When the Twins signed Jason Marquis, we heard that the team had a bit of wiggle room remaining to sign some relief help. Why this need hasn't been further addressed, considering the sins of the bullpen in 2011, is a question we'll never have an answer to, but if the front office wants to help a middling team preserve as many wins as possible then it still needs to be a major focus. As of today, after having baseball's highest bullpen ERA (4.51), highest opponent batting average (.270) and lowest strikeout rate (6.31 K/9) last season, Minnesota has made one move: re-sign Matt Capps.
Below is a list of free agent relief pitchers who have signed for very team-friendly one-year contracts since the off-season began. This isn't to throw the Twins' front office under the bus for not signing these pitchers, because we don't know the level of Minnesota's involvement in free agents they don't sign, but they're examples that we can use as measuring sticks against a few good relievers who are still on the market who could make this team better.
More after the jump.
While the Twins have made a number of calculated moves this winter, the only way they can maximize what they can squeeze out of the talent on this roster is to preserve late leads. They couldn't do it last year with a 'pen that starred Jose Mijares, Phil Dumatrait, Jim Hoey and Alex Burnett, so what would make anyone think they could do it with Burnett, Lester Oliveros, Scott Diamond and Jeff Manship?
The good news is that, if you buy into that list above, the Twins have opportunities to limit the innings given to mediocre and unproven relievers.They can even negotiate the shallow area between giving away those innings to young pitchers, and locking up roster spots with multi-year contracts to aging veterans, because all of the relievers below should be available on one-year deals.
Two things these reliever targets have to be: right-handed, and capable of striking hitters out. Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing should be two capable lefties if used correctly, which means that after Capps there are at least two spaces we can find for Major League relievers.
K/9: 8.6 K%: 19.8
Wuertz turned 33 in December, and while he's coming off a couple of weak seasons it means he's a good fit for the Twins. He can strike players out, and it's his imperfections which make him affordable. He's always had bouts of trouble with his command but those issues were on high display in 2011, but from '05 through '09 he tossed 312 innings of 3.26 ERA baseball while striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings. As I said when I made my pitch for him in my off-season blueprint, this market and his profile make him appealing to the Twins. Because if he works out, he could be the best right-handed set-up man this team has seen since the days of Pat Neshek and Juan Rincon.
Offer: 1 year, $1 million
K/9: 7.1 K%: 19.4%
Wheeler turned 34 just days before Wuertz turned 33. Wheeler's track record makes him a bit more appealing than Wuertz, because over the last couple years nothing stands out in his traditional lines that could really drive down his value. His slightly higher ERA from last year can be chalked up to an abnormally low strand rate on base runners. His fly ball tendencies would be partially mitigated by pitching in Target Field (probably). Like Wuertz, Wheeler's fastball burns in the upper 80s, but this doesn't bother me. The Twins wanted velocity in their bullpen last season, so they went out and picked up Jim Hoey. Velocity doesn't mean jack. Strikeouts do.
Offer: 1 year, $1.5 million
K/9: 7.4 K%: 19.2% (2010)
Moylan turned 33 just days before Wheeler turned 34 and before Wuertz turned 33. It's a thing. A coincidental thing. Promise. Anyway, Moylan had back surgery early last season and then tore his rotator cuff and labrum in his pitching shoulder. He's supposed to be ready by spring training. He's Australian, which a few guys in the organization will like, the Twins signed him as an amateur free agent way back in '96, which is a fun story, and considering his injury-riddled '11 should be available for a song. When healthy, Moylan is an efficient strikeout pitcher with okay command who picked up an absolute ton of ground balls (64% in his career). He's given up 13 home runs in nearly 300 Major League innings.
Offer: 1 year, $1 million
K/9: 8.0 K%: 21.8 (2010)
Zumaya will be 27 in '11, but didn't pitch at all last season (Moylan, at least, can say he did...and well), but we're all familiar with his stuff. If he could ever stay healthy he'd be an asset for any bullpen in baseball, but after appearing in 62 games as a rookie in '06 he's appeared in 28, 21, 29, 31 and 0 games over the last five years. Feeling lucky? Hell, it's not much money and there isn't much to lose. Maybe you offer him a Major League deal because nobody else is, and guarantee him $1 million for his trouble. If the three arms above can't be bought, maybe Zumaya's a grasping-at-straws type option.
Offer: 1 year, $1 million
Who do you like?