When the Aaron Hicks experiment in center field didn't work out for the second year in a row and the Twins had no backup plan, we knew they'd scour the waiver wire for help. They found it in the form of a 32-year old Sam Fuld, who had hit the wire after hitting .200/.273/.433 for Oakland in seven games through April 11. Found for nothing, Fuld proceeded to play 53 games for Minnesota, hitting a (for him) spectacular .274/.370/.354. That was his high-water mark, as he batted just .210/.275/.312 for Oakland down the stretch, but his time in Minnesota allowed Terry Ryan to net Tommy Milone.
Milone, who was 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 16 starts for the Athletics in 2014, was in Oakland's Triple-A affiliate as there just wasn't room for him in the Major League rotation. Yes: Oakland's starting five was too strong for a guy with a 3.55 ERA. And those circumstances led to Milone asking to be traded. But his time in Minnesota wasn't nearly as impressive, as he posted a 7.06 ERA in 21.2 innings. He did allegedly suffer from "minor fatigue," which would have affected his performance, but it was disappointing nevertheless.
Oddly enough, what came off as an excuse to just not use the guy who wasn't pitching well - may have been a legitimate call. Check out Milone's velocity in 2014 for his fastball, changeup, and curveball.
The fastball velocity doesn't have the top end that it's had in past seasons. The changeup and curveball velocity this year, especially once Milone was in Minnesota, are red-flag-worthy. Was Milone's arm actually fatigued? It could have been. Line drive rates spiked once he came to the Twins and batting average on balls in play along with it;
On the whole, Milone's already low-end mediocre strikeout rates were down this year (7.3% swinging strikes 2014 vs 8.3% career; 14.5% strikeout rate 2014 vs 16.9% career), and batters were having more success with his pitches that were up in the zone.
Rotation: Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer
By the time Opening Day rolls around in 2015, Milone will be just 28 years old. He'll be younger than Hughes and Nolasco, but older than Gibson, May, and Meyer. Milone also has the latter three beaten on experience, more than doubling Gibson's Major League innings pitched. In spite of a trainwreck end of 2014, he also still owns a career 3.98 ERA and 1.3 WHIP. He's also the only left-handed pitcher in the crew.
Does his age, experience, southpaw aspect, and relatively successful history give him a real shot at the five-man rotation coming out of spring training? At the very least, I imagine it will put him on even ground with May and Meyer. Hughes, Nolasco, and Gibson will have a hard time being unseated.
Milone's service time has qualified him as a Super 2. This doesn't change how many years he'll be under team control, but it does mean he goes to arbitration a year early. The lucky fellow will get four runs through arbitration instead of the nominal three.
All of which means he'll be a free agent after the 2017 season.
What's his role for the 2015 team?
This is an interesting case. For Milone, that could mean any number of things between now and April of 2015.
- A member of Minnesota's starting rotation
- A member of Rochester's starting rotation
- The Twins new long-relief pitcher
- Trade bait
Which of those do you like? The Twins have more options, and better options, for the starting rotation than they have in recent memory. That's not to say that the current crop of candidates (like that alliteration?) can turn Minnesota's corps of starters into a respectable grouping, but for the first time in a while you can see more than one piece in place.
The bad news for Milone is that his peripheral statistics send up all kinds of red flags. If his command were exceptional or if he missed more bats, the velocity wouldn't be an issue, but as it turns out his command is okay but his strikeout rates and velocity leave a lot to be desired. What had made him an effective pitcher, in spite of these things, was the fact that hitters didn't always get solid contact. There's a reason Milone's career batting average on balls in play is just .296, and it's not all attributable to luck or a good defense in Oakland...although those things help.
Oddly enough, the fact that Milone is a Super 2 may play into his potential Twins role in 2015 as anything else. His estimated salary for next season is $2,800,000, which isn't an albatross by any means but it's also a chunk of change the team could easily shift. You know what has trade value? Left-handed pitchers in their 20s who are under team control with a few hundred innings of effective Major League experience who don't have a prohibitive salary. That will check a lot of boxes.
Will Milone be traded? It's possible. If you consider that the Twins are targeting starting pitching in free agency and if you consider that there are already six pitchers for five spots, not including Mike Pelfrey, the inevitable conclusion is that something has to give. For my money, the upside for Trevor May and Alex Meyer is greater than the value Milone might provide in the rotation.
None of that means that trading Milone is a part of Terry Ryan's off-season blueprint, of course. Opening Day is five and a half months away, and there are a lot of things that could happen to shift the outcome between now and then. But it's worth keeping an eye on Milone this winter, because there are already more starters than spots available.