The Twins reportedly have been one of the more aggressive teams in recent weeks when it comes to inquiring about available pitching. But there is a big difference between being willing to pull the trigger on a deal and simply checking on prices.
So what is the Twins’ strategy with the July 31 trade deadline now 15 days away?
That has become more clear in recent days. Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Sunday that it doesn’t appear as if the Twins are much interested in rental players and, instead, the team is more focused on pitchers whose contracts they can control for at least one year.
That’s interesting considering starter Madison Bumgarner and reliever Will Smith — pitchers from the suddenly red-hot San Francisco Giants — both have been considered exactly the type of guys the Twins need to bolster their starting rotation and bullpen. Both, however, are in the final year of their contracts. The duo Walters mentions as being the types the Twins could be looking to obtain are Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman and closer Ken Giles, who are both eligible for salary arbitration after this season. (Giles’ recent elbow issues have to be a concern.)
Word is that while the Twins’ top priority is getting controllable pitching, it’s still possible the team could pursue rentals. All of this will come down to what the market dictates and with only one trade deadline this year there isn’t much more time to make a decision. We’ve already had a few pitchers moved in recent days with Andrew Cashner going to Boston and Homer Bailey going to Oakland.
The issue is that it’s hard to believe that teams shopping controllable pitchers — that list could include Arizona with Robbie Ray; Cleveland with Trevor Bauer and the Mets with Noah Syndergaard — will be willing to accept a trade with the Twins that doesn’t include either top prospect Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff. There also is a good possibility, if Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey won’t meet that type of asking price, teams will turn elsewhere and find someone who will pay a ransom.
You can at least partially blame the Tampa Bay Rays for this. Their trade at last year’s deadline — which sent pitcher Chris Archer to Pittsburgh for Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows — has gone from being a surprise that the Rays would give up Archer to being a great deal for Tampa Bay. Meadows has turned into an All-Star and Glasnow was 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA before being sidelined by injury. Archer, meanwhile, is 3-6 with a 5.42 ERA in 16 starts this season.
Many executives are looking to get that same type of deal — ready-to-go players with plenty of team control left for a pitcher who has some control remaining.
This is why the rental path might make the most sense for the Twins, even if it isn’t their top choice. The Giants, who are only three games out in the NL wild card race after winning eight of their past 10, are likely going to get a significant return of prospects for Bumgarner and Smith, but it might come at a price that Falvey could stomach. There also is nothing that would stop the Twins from signing one or both pitchers to new contracts.
There is one other scenario that Walters wrote about that likely would leave many fans upset, considering the Twins appear to be a legitimate contender to represent the American League in the World Series. That is the fact the Twins are considering using pitchers from within their minor league system to help out.
That would mean taking successful starters and moving them to the bullpen for the playoffs. Two names mentioned in Walters’ column are lefthanders Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer. According to Walters, the Twins also could look to Double-A and even high-A for help from some of their hard-throwing prospects.
This seems like a big risk, and an underwhelming look, for a team that is on track to win the AL Central for the first time since 2010. Falvey and general manager Thad Levine could point to the fact the Twins entered Tuesday second in the AL in ERA among starters (3.76) and sixth in the AL in ERA among relievers (4.20) as justification for not making a splash move. But there is definitely room for upgrades in both areas — not to mention keeping potential pitching help from the Yankees and Astros — if you are going to pursue a World Series title.
The Twins appear to be in the first season of a multi-year window in which they will be contenders to win the division and make a playoff run. While that might make giving up future assets difficult, especially for what could be a rental, there also are no guarantees of future success. This team has been presented with a unique opportunity and would be wise to pounce.