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Seven reliever trade targets for the Twins

Minnesota desperately needs bullpen help. Jesse explores a few potential trade targets.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago we explored trade targets at the catcher position. Little has changed since that time, with Eric Fryer replacing Chris Herrmann this week but no sign of Josmil Pinto as he recovers from a concussion. Kurt Suzuki remains entrenched behind the plate.

Minnesota's biggest need as we approach the trade deadline could still be considered offense, but the bullpen has produced more holes than the plot to Jurassic World (outrunning a T-Rex in high heels...OKAY). The bullpen of a 46-39 team has the worst strikeout rate in baseball (15.9%), but also ranks 22nd in ERA (3.85), 25th in FIP (4.17), and dead last in xFIP (4.34). In all of baseball, the only bullpen that owns an 80%+ contact rate belongs to the Twins.

As things stand this afternoon, Minnesota's bullpen consists of seven players: Blaine Boyer, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, J.R. Graham, Trevor May, Ryan O'Rourke, and Glen Perkins. Considering that May will be back in the rotation as soon as (fingers crossed) the club can find a way to move Tommy Milone or Mike Pelfrey, it means that the only relievers who aren't in danger of being replaced are Perkins, Fien, and probably Graham because of his status as a Rule 5 draft pick. Nobody else, including Boyer, should be considered too safe.

My short list of relief targets is by no means exhaustive. I've limited my search to teams who have announced that players who will be made available, or teams that are pretty much out of the picture. If you think there's another pitcher worth mentioning, let's hear it in the comments.

Joaquin Benoit, RHP, San Diego Padres
Age: 37
Contract Status: $8 million team option for 2016 with $1.5 million buyout clause

Benoit was on the list I put together last night, but today Ken Rosenthal stated that he's among Minnesota's potential targets. It's easy to see why. He's an aging arm with money owed (a hair less than $8 million still due this year, plus the option/buyout dues), which will help drive down prospect cost. He also has a brilliant track record: since 2010, Benoit owns a 2.34 ERA (3.12 FIP) in 349.2 innings, with 392 strikeouts and just 227 hits allowed. His velocity is holding strong, and his slider and changeup continue to be plus offerings.

The only drawback with Benoit is that his command can slip at times. But if the Twins want a right-hander and the price for the next man on this list is too high, the Padre set-up man might be my second favorite righty on this list.

Carter Capps, RHP, Miami Marlins
Age: 24
Contract Status: Under team control through 2018; arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2016

Capps came to Miami in the trade that sent Logan Morrison to Seattle in December of 2013, and is one of very few potential trade chips for the Marlins. His biggest weapon is a 98-mph fastball, although his 84-mph slider gives him a nasty 1-2 punch and that delivery is bound to mess with any hitter who steps into the box. He's struck out an astounding 49.5% of opposing batters this year, in 23.1 innings of work. That's impressive, but just as useful is the fact that hitters willingly chase 40% of pitches outside of the strike zone.

When Capps can locate his pitches he's almost unhittable, as illustrated by his .169 opponent batting average. If the Marlins are willing to part with him, Minnesota could do worse in finding a shut-down right-hander to help set up Perkins.

Tyler Clippard, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Age: 30
Contract Status: Impending free agent

The only thing worse than knowing your team is going to be bad is expecting your team to be good and then you watch as it all goes wrong. Billy Bean's A's aren't a good team this year, and that means Clippard could be available. He's closing for Oakland now, getting his first chance to rack up salary-inflating saves for the first time since 2012, but that means he's familiar with a set-up role. While the strikeout rates have come down a little and the walk rates are too high, opponents are still hitting just .173 off of him and hitters are rarely squaring up on the ball when they do put a ball in play (17.2% hard-hit rate).

Clippard already owns a great changeup, so coming to Minnesota would allow him to fit right in with Neil Allen's philosophy of being a bit more daring with the pitch. Should the Twins be willing to take on salary, which shouldn't be an issue, they could agree to pay the roughly $4 million remaining on Clippard's contract to abate whatever price the Twins would need to pay in prospects.

Neal Cotts, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Age: 35
Contract Status: Impending free agent

As Berardino notes, Cotts has been much better recently. The fastball has gotten slower as he's gotten older, with the average velocity actually registering at a hair under 90-mph this year, but by throwing a cutter at roughly the same velocity it's a good combo to set hitters up. Hitters aren't chasing nearly as often this year as they had been the last couple of seasons, but Cotts continues to get swinging strikes and that's something the Twins desperately need from a left-handed reliever.

Cotts might be the more attainable of the two lefties in Milwaukee's bullpen, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily the guy I hope the Twins shoot for. But we'll come to that in a bit.

J.J. Hoover, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Age: 27
Contract Status: Under team control through 2018; arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2016

Hoover may seem like the second choice if the Twins were going to raid Cincinnati's bullpen, but I just don't think that Aroldis Chapman fits with Minnesota's plans. This guy, however, is a ground-ball inducing set-up man who throws a whole lot of fastballs. He sits around 93-mph, but he has a pretty good changeup and pairs them with a couple of breaking balls as well. While Hoover's strikeout rates aren't as high as they have been in the past, and certainly can't compete with any of the other pitchers on this list, he has yet to allow a home run in 2015.

He wouldn't be the impressive addition that we might be looking for, but Hoover would give the Twins a solid and effective right-handed pitcher to pair with Casey Fien. Because of this, in spite of being under team control he might be one of the more affordable options.

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Age: 34
Contract Status: Impending free agent

With 339 career saves, coming to Minnesota to be a set-up man may not be the outspoken Papelbon's idea of a good time, but let's face it: the Phillies suck, and Papelbon is one of the guys they can flip. He'd also be a massive improvement to the team of relievers setting up Perkins. The fastball velocity is holding it the lower 90s, and he's been throwing more of the slider this year and it's leading to Papelbon getting more ground balls than he ever has.

Considering his age and impending free agent status, it still feels like Philadelphia would be looking for a healthy return. This one feels like the worst fit of the bunch.

Will Smith, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Age: 25
Contract Status: Under team control through 2019; will be a Super-Two and eligible for arbitration in 2016

This is the guy I'd have at the top of my list if I were a member of the Twins front office. Coming to the Brewers in return for Nori Aoki in December of 2013, Smith has established himself as one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in baseball. He's not only striking out 30.8% of batters, but he hasn't allowed a home run all season. With a 47% ground ball rate and an ability to get hitters to chase his pitches, if there's a premier left-hander on the market that Minnesota should be targeting it's this guy.

Smith also could be the most expensive player on this list, first in the form of prospects to get him into a Twins uniform but he'll also cost the Twins millions as a reliever set to go through four years of arbitration. Still: incredible left-handed relievers don't grow on trees.