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  • Kenta Maeda Is The Impact Pitcher You Were Waiting For


    John Bonnes

    The Twins stated offseason goal of adding impact pitching this offseason took form Thursday morning as Kenta Maeda introduced himself to Twins Territory at Twins spring training in Fort Myers. The path to get to that point was a winding one, including a lot of rejection, an enormous pivot, and a six-day trade ordeal. But make no mistake: had you asked the Twins if Maeda fit their definition of impact starting pitching at the beginning of their offseason, they would have quickly agreed.

    Maeda has been serving as both a reliever and a starter for the Dodgers, but he’s not a swingman. He came to the US as a 27-year-old after winning the Sawamura Award (the Nippon Professional League’s equivalent of MLB’s Cy Young Award) twice. He started in his first year with the Dodgers. For the last three, he has also been a starter who switched to a bullpen role late in the season.

     

    Twins CBO Derek Falvey addressed this in an interview earlier this week. “I would tell you this: we think he’s a starting pitcher,” said Falvey. “We think he’s a guy who can really impact our rotation.” Falvey saw the switch in roles as a postseason strategy. “My sense is that the way [the Dodgers] used him felt like it worked best for them as they went into their playoff series every year,” continued Falvey. “It had nothing to do with his ability to start and pitch.”

     

    What’s more, Maeda isn’t a guy who just fills out a rotation. He profiles as top-half-of-the-rotation starter. In 103 starts with the Dodgers, he has a 3.92 ERA, and 9.6 K/9. Last year his ERA was up a bit to 4.14 as a starter, but he became even better against left-handed hitters, holding them to just a .247 BA. He’s always been good against right-handers, who have a .199 BA against him for his career. Read that last sentence again.

     

    Even though his addition came as spring training began, Falvey claims that the Twins had targeted Maeda early in the offseason, and had engaged the Dodgers during the winter meetings. “We always targeted him as somebody - if the Dodgers would move him - that we would have interest in,” he revealed. When the Dodgers acquired David Price, suddenly, that window opened.

     

    Twins’ fans’ expectations may have been skewed by the team’s early offseason pursuit of high-impact (and high-dollar) free agent pitchers, and to be fair, Maeda would not have been slotted in the top five of this year's remarkable free agent class. But he would have been a half-step below them, along with Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda, which (along with Jose Berrios) makes the top four Twins' starters all formidable.

     

    He also has something that all other 30 teams would certainly value, and maybe the Twins more than most: a reasonable contract that keeps him under team control for four years at a guaranteed salary of just $3M per year. It is heavily laden with incentives, so if he ends up being an effective starter, he’ll make around $10M, but their budget is protected if something very bad happens. Compare that to the $118 million guaranteed dollars the Phillies gave to Zach Wheeler.

     

    The Twins are also protected another way. As the Dodgers recognized, Maeda can also be moved to the bullpen. He is not anxious to do so, and seems to be especially interested in starting in the postseason. In fact, that was the first question Japanese media asked Falvey earlier this week.

     

    But if, for some reason, the Twins do decide to put him in a high-leverage relief role, his history suggests he will thrive. In 42.1 innings of pitching relief, he has struck out 58 batters and walked just eight. In the postseason as a reliever, he pitched two innings or more in all but one appearance. That’s a weapon.

     

    You would be forgiven if you didn’t recognize all this on Thursday morning. Meada’s interview was a quiet spring training affair. It lacked the pomp and circumstance that Josh Donaldson’s press conference provided last month. Maeda carefully answered the Twins’ media’s questions through a translator, while a dozen Japanese media waited their turn. He talked of being honored to be part of the Twins organization.

     

    But this was a big deal. Maeda, the Twins and their fans hope that will become apparent in October.


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    While the addition of Maeda is definitely going to help us win more games, looking ahead 7 months it’s I think it’s pretty fair to assume that we’re eventually going to face the Yankees in the postseason and having Berrios, Odorizzi, and Maeda go up against Cole, Severino, and Paxton (or Tanaka) doesn’t spark a whole lot of confidence regardless of our offense. Meaning, if the FO really wants to at the very least win a postseason series it’s important that Maeda isn’t the “impact pitcher.” If so, we could be in big trouble.

     

    After establishing themselves as a WS contending team last season, I now fully expect the Twins FO to make an even bigger move at the deadline for a #1-2 starter; headlined by either Larnach or Kirilloff.

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    Maeda is a very good get. I've seen him in LA the past few years and he's a solid starter. Whether he's a "top half of the rotation" starter depends on whether the No. 3 starter out of 5 is "top half" or "bottom half". He's a very solid #3, outstanding #4, weak #2.

     

    I'm very excited about this season but as said by others, the biggest weakness of this team is the lack of a true No. 1 starter and the presence of an iffy #2. Our real contention hopes depend Berrios stepping up to become that true #1 - 200 plus innings, 3.25 or lower ERA/FIP type - and either Odorizzi or Pineda becoming a true #2. I have my doubts on both counts. I think we have a rotation with a very good #2 in Berrios, and 3 starters who can really fill the #3, 4 and 5 spots, but no No. 1. Let's hope i'm wrong about Berrios or we find that #1 at the Deadline. I really think that's the only thing holding us back from having true WS aspirations. 

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    I'll bet Farvey and Lavine wish neither of them ever used that word...impact, John.  Will Maeda be an impact pitcher?  Yes?  No?  Maybe?

     

    As for making a big trade at the deadline, I don't see it happening.  They already have a significant addition to their rotation around that time, Hill. 

     

    As for how our rotation matches up with the Yankees, or anyone else?  I like it.   Berrios pitching like he can will match up with anyone.  Odorizzi pitching like he did in Houston last year when he went up against Verlander can win against anyone.  

     

    We have depth and talent in this starting rotation with a lot of talent on the horizon.  Now its time for two or three of them to get it done.

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    After establishing themselves as a WS contending team last season, I now fully expect the Twins FO to make an even bigger move at the deadline for a #1-2 starter; headlined by either Larnach or Kirilloff.

     

    If we could get 1/2 a season of Trevor Bauer (assuming the Reds don't make the leap into contention) for Larnach and #20-30 prospect, would you do it? 

     

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    I love it.  This is somehow both very Twins-like, and yet very un-Twins-like all at the same time.

     

    The Twins don't shop in the $200 Million dollar section, and I'm glad they've avoided the $100 Million dollar "lightly used" (but potentially lemons) section.

     

    I'm from Idaho; if I wanted to root for the Yankees or Dodgers, I would have done it a long time ago.  This is how the Twins will do it, if its going to get done.  Strap it on and give her hell.

     

    (I'm not precluding an all-in trade, though, either.)

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    Maeda is a good trade for the Twins.

    That said I think the Twins and Dodgers use a different bar for measuring impact pitching.

     

    Totally agree.  If you measure “impact” by “we don’t have to put (insert name of Bailey or whomever #5 guy) into the #3 slot in our rotation”, then sure, that was definitely an impact alright and Maeda looks pretty promising.

     

    However, if you mean “we’ve just supplanted Berríos as Ace”, which I think that we all were reasonably hoping for, then sorry Maeda doesn’t make the grade.

     

    Good pitcher.....not an Ace.

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    If we could get 1/2 a season of Trevor Bauer (assuming the Reds don't make the leap into contention) for Larnach and #20-30 prospect, would you do it?

     

    Nope, that’d be irresponsible. I’m much more interested in Alcantara, Marquez, and Rodriguez, all of which have more than 1 season of control left on teams that could very likely be sellers before the all star game.

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    Worth noting the Twins are now incentivized to keep him starting for all of 2020 (well, at least up to the postseason) by the terms of the cash considerations coming from the Dodgers.

     

    The Dodgers are paying his $3 mil base salary this year, plus his $1 mil assignment bonus (for being traded), plus up to $7 mil in 2020 incentives, if he earns them -- but nothing after 2020:

     

     

    FWIW, 30 games started, 160 IP would be exactly $7 mil in incentives this year, so it's do-able if he stays healthy.

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    While the addition of Maeda is definitely going to help us win more games, looking ahead 7 months it’s I think it’s pretty fair to assume that we’re eventually going to face the Yankees in the postseason and having Berrios, Odorizzi, and Maeda go up against Cole, Severino, and Paxton (or Tanaka) doesn’t spark a whole lot of confidence regardless of our offense. 

     

    What about Berrios, Hill, and Maeda? Odo and Berrios pitched well enough to win those two games last year. Everything else was a disaster.  

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    While the addition of Maeda is definitely going to help us win more games, looking ahead 7 months it’s I think it’s pretty fair to assume that we’re eventually going to face the Yankees in the postseason and having Berrios, Odorizzi, and Maeda go up against Cole, Severino, and Paxton (or Tanaka) doesn’t spark a whole lot of confidence regardless of our offense. Meaning, if the FO really wants to at the very least win a postseason series it’s important that Maeda isn’t the “impact pitcher.” If so, we could be in big trouble.

    After establishing themselves as a WS contending team last season, I now fully expect the Twins FO to make an even bigger move at the deadline for a #1-2 starter; headlined by either Larnach or Kirilloff.

    You don't like that match-up?  Berrios/Odorizzi combined for 3ER against the best offense in MLB in the postseason last year.  Offense, BP, and defense under-performed, not SP (Except Dobnak).  But 2 of 3 pitched well.

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    Maeda is a pretty good pitcher. But, I think we’re trying really hard to talk ourselves into him being much better than he actually is.

     

    I don’t believe the narrative that they shuffled him out to the bullpen to prevent paying a few million in bonuses. The Dodgers throw money around like parade candy. If they thought he was good/durable enough to be an anchor in their rotation, he would’ve been. They thought he was better served and more valuable to the teams chances of winning a World Series from the bullpen.

     

    I’ve seen some somewhat alarming home/road splits. The NL West, outside of the Dodgers, hasn’t exactly been filled with offensive powerhouses throughout his career. There are some ballparks in that division that do pitchers a lot of favors. Should we really be that confident that he’s going to stroll in here maintaining some of those peripherals and deliver an ERA in the 3s over 200 innings in a loaded American League?

     

    He’ll be a valuable rotation piece. But, he’s not transforming this rotation, and he’s not the “impact guy” to get this team over the hump. He adds depth. Nobody in the Yankees FO is saying, “were in trouble the Twins can counter Cole in game 1 with Maeda.”

     

    It’s not like the Dodgers are a team leaving things on the table in terms of starting pitching, either. Some seem convinced that we’ll get an extra gear out of him. They developed guys like Kenley J, Kershaw, and Buehler. They’ve gotten incredible production out of guys like Stripling (and arguably Maeda). What have we done here that makes everyone so confident? Odorizzi? Perez? A few relievers? We haven’t shown to be on the same planet as the Dodgers in terms of pitcher development. Who’s to say they didn’t maximize things, and we’ll actually get less out of him? Sounds like wishful thinking.

     

    Although I haven’t been a fan of this move from the beginning (even less so after throwing in Raley and a draft pick), I realize that it does make the team somewhat better right now. It certainly makes them a better regular season team. But, I think the optimism I’ve been seeing in terms of how transformative this move is for the World Series chances is a little over the top.

     

    At the end of the day, am I disappointed? Of course not, Donaldson and Maeda is a good offseason. But, people aren’t separating those two moves when evaluating Maeda. Getting Donaldson along with Maeda doesn’t make Maeda any more of an impact pitcher. Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d much rather have paid to acquire Donaldson and Keuchel and keep Graterol and the pick.

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    You don't like that match-up?  Berrios/Odorizzi combined for 3ER against the best offense in MLB in the postseason last year.  Offense, BP, and defense under-performed, not SP (Except Dobnak).  But 2 of 3 pitched well.

    Berrios threw 88 pitches to get through 4 innings, giving up 8 base runners (one on an error), and 3 runs, 1 earned. Did he embarrass himself? No. Nor did he pitch anything close to "well" if the objective is to beat a team who will be throwing Cole against you.

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    Worth noting the Twins are now incentivized to keep him starting for all of 2020 (well, at least up to the postseason) by the terms of the cash considerations coming from the Dodgers.

     

    The Dodgers are paying his $3 mil base salary this year, plus his $1 mil assignment bonus (for being traded), plus up to $7 mil in 2020 incentives, if he earns them -- but nothing after 2020:

     

     

    FWIW, 30 games started, 160 IP would be exactly $7 mil in incentives this year, so it's do-able if he stays healthy.

    I know all the Dodger money is coming in 2020, but is it tied to Maeda's 2020 salary?    I thought we got $11M no matter what ($10M plus assignment bonus).

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    I see Maeda as a solid #3 starter.  That gives the Twins a #2 (Berrios), a #2-3 (Odorizzi), two #3 (Maeda and Pineda), a #4-5 (Bailey) and Hill who could be anywhere from an INC to maybe a #2.  That's a big improvement over last year, even if it lacks a definite #1.  I'd rather have Maeda, part of a year of Hill and Bailey than Perez and Gibson.  We were lucky to get anything out of Perez and Gibson was his usual frustrating self.

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    Berrios threw 88 pitches to get through 4 innings, giving up 8 base runners (one on an error), and 3 runs, 1 earned. Did he embarrass himself? No. Nor did he pitch anything close to "well" if the objective is to beat a team who will be throwing Cole against you.

    I wonder if the Twins starters will get more rest this year.  Berrios always seems to tire out by the end of the season. The Twins might give him time off with the depth they currently have (not guaranteed as injuries can always happen) if they get a big lead in the division.  The Twins also need to stop letting the Yankees steal signs from them.

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    I think the Twins had a good off-season--not great because they didn't get an ace.  Adding Donaldson improves the defense and can't hurt the offense.  Romo and Clippard will help anchor the BP and take some pressure off Rogers.  Letting Perez, Gibson, Cron and Schoop go only made sense.  Maeda, Hill and Bailey are an improvement over Perez and Gibson--potentially a big improvement if Hill pitches as well as he has in the past.  If Buxton and Sano stay healthy, the Twins can win 100 games again.

     

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    I know all the Dodger money is coming in 2020, but is it tied to Maeda's 2020 salary?    I thought we got $11M no matter what ($10M plus assignment bonus).

    It's a luxury tax thing. I don't think teams can send much arbitrary cash around any more -- it all has to be tied to a player's salary for specific seasons, for luxury tax purposes.

     

    So for example, if Maeda earns $8 mil in 2020 including incentives, that's all the Dodgers will be sending the Twins. If they tried to send $11 mil, then $3 mil of that would count against a future luxury tax season, and the Dodgers don't want that. (They're already over the tax threshold for 2020 anyway, but may try to stay under in 2021 or beyond.)

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    I think the Twins had a good off-season--not great because they didn't get an ace. Adding Donaldson improves the defense and can't hurt the offense. Romo and Clippard will help anchor the BP and take some pressure off Rogers. Letting Perez, Gibson, Cron and Schoop go only made sense. Maeda, Hill and Bailey are an improvement over Perez and Gibson--potentially a big improvement if Hill pitches as well as he has in the past. If Buxton and Sano stay healthy, the Twins can win 100 games again.

    In mid-August Bailey's ERA was still over 5.5. He pitched well in September when he was pitching every 6 days. This coming after the 34 year old had 3 horrific years for the Reds on another idiotic pitcher contract.

     

    Hill is going to be 41. I mean he is going to try to come back with some experimental procedure on his rebuilt elbow.

     

    Then Maeda ERA on the road was over 5.1. He lost 2 starts to the Angels a bad team and had another lost in relief against the AL.

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