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  1. Spending big on free agent pitchers is a high-wire act by nature, as it involves making exorbitant commitments to aging arms that are often amid temporary peaks in value. It is, needless to say, a pursuit the Minnesota Twins have largely opted to avoid – much to the lament of many fans. This offseason, they may have little choice but to set their scruples aside and overspend on the boom-or-bust frontline starter they need. Exciting, but precarious. Image courtesy of Image courtesy of Stan Szeto, USA Today When you look at data around aging curves for major-league pitchers, it matches up to what you'd expect: as a group, they are most effective between the ages of roughly 24 to 28 before inevitably experiencing decline at varying scales. This makes sense, of course. As pitchers get older, their innings mount, their bodies wear down, and the league gets wise to all of their tricks. We see the cycle play out time and time again. Sure, there are some pitchers who manage to evade the ravages of age, but they are rare and beyond prized. For every Jacob deGrom, who keeps chugging along into his mid-30s, or even every Justin Verlander, who's on top of his game at age 40, there are many examples of fleeting greatness. Sometimes the drop-off is quite sudden. Madison Bumgarner was one of the game's greats throughout his 20s as a Giant but completely unraveled at age 30 after signing with Arizona. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a brief run of pure excellence for the Dodgers but has wilted in his mid-30s in Toronto. The Twins have been thankful to avoid free agent landmines like these – pitchers who entered the market with relatively high stocks and cashed in, only to fall victim to the curve, leaving their new clubs in a tough spot with lingering implications. (The D-backs owe Bumgarner $23 million next year coming off a 4.88 ERA; the Blue Jays owe Ryu $20 million after he posted a 5.67 ERA in 27 innings.) Slam-dunk pitchers like deGrom and Verlander do pop up in free agency, but because of their rarity they have their pick of big-market titans who can outflex the field. These guys are simply out of range for the Twins, and most other teams. The more common and accessible free agents are those like Bumgarner and Ryu types: pitchers in the early stage of the aging curve's declining trendline, looking to get paid off what they did in their prime. Robbie Ray is a perfectly good example from one year ago. He was the definition of a buy-high candidate, coming off a breakout age-29 season where he won the Cy Young while leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. The Mariners bought high with a $115 million contract that was eclipsed only Max Scherzer's $130 million deal with the Mets. During his first year in Seattle, Ray was ... meh. Certainly not a disaster, but a shining example of the dangers in overpaying for assets that are likely to depreciate quickly. Ray posted a 3.71 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 1.8 fWAR in 189 innings. He was an average-ish mid-rotation starter making $21 million, and slated to make $44 million over the next two years. What's more, Ray's player-friendly contract includes an opt-out after 2024, meaning that if his performance continues to trend this way, Seattle will owe him another $50 million for his age 33 and 34 seasons. But if he returns to form, he can re-enter the market after two more years. Seattle's already been robbed of much of this deal's upside due to Ray's mediocre first season. The fact that Ray procured such a favorable contract coming off his only great season speaks to the leverage higher-end free agent pitchers enjoy during Hot Stove negotiations. Which brings our attention to the focus of today's discussion: Carlos Rodón. The parallels between Ray's situation last year and Rodón's this year are unmissable. Both are left-handers entering the market at age 30, coming off career seasons. Both had extremely suspect track records prior to their star turns, which came during short-term deals for that reason. The uncertainties shrouding these two players weren't of the same exact ilk – Ray's more performance-based, Rodón's more health-related – but both players carried obvious and notable risk. Last offseason, Ray wasn't the best free agent starter. Not in a class that featured future Hall of Famers like Scherzer, Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. But he was the arguably the best starter who felt realistically available to mid-market teams like Seattle or Minnesota. And this year Rodón is in a similar position, albeit with sparser competition at the top tier. (Chris Bassitt is a far cry from Kevin Gausman.) Rodón has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons, a true ace in every sense of the word. He's been mostly healthy, with the exception of a shoulder scare in late 2021. There's much to like. But the magnitude of risk in handing out a mega-deal to Rodón weighs very heavily on a team with spending constraints (self-imposed as they might be). The shoulder woes have surfaced time and again, wiping out most of his ostensible prime years. He's coming off a career-high workload and heading into his 30s. As Twins fans know all too well, shoulder injuries are pernicious. The downside with Rodón isn't that he'll follow Ray's route and revert to middling performance levels, but that he won't be able to pitch at all. Or he'll become entangled in lengthy cycles of starts, stops, and setbacks, all while accounting for about one-fifth of the payroll year after year. That's undeniably a scary specter, and knowing what we know about the Twins front office and their particular aversion to these kinds of flexibility-inhibiting scenarios, it's easy to see why they've tended to stay away. But this offseason is different. If the Twins miss out on Carlos Correa, it almost feels like they HAVE to find a way to sign Rodón in order for the winter to be considered a resounding success, and to build widespread excitement for the 2023 product. Most other big-splash type moves that are within their range would be somewhat underwhelming as marquee headliner, at a time where they just lost a premier superstar, and had unprecedented spending power as a result. This is not just a matter of optics and PR. It's hard to imagine any singular move, outside of signing one of the top four shortstops, capable of making such a massive impact on the team's quality and upside. Adding Rodón atop the rotation would transform the outlook for that unit and the pitching staff as a whole. Coming off back-to-back Cy Young-caliber seasons, Rodón would be a worthy centerpiece of the offseason from any vantage. So how much would this gamble cost? If we suppose that Rodón is open-minded and simply looking for the best deal, it becomes a straightforward bidding war – albeit one with high stakes and some imposing competition. The left-hander is reportedly receiving early interest from the Dodgers, Mets, and Rangers, among others. The Rangers are said to be one of his most serious suitors, and they exemplify the type of uphill battle Minnesota's front office faces in this pursuit. Texas spent more than half a billion in free agency last offseason alone. With such a free-wheeling mindset, made possible by operating in a top-five market, they can more easily sink big money into shaky investments – like, say, signing Corey Seager for $32 million annually through age 37 – and worry about the repercussions later. For the Twins, it's a different ballgame. The stakes are graver, the downside greater. And depending on Rodón's personal preferences, it might take a significant outbid to woo him from more attractive destinations. It's hard to know exactly where the southpaw's contract figure might land, when you factor in all the risk and all the reward. One article in The Athletic projected five years and $160 million, which is higher than I've seen elsewhere but certainly within reason. For the Twins to make it happen, they might need to get creative with a contract framework that leans strongly in the player's favor – a Scott Boras specialty. Again, you can make a good case to say "screw it, just make the deal happen, whatever it takes." But then, I come back to this front office and what we know about them. As much as they might like Rodón and the fit, it would be very uncharacteristic to outslug a bunch of heavy-hitters in an all-out auction for a peaking asset. What seems much more likely is that they'll turn to other pitchers near the top of the remaining free agent starter pool in search of real upside without the extreme "buy-high" dynamic. One name that really stands out in this group is Nathan Eovaldi. He's got the credentials, the big stage experience, the power fastball. In 2021 he finished fourth in the Cy Young voting with 5.7 fWAR, placing him at the premier class of MLB starters. In 2022 he took a step back, with production that was more or less Robbie Ray-esque. Unlike Rodón and Ray, Eovaldi is not a buy-high target. Unfortunately for him, the right-hander's date with free agency came a year too late for that. He'll still get paid handsomely but the proposition should be much less daunting for a team like the Twins. How much less realistic upside does Eovaldi bring to the table compared to Rodón and Ray, relative to the chasmic difference in cost? If you look at 2022 in isolation, far less, but results aren't that dependably consistent from year to year. To prove that, look no further than all of the dudes we're talking about here. Signing Rodón feels, in some ways, like a move the Twins need to make, should they miss out on Correa. But turning away from the feeding frenzy and focusing on an arm like Eovaldi would be much more on-brand, while still showing a touch of boldness. He would very likely be the most expensive free agent pitcher signing in franchise history, and a plausible upgrade from Sonny Gray in the #1 rotation spot. This course would also allow the Twins to save some coin and spread more of it to other needs, while still addressing the rotation in a meaningful, emphatic way. View full article
  2. When you look at data around aging curves for major-league pitchers, it matches up to what you'd expect: as a group, they are most effective between the ages of roughly 24 to 28 before inevitably experiencing decline at varying scales. This makes sense, of course. As pitchers get older, their innings mount, their bodies wear down, and the league gets wise to all of their tricks. We see the cycle play out time and time again. Sure, there are some pitchers who manage to evade the ravages of age, but they are rare and beyond prized. For every Jacob deGrom, who keeps chugging along into his mid-30s, or even every Justin Verlander, who's on top of his game at age 40, there are many examples of fleeting greatness. Sometimes the drop-off is quite sudden. Madison Bumgarner was one of the game's greats throughout his 20s as a Giant but completely unraveled at age 30 after signing with Arizona. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a brief run of pure excellence for the Dodgers but has wilted in his mid-30s in Toronto. The Twins have been thankful to avoid free agent landmines like these – pitchers who entered the market with relatively high stocks and cashed in, only to fall victim to the curve, leaving their new clubs in a tough spot with lingering implications. (The D-backs owe Bumgarner $23 million next year coming off a 4.88 ERA; the Blue Jays owe Ryu $20 million after he posted a 5.67 ERA in 27 innings.) Slam-dunk pitchers like deGrom and Verlander do pop up in free agency, but because of their rarity they have their pick of big-market titans who can outflex the field. These guys are simply out of range for the Twins, and most other teams. The more common and accessible free agents are those like Bumgarner and Ryu types: pitchers in the early stage of the aging curve's declining trendline, looking to get paid off what they did in their prime. Robbie Ray is a perfectly good example from one year ago. He was the definition of a buy-high candidate, coming off a breakout age-29 season where he won the Cy Young while leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. The Mariners bought high with a $115 million contract that was eclipsed only Max Scherzer's $130 million deal with the Mets. During his first year in Seattle, Ray was ... meh. Certainly not a disaster, but a shining example of the dangers in overpaying for assets that are likely to depreciate quickly. Ray posted a 3.71 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 1.8 fWAR in 189 innings. He was an average-ish mid-rotation starter making $21 million, and slated to make $44 million over the next two years. What's more, Ray's player-friendly contract includes an opt-out after 2024, meaning that if his performance continues to trend this way, Seattle will owe him another $50 million for his age 33 and 34 seasons. But if he returns to form, he can re-enter the market after two more years. Seattle's already been robbed of much of this deal's upside due to Ray's mediocre first season. The fact that Ray procured such a favorable contract coming off his only great season speaks to the leverage higher-end free agent pitchers enjoy during Hot Stove negotiations. Which brings our attention to the focus of today's discussion: Carlos Rodón. The parallels between Ray's situation last year and Rodón's this year are unmissable. Both are left-handers entering the market at age 30, coming off career seasons. Both had extremely suspect track records prior to their star turns, which came during short-term deals for that reason. The uncertainties shrouding these two players weren't of the same exact ilk – Ray's more performance-based, Rodón's more health-related – but both players carried obvious and notable risk. Last offseason, Ray wasn't the best free agent starter. Not in a class that featured future Hall of Famers like Scherzer, Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw. But he was the arguably the best starter who felt realistically available to mid-market teams like Seattle or Minnesota. And this year Rodón is in a similar position, albeit with sparser competition at the top tier. (Chris Bassitt is a far cry from Kevin Gausman.) Rodón has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons, a true ace in every sense of the word. He's been mostly healthy, with the exception of a shoulder scare in late 2021. There's much to like. But the magnitude of risk in handing out a mega-deal to Rodón weighs very heavily on a team with spending constraints (self-imposed as they might be). The shoulder woes have surfaced time and again, wiping out most of his ostensible prime years. He's coming off a career-high workload and heading into his 30s. As Twins fans know all too well, shoulder injuries are pernicious. The downside with Rodón isn't that he'll follow Ray's route and revert to middling performance levels, but that he won't be able to pitch at all. Or he'll become entangled in lengthy cycles of starts, stops, and setbacks, all while accounting for about one-fifth of the payroll year after year. That's undeniably a scary specter, and knowing what we know about the Twins front office and their particular aversion to these kinds of flexibility-inhibiting scenarios, it's easy to see why they've tended to stay away. But this offseason is different. If the Twins miss out on Carlos Correa, it almost feels like they HAVE to find a way to sign Rodón in order for the winter to be considered a resounding success, and to build widespread excitement for the 2023 product. Most other big-splash type moves that are within their range would be somewhat underwhelming as marquee headliner, at a time where they just lost a premier superstar, and had unprecedented spending power as a result. This is not just a matter of optics and PR. It's hard to imagine any singular move, outside of signing one of the top four shortstops, capable of making such a massive impact on the team's quality and upside. Adding Rodón atop the rotation would transform the outlook for that unit and the pitching staff as a whole. Coming off back-to-back Cy Young-caliber seasons, Rodón would be a worthy centerpiece of the offseason from any vantage. So how much would this gamble cost? If we suppose that Rodón is open-minded and simply looking for the best deal, it becomes a straightforward bidding war – albeit one with high stakes and some imposing competition. The left-hander is reportedly receiving early interest from the Dodgers, Mets, and Rangers, among others. The Rangers are said to be one of his most serious suitors, and they exemplify the type of uphill battle Minnesota's front office faces in this pursuit. Texas spent more than half a billion in free agency last offseason alone. With such a free-wheeling mindset, made possible by operating in a top-five market, they can more easily sink big money into shaky investments – like, say, signing Corey Seager for $32 million annually through age 37 – and worry about the repercussions later. For the Twins, it's a different ballgame. The stakes are graver, the downside greater. And depending on Rodón's personal preferences, it might take a significant outbid to woo him from more attractive destinations. It's hard to know exactly where the southpaw's contract figure might land, when you factor in all the risk and all the reward. One article in The Athletic projected five years and $160 million, which is higher than I've seen elsewhere but certainly within reason. For the Twins to make it happen, they might need to get creative with a contract framework that leans strongly in the player's favor – a Scott Boras specialty. Again, you can make a good case to say "screw it, just make the deal happen, whatever it takes." But then, I come back to this front office and what we know about them. As much as they might like Rodón and the fit, it would be very uncharacteristic to outslug a bunch of heavy-hitters in an all-out auction for a peaking asset. What seems much more likely is that they'll turn to other pitchers near the top of the remaining free agent starter pool in search of real upside without the extreme "buy-high" dynamic. One name that really stands out in this group is Nathan Eovaldi. He's got the credentials, the big stage experience, the power fastball. In 2021 he finished fourth in the Cy Young voting with 5.7 fWAR, placing him at the premier class of MLB starters. In 2022 he took a step back, with production that was more or less Robbie Ray-esque. Unlike Rodón and Ray, Eovaldi is not a buy-high target. Unfortunately for him, the right-hander's date with free agency came a year too late for that. He'll still get paid handsomely but the proposition should be much less daunting for a team like the Twins. How much less realistic upside does Eovaldi bring to the table compared to Rodón and Ray, relative to the chasmic difference in cost? If you look at 2022 in isolation, far less, but results aren't that dependably consistent from year to year. To prove that, look no further than all of the dudes we're talking about here. Signing Rodón feels, in some ways, like a move the Twins need to make, should they miss out on Correa. But turning away from the feeding frenzy and focusing on an arm like Eovaldi would be much more on-brand, while still showing a touch of boldness. He would very likely be the most expensive free agent pitcher signing in franchise history, and a plausible upgrade from Sonny Gray in the #1 rotation spot. This course would also allow the Twins to save some coin and spread more of it to other needs, while still addressing the rotation in a meaningful, emphatic way.
  3. Nathan Eovaldi is one of the hottest free agents on the market right now. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported that the Astros have joined the mix of 10 teams confirmed to have interest in the 28-year-old right-hander. With that much competition, Eovaldi figures to land himself a handsome contract. It’s difficult to see the Twins coming out on top of the bidding war should they join the pursuit, but what they really should be doing is trying to find the next Nathan Eovaldi.Eovaldi had a solid 2018 season, but his postseason performance for the Red Sox really put him over the top. He missed the entire 2017 season and the two years prior to that pitched to a 4.45 ERA in 279 innings with the Yankees. Sounds a lot like Michael Pineda, right? Fingers crossed. In trying to come up with a similar buy-low, high-upside option I landed on Eovaldi’s Boston teammate and fellow free agent Drew Pomeranz. From 2014-17, he had a 3.24 ERA in nearly 500 innings. Forearm issues caused him all sorts of problems in 2018, including a dip in velocity. He had a 6.08 ERA for the Red Sox last year and was demoted to the bullpen. So obviously there are some red flags, but MLB Trade Rumors predicted that he’d be available on a one-year, $6 million contract. I’d take that gamble. I floated that idea out on Twitter, but Darren Wolfson of KSTP was kind enough to let me know the Twins had not made any contact with Pomeranz at this time. Maybe that will change once they address more urgent matters, who knows? Also, for those wondering, Drew is not related to former Twin Cities broadcaster and minor league pitcher Mike Pomeranz. Doogie also noted on Twitter that the Twins have been in contact with Patrick Corbin’s agent. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Corbin, the top pitcher on this year’s free agent market, is expecting to receive six-year offers. Corbin has met with the Phillies, Nationals and is expected to meet with the Yankees. Jim Pohlad is notoriously averse to long commitments, and there’s some logic in that stance, so it still seems the Twins would be a long shot to land the lefty. It seems pretty odd that Cleveland is apparently forced to shed a lot of payroll this offseason, but even more strange is who they’re inclined to move. Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported that there’s a sense the team is more amenable to send away Trevor Bauer than Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. Not only is Bauer the youngest of that trio, he also had the best 2018 season of that group. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported today that the Dodgers are in trade talks with Cleveland and its believed one of the members of their rotation would be headed to LA if any deal is agreed upon. The Twins could certainly use a boost in their rotation, but I doubt Cleveland would be motivated to deal one of their best players to their top division rival. Still, someone like Bauer potentially leaving Cleveland, along with their other pending free agents, will obviously give the Twins better odds of winning the division. Rob Huff of MLB Trade Rumors projected the Twins to have a $125 million payroll for 2019. That means they'd have $48 million to spend this offseason. Given the comments by ownership and the front office, I would be surprised if they went that high. But again, if Cleveland sheds talent the Twins should absolutely get aggressive. The Indians are already losing Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The fact that there’s so much speculation that they’re looking to shed payroll means they’re certainly not going to be signing any big free agents. Michael Clair of Cut 4 predicted that the Twins would win the AL Central next season. One of the things he points to in the team bridging the gap to Cleveland is luck. So many things went poorly for the Twins in 2018 while Cleveland avoided a lot of those unforeseen issues, outside of their bullpen problems. If they traded Bauer and one of Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez was forced to miss a significant amount of time, that team would be very ordinary. The first Twins Hot Stove Show of the offseason was recorded Wednesday night. You can listen back to the full episode here. Derek Falvey and Rocco Baldelli were the guests. There was a lot of talk about culture, leadership and forming partnerships. A couple members of the 2018 Twins are moving on to other organizations. La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Trib provided details on Jeff Pickler joining the Reds coaching staff and Chris Gimenez becoming the game planning coach for the Dodgers. Over at Twinkie Town, Hayden looked back at the 10 dumbest things that happened to the Twins in 2018. I laughed, I cried, I realized there was lots of dumb stuff I’d already blocked out of my memory. A name you can expect to be hearing a lot is Yusei Kikuchi. The Seibu Lions are expected to post the 27-year-old lefty next week. He’s already in the US and was spotted at an Anaheim Ducks game. Here’s some video of Kikuchi on the mound: I haven’t seen the Twins linked to Kikuchi in any way, but he seems like a player they should definitely have interest in. He has a 2.81 ERA in more than 1,000 innings in the NPB. If you’re interested in learning more, Yankees site River Ave Blues did an excellent job profiling Kikuchi. Click here to view the article
  4. Eovaldi had a solid 2018 season, but his postseason performance for the Red Sox really put him over the top. He missed the entire 2017 season and the two years prior to that pitched to a 4.45 ERA in 279 innings with the Yankees. Sounds a lot like Michael Pineda, right? Fingers crossed. In trying to come up with a similar buy-low, high-upside option I landed on Eovaldi’s Boston teammate and fellow free agent Drew Pomeranz. From 2014-17, he had a 3.24 ERA in nearly 500 innings. Forearm issues caused him all sorts of problems in 2018, including a dip in velocity. He had a 6.08 ERA for the Red Sox last year and was demoted to the bullpen. So obviously there are some red flags, but MLB Trade Rumors predicted that he’d be available on a one-year, $6 million contract. I’d take that gamble. I floated that idea out on Twitter, but Darren Wolfson of KSTP was kind enough to let me know the Twins had not made any contact with Pomeranz at this time. Maybe that will change once they address more urgent matters, who knows? Also, for those wondering, Drew is not related to former Twin Cities broadcaster and minor league pitcher Mike Pomeranz. Doogie also noted on Twitter that the Twins have been in contact with Patrick Corbin’s agent. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Corbin, the top pitcher on this year’s free agent market, is expecting to receive six-year offers. Corbin has met with the Phillies, Nationals and is expected to meet with the Yankees. Jim Pohlad is notoriously averse to long commitments, and there’s some logic in that stance, so it still seems the Twins would be a long shot to land the lefty. It seems pretty odd that Cleveland is apparently forced to shed a lot of payroll this offseason, but even more strange is who they’re inclined to move. Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reported that there’s a sense the team is more amenable to send away Trevor Bauer than Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. Not only is Bauer the youngest of that trio, he also had the best 2018 season of that group. Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported today that the Dodgers are in trade talks with Cleveland and its believed one of the members of their rotation would be headed to LA if any deal is agreed upon. The Twins could certainly use a boost in their rotation, but I doubt Cleveland would be motivated to deal one of their best players to their top division rival. Still, someone like Bauer potentially leaving Cleveland, along with their other pending free agents, will obviously give the Twins better odds of winning the division. Rob Huff of MLB Trade Rumors projected the Twins to have a $125 million payroll for 2019. That means they'd have $48 million to spend this offseason. Given the comments by ownership and the front office, I would be surprised if they went that high. But again, if Cleveland sheds talent the Twins should absolutely get aggressive. The Indians are already losing Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The fact that there’s so much speculation that they’re looking to shed payroll means they’re certainly not going to be signing any big free agents. Michael Clair of Cut 4 predicted that the Twins would win the AL Central next season. One of the things he points to in the team bridging the gap to Cleveland is luck. So many things went poorly for the Twins in 2018 while Cleveland avoided a lot of those unforeseen issues, outside of their bullpen problems. If they traded Bauer and one of Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez was forced to miss a significant amount of time, that team would be very ordinary. The first Twins Hot Stove Show of the offseason was recorded Wednesday night. You can listen back to the full episode here. Derek Falvey and Rocco Baldelli were the guests. There was a lot of talk about culture, leadership and forming partnerships. A couple members of the 2018 Twins are moving on to other organizations. La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Trib provided details on Jeff Pickler joining the Reds coaching staff and Chris Gimenez becoming the game planning coach for the Dodgers. Over at Twinkie Town, Hayden looked back at the 10 dumbest things that happened to the Twins in 2018. I laughed, I cried, I realized there was lots of dumb stuff I’d already blocked out of my memory. A name you can expect to be hearing a lot is Yusei Kikuchi. The Seibu Lions are expected to post the 27-year-old lefty next week. He’s already in the US and was spotted at an Anaheim Ducks game. Here’s some video of Kikuchi on the mound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWk6dkH8jN4 I haven’t seen the Twins linked to Kikuchi in any way, but he seems like a player they should definitely have interest in. He has a 2.81 ERA in more than 1,000 innings in the NPB. If you’re interested in learning more, Yankees site River Ave Blues did an excellent job profiling Kikuchi.
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