winter? The need has never been greater. Hopefully this front office can learn from what's worked – and what hasn't worked – during their first five years, and course-correct after a failed previous offseason.