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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Beyond Madison Bumgarner, an idea to improve Twins pitching

After missing out on Zack Wheeler [Phillies], could the Minnesota Twins still add a good pitcher on a rich long-term contract like Madison Bumgarner? If you’re risk averse, and you flinch at the prospect of committing $100 million to arm that inherently carries injury risk, how will you ever build a competitive rotation?

We’ve been full of creative ideas this winter to help the Twins improve their 2020 pitching staff. Signing Yasmani Grandal, for example, was an out-there idea that would have helped prevent runs next year. Same holds true for signing Anthony Rendon or a trade for Mookie Betts (or Jackie Bradley Jr.). Another way to upgrade the pitching staff would have been to sign Wheeler to a 5-year deal for $118 million.  Now the same can be said of Bumgarner for the Twins, although I’m not sure the industry will view them as equals.

I have another idea to act on today. Now that we’ve seen Wheeler sign and Cole Hamels sign (1 year, $18 million): Which pitchers would be willing to dial up the dollars on a short term deal? If you’re the Twins, get better today by making someone rich without all the long-term commitment.

To be clear, for all the creative ideas this winter, I think the Twins should acquire two more starting pitchers. It’s the safest path to defending their A.L. Central crown. Another path would be to roll with José Berríos and Jake Odorizzi and a third pitcher from outside the organization (trade or free agent), count on two youngsters to emerge in spring training and then be willing to make a big-swing trade in July for an ace. It’s a riskier path in some ways, and barring a frozen trade market this winter, it’s not the path I’d advocate because of the two other serious competitors in the AL Central.

So this column presents a shopping wish list for the 2020 Twins of pitchers that could complete a starting rotation that’s ready to go win a World Series. And I’m throwing in a twist. This list is for the sole purpose of discussing high dollars on one- or two-year contracts. 

1. Gerrit Cole?

Every pitching conversation HAS to start with Cole until he’s signed. It just has to. If you want to adjust your sights down as a reader, that’s fine, but the Twins should not allow themselves that convenience.

Yes, I would pay an actual boat load of money to sign Gerrit Cole for a one-year deal. Although to answer your question, No, I can’t imagine that is what the prized free agent is looking for this winter. I just wanted to include him in this column to remind everyone two things. One) who will be the most sought-after pitcher on the market; and 2) That the pitching-needing Twins shouldn’t hide from the conversation.

Historically good strikeout numbers, a Cy Young contender, a postseason force, 29 years old, always considered a top arm, and a pitcher who really broke out with the Astros. And all with the look of someone who is built to last.

I’d wouldn’t be surprised if the Cole conversation — he met with the Yankees this week and there’s heavy media speculation that he’s landing in California someday — starts at 6 years, $210 million. It could go up from there and it could go way up from there. What if some creative team just said, ‘Hey man, here’s 2 years and $80 million, what do you think?’

I get that for years Twins fans have been conditioned to look beyond the best players, and instead have been trained to wonder which middle-class free agents will exceed the value of their contract. I just think that this Twins regime is built a little differently, and decades of this Pavlovian conditioning should be examined if the Twins are going to go fishing in big ponds for big fish. Cole, you’ll agree, qualifies as a very big fish.

Put Stephen Strasburg in the same category, though I’d rather have Cole.

2. Dallas Keuchel?

As long as we’re talking about options that probably won’t materialize on a one-year contract, what would you pay for one season of Dallas Keuchel? The way I read things last year is that Keuchel could very well have landed with a team in spring training, or earlier, and instead held a high line on his own value demonstrated over multiple years. The former Cy Young winner eventually agreed to a 1-year deal with the Braves, once draft-pick compensation disappeared in June, and he effectively bet on himself to go get rich this winter. His holdout counterpart, Craig Kimbrel, took the multi-year offer from the Cubs, cashing in at that moment instead of holding out for more this offseason.

Keuchel bet on himself and had a strong half-year. At 32, I would expect that he’ll look for something longer than one season this time around.

Just like the short-term concept for Gerrit Cole, I don’t know that I can see this happening.

3. Hyun-jin Ryu

Ryu is one of those pitchers who is a star if you’re living on the west coast, a Dodgers fan, or play fantasy baseball. He was second in the N.L Cy Young voting this year. And for some reason his name doesn’t always seem to get thrown into the conversation when we’re talking about good pitchers who should get paid this winter.

His age might be working against one of those lucrative multi-year deals that other pitchers are hoping to earn this offseason. He’ll turn 33 just before opening day, and at that age he might not get those 5-year offers that agents are currently trying to drive for other good starting pitchers.

He accepted the Qualifying Offer last year to stay with the Dodgers, and the reported rumors are that he’d prefer to stay and pitch in Southern California. I can’t speak for Ryu, but I’d think rumors like that would not do well to drive up his cost on the open market. To pitch for the 2020 Twins and make a lot of money without a long-term commitment, that would seem like a pretty enticing scenario in my opinion.

Take a look at starters in the past 3 seasons who’ve pitched at least 200 innings combined. The top-4 on the ERA leaderboard reads Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu. He’s not the strikeout force that those guys are, and certainly he hasn’t carried the same innings load.

Given a checkered injury history, some strong numbers on the mound and his age, I’d be really intrigued by the idea of offering him a 1- or a 2-year deal for big bucks.

4. A second-half starter

Jordan Lyles do anything for you? How about Homer Bailey? I had Cole Hamels on this list and before the column published he went and got $18 million for one season. Rich Hill always throws his name in the hat for these lists, but surgery will keep him off the mound until mid-summer, which kind of defeats the purpose here.

When Lyles was traded from the Pirates to the Brewers, it wasn’t the kind of deal that re-orders the baseball landscape and grabs headlines for days. He pitched pretty well for Milwaukee, though, and that might make him an attractive prospective hire for a team like the Twins.

The file: Jordan Lyles, 29
Pre-trade – 17 starts, 5.23 ERA, 25.7% strikeout rate
Post-trade – 11 starts, 2.45 ERA, 23.5% strikeout rate

His career numbers aren’t dazzling, and his name wouldn’t sell tickets. Throw out his rotten July stats and you can start to warp what you think of his 2019 season: 3.09 ERA in 131 innings, a 24.6% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate.

Homer Bailey’s trade from the Royals to the A’s was likewise considered low-wattage, and it worked out all right for an Oakland team that needed starters. In his second start with the A’s he gave up 9 earned runs in 2 innings of work against the Astros — in Houston. Given what we’ve read about their “home-field advantage” at MinuteMaid Park, let’s just for fun throw out that start.

The file: Homer Bailey, 33
Pre-trade – 18 starts, 4.80 ERA, 20.8% strikeout rate
Post-trade (excluding 1 Astros outing) – 12 starts, 3.28 ERA, 22.8% strikeout rate

 

5. Michael Pineda

UPDATE: Apparently the Twins agreed. Pineda reportedly agreed to a 2-year deal to stay in Minnesota. Here’s what we wrote before the Pineda signing was reported.

If you’re yawning at those last two, just know that I would present those as the secondary move – not including Jake Odorizzi’s return.

Can you trust him? What will the market think of his risk/reward bundle? Do you believe what you saw in the middle of the season? Is that worth taking another turn on the Wheel of Pineda?

Any team that signs him will need a six-week fill-in plan. His suspension from last year that burned the Twins will carry over to the first 39 games of 2020. I’m guessing he signed the “rehab contract” two years ago with the hope of impressing in 2019 and resetting his market value. With that in mind, what a lousy time to get suspended for taking a banned substance. (Then again, what a lousy time for it to happen to the Twins.)

Still, on the ethical gradient, Pineda’s “cheat” is in my book relatively benign. It was a troubling lack of judgment. No getting around that.

At the time of the suspension Pineda was pitching like their best starter. People were making the case outside the Twins organization that Big Mike should start Game 1 for Minnesota in the postseason. Then he got suspended the same weekend that Byron Buxton was going in for shoulder surgery, and the Twins lost two impact players basically overnight. In total, Pineda made 26 starts in 2019 for the Twins; in his arbitrary “second-half” of those starts he ran a 3.07 ERA with a 26.8% strikeout rate. He’d found his fastball-slider combination and was helping to carry the Twins’ pitching staff.

Personally, I’d trust him if he’s willing to return to the scene of his “crime” and make good on what he started.

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twins

Previous Story Zack Wheeler agrees to deal with Phillies; Madison Bumgarner next on Twins radar? Next Story Madison Bumgarner’s price tag continues to increase as more teams join the bidding