I'm seeing a lot of discussion suggesting the Twins may consider non-tendering Taylor Rogers. There's no debate about Rogers's ability or performance, but the concern seems to be whether or not he's worth his projected ~$7MM salary in his final year of arbitration (per MLBTradeRumors).
I believe Rogers is worth it and then some. It's not close. Non-tendering Taylor Rogers would be a huge mistake.
Below are the 22 free agent contracts offered to relief pitchers in the last three offseasons with and average annual value of $7MM or more:
First, note that $7MM is clearly not an exorbitant amount for a quality relief pitcher. On average over these three years, about 7 relievers achieve that AAV or more.
But how does Rogers compare to those elite arms? On a rate basis, Rogers has been worth 2.0 WAR/60IP. As shown above, this is matched by only 2 players: Liam Hendriks at 2.4 and Andrew Miller who ties Rogers at 2.0. It's the same story in FIP (unsurprisingly); Rogers's 2.62 is bested by only Miller's 2.16 and Hendrik's 2.17. By just about any measure, Rogers can be considered a standout among these relievers. In fact, he would be would be one of the very best RPs to enter the FA market in recent years. He's been that good.
There's more to like about Roger's recent performance too. His velocity on both pitches has continued to climb, reaching new highs with his fastball (95.7) and his slider (84). He posted a new career high in K% at 35.5, easily improving his 2020 performance of 26.4 and his previous best of 32.4. Only four RPs in 2021 can claim a better K-BB% than Rogers, and his groundball rate of 50.0% is a return to form.
All of this leads to a career best FIP of 2.13. In fact, only Josh Hader and former teammate Ryan Pressly finished 2021 with a FIP- better than Rogers's 50 (minimum 40 IP). I'd make a case that Taylor Rogers has been easily one of the top 5 left-handed relievers in baseball at any point over the last 4 years. On a counting or rate basis, only Hader has been better by WAR.
Projections like Rogers as well. ZiPS has projected him to be worth 1.1 WAR in 2022, his age 31 season (and 2023). The usual suspects are ahead of him: Edwin Diaz, Hendriks, and Hader as the only other lefty. These projections were prepared prior to the 2021 season, so it remains to be seen what the projection systems think of him after his season. On one hand, he did have his best year as a big leaguer. On the other, he did end his season injured, leaving a cloud over his status for 2022.
If he stacks up well in such elite company, how much is Rogers worth in the free agent market? It's tough to say, especially with his recent injury. I will point out that Hendriks and Miller, the two pitchers in the last three years with an obviously better free agent case than Rogers, combined to receive 6 years and $88.5MM for a $14.75MM AAV. All together, the 22 contracts above average almost exactly 2 years and $20MM, a $10MM AAV. Rogers is also younger than many of the names above at the time of their contracts, and he has a longer track record of elite performance than almost all of them. I think it's reasonable that a healthy Rogers would receive something north of $10MM annually for 3+ years.
Rogers's finger injury really is the only question here. We all know a healthy Rogers is worth more than his arbitration figure, but we don't know how much this injury will impact his game in 2021, if at all. Only the Twins and Rogers can know for sure, and we can only speculate until the day Rogers is offered arbitration, signs a deal, or not. And any team interested in his services for next year should be concerned.
However, it's worth pointing out two things: Rogers has been exceptionally durable through his entire career, and he may be be worth his arbitration amount either way. Look at the list of names above again. There's a lot of serious arm injuries in there. Betances landed a deal with the Mets despite him appearing in just one game the previous season as he recovered from his shoulder impingement and a torn Achilles. Trevor Rosenthal got two of these deals. He received the first after missing more than a season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The second contract came after he recently passed through waivers unclaimed.
Even if you think poorly of his prospects in 2022 due to injury, perhaps it would be a perfect time to work out a multi-year extension based around vesting options. They may not get a ton of value next year, but he would have time to make up for it into the future.
My point is this: Rogers is one of the very best relievers in the game, especially from the left side. For a Twins team desperate for pitching, replacing his production would be very costly in either dollars, prospects, or both, and there's almost no one in the league who could replace him anyway. It's worth mentioning too that he's smart, regarded as a leader, and well liked by teammates, media, and fans alike. Sure, his injury is worrisome. But in a similar way as Buxton, that risk is one of the only ways the Twins may be able to afford real, impact talent for this roster. If the Twins don't take that risk, there will be several teams that will, just as they have shown in the past.
Sign Taylor Rogers. You'll likely come to regret it if you don't.
Think back to October 2019 – the Twins had just gotten pantsed in the playoffs. Again. A really fun season had ended in disappointment. Again. But there was still ample reason for hope. One such reason for optimism was the emergence of Luis Arraez, a rookie contact-hitting savant. Now, one (odd) season later, and we’re in about the same place. The Twins are fresh off another fun season that ended in postseason embarrassment, but this year, we’re much less excited about the 23-year-old second baseman. And for what? All Arraez did in 2020 was fight through injury to hit for a .321 batting average (best on the team) and a .364 on-base percentage (second best) while playing a decent second base. So why are some Twins fans throwing his name into every possible trade deal or into a platoon with whoever ends up as Minnesota’s utility man? Hasn’t Arraez earned himself a spot in the Twins future?
2020 Season Okay, obviously saying that Arraez “fought through injury” to bat .321 is a fairly rose-tinted way of looking at what Luis brought to the Twins last year. To put it a different way, “Arraez was an injury liability and, when he was in the lineup, he regressed in all major stat categories and offered very little in the way of power.” The truth about Arraez is somewhere in between these two takes, but I’ve heard a lot more extreme pessimism than optimism. Yes, he regressed last year and no, he doesn’t help the team when he’s injured, but we’ve found ways to excuse nearly every other Twin for those same exact problems without casting them off as trade bait (I’m looking at you, Garver and Buxton). Also, Arraez’s “regression” brought him down to a .321 average that would’ve been good for third-best in the American League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still a pretty good season.
Arraez's 2020 campaign was disappointing, but there's reason for hope going forward Advanced Stats I understand that, nowadays, you often have to do more than just hit at a high average to be a solid MLB player, but worry not, because Arraez actually improved slightly in a number of more telling advanced statistics last season. His 2020 campaign saw him improve in average exit velocity, sweet spot percentage and hard hit percentage, per Baseball Savant. None of these improvements was particularly significant and he’s by no means excelling in any of these categories, but it’s clear by looking at the advanced metrics that Arraez is not getting worse at the plate. In fact, it seems that his 2020 season should have been even better than his breakout rookie year.
So why did it feel disappointing? Because we were hoping for that second-year leap and we got a regression to the mean instead. Arraez’s improvement in advanced hitting metrics and regression in average and OBP show us that his rookie year was a statistical outlier more than it was a stepping stone to even greater success in the future. Still, if .321 is the mean he regressed towards, Twins fans ought to be excited, especially considering that he was injured and is still only 23. We’ve written off much worse pandemic performances from healthier and more experienced guys, so let’s afford Arraez some of that forgiveness.
2021 Projections Unfortunately, ZiPS (and every other projection service) doesn’t seem to be helping me make my case. They predict a slash line of .313/.371/.406 for his third year in the bigs. On the surface, this looks worse than it is because Arraez’s average is projected to take another hit, but ZiPS actually projects that .313 mark to lead the majors. They have his on-base and slugging numbers improving, too, so, really, they’re not down on Arraez at all. Even if Arraez does level out as a .313 hitter – and I think he’ll be better than that long-term – adding some power and taking more walks would be a massive improvement for his career and for the Twins lineup. And I believe he can make those improvements because, again, he’s only 23.
ZiPS projects a .313/.371/.406 slash line for Arraez in 2021 So, where does that leave us? I saw the regression from his rookie year (we all did) and no, his 2020 year wasn’t what we hoped for, but Arraez is still a great asset for the Twins moving forward. I believe in his contact hitting that has been the best on the team and I believe in the advanced metrics that show his improvements in other areas. Most of all, though, I believe in the player. Arraez has hit .300 at every level of professional baseball, and is the same age or younger than some of the Twins’ top minor-league prospects. He’s already a great hitter and he has a lot of opportunity for growth ahead of him. Luis Arraez may very well win a batting title soon, and the Twins better make sure he does it in a Minnesota jersey.