The Twins got good news on Thursday when righthander Jake Odorizzi resisted the temptation to hit the open market and accepted the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer the team had given him. But that was only the beginning for a team that captured its first AL Central title since 2010 by winning 101 games in 2019.
Odorizzi’s return means he and Jose Berrios will be near the top of the Twins’ rotation but there remain plenty of spots to fill and questions to be answered. Among them is whether the Twins plan to pursue a top-of-the-rotation starter through free agency or trade? Either way that pitcher will not come cheap, but the Twins are in no position to get skittish this offseason.
If the Twins’ success this summer showed us anything, it’s that this club is no longer in rebuilding mode and is now ready to take the necessary steps so that a serious playoff run can occur. They came nowhere close to do that this past season as they were dispatched (again) in three games by the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.
The feeling has been that Berrios is on track to one-day be a big-league ace but that has yet to happen and assuming it will in 2020 would be a mistake. The 25-year-old righthander went 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA this season and would be a perfect No. 2 in the rotation entering next season. The 29-year-old Odorizzi was 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA and will return as a strong No. 3 or 4 starter.
Twins fans are going to want Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg but let’s make one thing clear: That isn’t going to happen. Is it worth making a call on Cole or Strasburg? Absolutely. But neither one is coming to Minnesota, in part because their price tag will be too high and in part because Cole is likely going to sign in California and Strasburg appears headed back to the World Champion Washington Nationals.
So where does that leave the Twins? Far from being forced to shop in the bargain bin when it comes to starters and considering the amount of payroll they will have available there is no reason not to spend at this point. Two free agents who jump off the page are 29-year-old righthander Zack Wheeler, who has been with the New York Mets, and 30-year-old lefthander Madison Bumgarner, who has spent his career with the San Francisco Giants.
Bumgarner arrived in the big leagues at the age of 19 in 2009 so it feels like he has been around forever. While he has pitched 1,846 major league innings, Bumgarner could be a candidate for a strong second act to his career. That’s assuming he lands with the right forward-thinking team that could help him, just as the Astros assisted AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander after he arrived from Detroit.
Bumgarner was 9-9 with a career-worst 3.90 ERA in 34 starts with a Giants club that went 77-85 in 2019. There was speculation the Giants might move Bumgarner before the July trade deadline — Minnesota was rumored as a possible destination — but that didn’t happen in part because San Francisco went on a hot streak.
Bumgarner was a key piece in the Giants’ successes earlier in his career and was part of World Series championship teams in 2010, 2012 and 2014, when he was MVP of both the National League Championship Series and World Series. Bumgarner is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 16 games and 14 postseason starts and 4-0 with a ridiculous 0.25 ERA in five games and four starts in the World Series.
Bumgarner turned down the same qualifying offer that Odorizzi accepted, and there reportedly already is interest in him from the Yankees, Padres, Phillies and the Braves. The Giants also could try to keep him. It appears certain that even with draft-pick compensation attached, Bumgarner isn’t going to have to wait until June (when that compensation disappears) to get a rich contract. That’s what Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel ended up doing last offseason as the market remained slow for a second consecutive year.
There is one projection that has the Twins getting Bumgarner on a five-year, $110 million contract. There’s risk in that but this is the exact time for Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, and Thad Levine, the team’s general manager, to take such a chance.
If it’s not going to be on Bumgarner, it should be on Wheeler. Wheeler broke in with the Mets in 2013, missed 2015 and 2016 after having Tommy John surgery, but reached 195.1 innings pitched in 2019 as he went 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. Wheeler reportedly will be pursued by numerous teams, including the Angels, Braves, Padres, Yankees and White Sox. His fastball velocity this past season reportedly was at a career-high 96.7 miles-per-hour, putting him behind only Cole for the second-highest velocity of any free agent starter.
Wheeler, like Bumgarner, rejected a qualifying offer from his team and thus the club signing him will have to surrender a draft pick next June. What type of pay day can Wheeler expect? The New York Post reported it wouldn’t be any less than four years at $75 million and could be as high as five years at $100 million.
That’s a lot for any team to pay, but with an offense that set the Major League single-season home run record and a payroll that will be able to absorb a significant contract or two, the Twins are in the rare position of being able to play let’s make a deal.
This time it needs to be done.