Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski (Curski Pics)
It’s not hard to find people with the opinion that the Minnesota Twins need to make a move to address their bullpen.
Those people aren’t exactly wrong, either.
As of this writing, the Twins are ninth in the AL with a bullpen ERA of 4.73. They’re also ninth in WHIP (1.39) and 11th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.3).
Each of those numbers, on their surface, are not terribly exciting. But consider the plight facing the current AL reliever — the average marks right now of each of those is 4.51, 1.34 and 8.7.
The Twins are more or less average when it comes to unadjusted stats, and even better when they’re adjusted.
Peeking at Fangraphs for adjusted figures paints a bit more of a favorable picture. Twins relievers have combined for 1.0 fWAR, the fifth-best mark in the AL. In other words, they’ve pitched better in some higher-leverage spots, while outings like Chase De Jong and Andrew Vasquez’s against the New York Mets have sullied otherwise decent results from this bunch.
But no matter how it’s sliced, it’s still not indefensible to suggest the Twins could use some more help out in the bullpen.
Some of that help showed up on Friday in the form of Matt Magill, who was activated off the disabled list to take the roster spot of Kohl Stewart, who was returned to Rochester after his start in Houston on Wednesday night.
Curiously, the Twins also outrighted Chase De Jong off the 40-man roster, leaving an open spot with no real move on the immediate horizon. The smart bet is that a reliever will eventually fill that role, but let’s take a look at how the Twins could end up making an addition in the bullpen in the near future.
Two relievers who could easily get the call who aren’t currently on the 40-man roster are Mike Morin and Jake Reed. Morin has big-league experience with the Angels, Royals and Mariners — 3.32 FIP in 174 innings — and a baseball contact recently told Zone Coverage that he was the “best pitcher for Rochester right now.”
Morin has not allowed an earned run in 9.1 innings with the Red Wings with nine strikeouts, two walks and a WHIP of 0.86. Morin turns 28 next week.
Reed has no MLB experience, but has been terrific in Triple-A the past four seasons: 2.16 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 1.13 WHIP in 100 innings with the Red Wings.
Reed might not feature eye-popping numbers or raw stuff, but he’s more than proven his mettle at Rochester and deserves a big-league look. In the recent top-41 prospect list published at Fangraphs, Reed was listed as “upper-level depth” with his “funky delivery” and three-pitch mix noted, as well as his likely role in middle relief.
Despite not having the likely pedigree needed to throw the late innings, Reed can certainly work in the front end of this current bullpen, too.
Sign Craig Kimbrel
The elephant in the room is that Kimbrel still isn’t signed, and with reports that he’ll be willing to sign a deal somewhere between Zack Britton’s (three years, $39 million) and Wade Davis’ (three years, $52 million), that should at least quell some of the worries that he wants one of $100 million or six years — if not both — but to this point, it hasn’t.
By this point, it seems like teams will wait until the MLB draft is over to sign Kimbrel. At that point, there’s no longer any draft compensation for Kimbrel, and with just five or six weeks until the MLB draft, it might be a hard sell for any team to be willing to give up draft capital — picks/slot money — to sign him when he hasn’t had any in-game action in six-plus months.
Scour the waiver wire and remaining non-Kimbrel free agents
Kirby Yates has arguably been the most valuable reliever in baseball this year for San Diego, and just a couple of years ago he was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels and before that, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Every team should always be scouring the waiver wire for guys who might be a tweak away, and to their credit, the Twins have done some of that in recent year with guys like Oliver Drake.
Oh, and Matt Belisle is still available!
OK, I’m sorry. None of these guys move the needle all that much, but adding them into the mix at Rochester for a deeper bullpen down there does give the Twins more options as the season wears on.
Identify good relievers on bad teams
This is a concept that will probably get the most traction as the season wears on, as the Twins can take a look at teams not actively trying to win — and there are plenty — and attempt to pluck capable relievers from those rosters.
That’s not to say the players won’t come with prohibitive acquisition costs, but there should be plenty of relievers available as the season rolls on who can help this team, much like Ryan Pressly did for the Houston Astros from the Twins last year.
Those guys include:
Mychal Givens – Baltimore
Givens is Baltimore’s de facto closer, but that isn’t saying much for a team that has won just 10 of 26 games to start the season. Givens has gotten into only nine of those games, and has finished only four with a 4.50 ERA.
Givens has two more years of control after this one, so he won’t come cheaply, as he’s put up some nice numbers in five seasons with Baltimore as part of the Bridge to Britton in recent years: 3.18 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 1.14 WHIP.
He would seem to be among the most attainable targets this season, and someone Jonathan Schoop could go to bat for if he so desired to campaign for any bullpen additions.
Drew Steckenrider – Miami
The 28-year-old righty won’t be a free agent until after 2023 — five more years — but he offers a big-time arm despite being off to a slow start this season. Over his parts of three years with the Marlins, he has a 3.61 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.26.
Ordinarily, teams wouldn’t be too fast to trade guys like this, but Steckenrider will be arbitration-eligible after next season and could bring back a nice haul for a team that is currently rebuilding. Steckenrider is mostly a two-pitch guy, with a heater that averages 95 mph and a slider that’ll sit in the low-80s with good swing-and-miss potential.
Ian Kennedy – Kansas City
Kennedy has a very good chance to be dealt, but it might have to be with Kansas City eating money. The righty is owed the bulk of $33 million over the next two years, but has really taken a shine to relieving after working pretty much exclusively as a starter over the first 12 years of his career.
In 11 appearances so far this season, Kennedy has allowed just two earned runs (1.42 ERA) with no homers and a K/BB rate of 17-2. The Royals will be motivated sellers here, but with Kennedy turning 35 this winter it might be hard to find anyone who’ll give up much for him.
Shane Greene – Detroit
This one has the feeling of a possible early-season move, as Greene has terrific numbers — 1.38 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 0.62 WHIP — and another year of control left. The Tigers don’t have much to play for this year, and with the pitching staff getting thinner with the UCL sprain of Jordan Zimmermann may pack things in early.
Greg Holland – Arizona
This one depends on how Arizona views itself as the season goes on. Right now, the Diamondbacks are 15-11 and a half-game out of first place in the NL West. But that’s with Colorado (11-14) struggling and San Diego (14-11) hot on their heels. If things slow down, Holland could easily be on the trading block come July.
Holland is one of the few relievers signed this offseason who are off to strong starts, as the 33-year-old righty has yet to allow an earned run this season in eight innings with 13 strikeouts and three walks. Holland has been shaky since leaving Kansas City — and frankly even his final year there — so it might not be surprising to see Arizona shop him one way or the other as the season continues.
Francisco Liriano – Pittsburgh
Ah yes, an #OldFriend working in the Pirates bullpen who is off to a stellar start. The Pirates are 12-11 and in the thick of things in the NL Central right now, but they aren’t exactly built like a team destined to compete with St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee over the long haul.
If that doesn’t come to fruition, the 35-year-old Liriano could be on the move. In nine relief appearances so far this season, Liriano has not allowed an earned run with 13 strikeouts and four walks. He’s gone fastball-slider-changeup — much like his starter repertoire, with fewer fastballs — and has seen a huge spike in his swinging-strike rate (16 percent) as he’s moved away from the fastball.
Who wouldn’t love to see No. 47 throwing late innings for the Twins again?
Will Smith/Trevor Gott/Mark Melancon/Nick Vincent/Sam Dyson – San Francisco
So yeah, pretty much the entire bullpen could be available for the Giants, who are trending toward tear-down mode.
Here are Cliff’s Notes on each guy:
Smith – Clearly the Belle of the ball. Big arm from the left side with strikeouts, fairly good walk rates and keeps the ball in the park. Turns 30 in July, free agent at season’s end. Could cost a pretty penny to acquire, but with free agent market being what it is, could be re-signable.
Gott – Right-handed 26-year-old flamethrower, though this season is his first with significant success. Has only thrown 88.2 big-league innings but has potential to induce grounders with big-time stuff. Would be a bit of a gamble but definitely could be worth it.
Melancon – When he’s right he’s terrific, but he’s battled injuries pretty much the entire time he’s been with the Giants. Owed the bulk of $28 million over this year and next, and is in his age-34 season. Might have to be a few moving pieces or dollars to get this kind of deal done. Melancon throws a lot of cutters and curves, and has been pretty much league-average in swinging-strike rate dating back to his pre-San Francisco days.
Vincent – Vincent is a righty with a crafty lefty’s skill set. For some reason, he still had to settle for a minor-league deal despite only once posting a FIP above 3.75 in his seven-year MLB career. Almost never cracks 90 mph with his fastball and gives up lots of fly balls, but he’s cheap and the Twins have a really good outfield defense. Could be a nice marriage here.
Dyson – Turns 31 next month, and has a good combo of strikeouts, grounders and good command when he’s right. After his blowup in Texas to start the 2017 season, he’s been really solid with the Giants. He’s a free agent after next season and has experience closing (38 saves in 2016) and everywhere else in the bullpen, too. Could be a really valuable piece.
Ken Giles – Toronto
Even with the debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on Friday night and those of Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio not far off, the Jays aren’t really designed to contend anytime soon. Thus, they could look to move their late-inning ace Giles, who came over in a trade from the Astros after his summer of discontent in Houston.
Giles turns 29 before the end of the season, and when he’s right is good for well over a strikeout per inning, few walks and about a league-average groundball rate. He’s all fastball-slider, and it’s a high-90s heater and the slider is just about untouchable. He’d come with one full year of club control in 2020 as well, so he’d fetch a pretty penny in a deal for Toronto, which should be a pretty motivated seller as the season rolls on.
Shawn Kelley – Texas
Kelley has put up numbers everywhere he’s been, but hasn’t been super long for any location as he’s played for six teams over his 11 big-league seasons. This is his first year with the Rangers, and in 10 innings he has nine strikeouts, no walks and a WHIP of 0.80. He’s the kind of guy who can be thrown anywhere in the mid- to late-innings mix, though with just 16 career saves he’s never really closed — for what that’s worth.
But he’s 35 and a free agent at season’s end, so he’s as good of a bet as anyone on this list to be moved at some point this season.