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The Twins don’t need to sign a top reliever this off-season

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A great bullpen can be grown, not bought, for the 2018 club.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

You read the headline and probably came here to ask what I was smoking, but bear with me. I think I can build a pretty good case. Lets assume that the Twins carry eight relievers on their active roster next season. I’d rather see seven, but I’m not that crazy.

First of all, a look at who will be returning for (almost) sure from the group that ended this season with the Twins.

  • Alan Busenitz - after debuting on June 17, pitched 31.2 innings with a 1.99 ERA. This is the lowest ERA of any pitcher to pitch more than one inning for the 2017 Twins.
  • Taylor Rogers - Two consecutive seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA, and the best lefty in the pen, he is a lock.
  • Trevor Hildenberger - after debuting on June 23rd, pitched 42 innings with a 3.21 ERA.
  • Ryan Pressly - 2017 was a down season, but he has a good track record with the Twins (2.5 career bWAR, -.02 bWAR this season,) and is one of the most experienced relief pitchers on the team. He will be arbitration eligible, and should not be terribly expensive, probably in the two million dollar range.
  • Tyler Duffey - Like Pressly, the converted starter didn’t put up great numbers this season, but for part of the year, was one of the most reliable pitchers at Molitor’s disposal. It was his first season as a reliever, and he should also be considered safe.

I would consider those five pitchers to be locks for the Twins bullpen, which leaves three available spots.

Next, lets take a look at the free agents the Twins could bring back

  • Matt Belisle - After a very rough start to the season, he stepped into the closer role and performed adequately. He made $2.05 million in 2017, and would likely sign for similar money for 2018, if the Twins want him back.
  • Dillon Gee - This is his first run at free agency, and after the Rangers cut him loose, he had a 3.22 ERA with the Twins, and is the perfect “swing-man” who can primarily be your long-relief, and occasionally start.
  • Brandon Kintzler - According to all reports, he liked the Twins, and the Twins liked him. Despite being traded to Washington near the deadline, a reunion could make sense with the former closer, and his playoff experience with the Nationals could be valuable.
  • Glen Perkins - Its obvious they won’t pick up his option, but could he come back on a MiLB deal? He might, if he doesn’t decide to retire.

I think it is pretty likely that the Twins sign one of these four, and that takes us to six spots claimed. Two more to go. It’s also possible the team signs more than one of these veterans.

The Twins suffered a lot of injuries throughout the system at the pitcher position, especially in bullpen. A few guys who were injured in 2017 should be factors in the MLB bullpen.

  • Ryan O’Rourke - Our favorite bullpen-puker was supposed to be a major factor in the late innings this season, but underwent pre-season Tommy John Surgery, and did not pitch in 2017. I’m not sure when he will be ready, but it should be the first half of the season.
  • Phil Hughes - The Twins should have four of their starters already written in fairly dark pencil, and may well be looking for more help. They also have several guys in the high majors knocking on the door. Hughes may be the victim of this crunch, and the Twins already moved him to the pen for part of 2017. He had success in that role for the Yankees earlier in his career, and the Twins are likely to try to salvage some value from his contract, so he may end up there.
  • Trevor May - May finally got his shot at starting, only to need Tommy John Surgery during spring training. He has been successful as a reliever in the past, and like Hughes, could end up the victim of the numbers game. He may not be quite ready for spring training, but should be able to pitch during the first half of the season. The Twins could also bring him back slower, as a starter, by sending him to the minors for a bit on a rehab assignment.
  • Dietrich Enns - Part of the return from sending Jaime Garcia to the Yankees, he made one spot start for the Twins before ending up on the DL. He could start at Triple-A, or relieve in the MLB. He has pitched in both roles in his career.

I think at least two of these guys will be taking spots in the pen at some point in the season. At least one will probably start there. Lets go with one, and take our total to seven pitchers.

A few of the other guys who pitched in the Twins pen may not be locks, but deserve a look at least.

  • Buddy Boshers - He racked up the frequent flyer miles between Minneapolis and Rochester this season, and was basically a league average pitcher when he was with the big show
  • John Curtiss - his 8.2 innings in September look bad based off the stats, but he was fantastic in the minors and has a lot of potential.
  • Gabriel Moya - The return for John Ryan Murphy, he tore up Double-A this season, and was called up in September. He could start the season at Triple-A, but will probably make a strong case to be in the majors by mid-season.
  • Aaron Slegers could also fit this category. He was a fantastic starter for Rochester, and pitched well for the most part when called upon by the Twins, but could be another victim of the numbers. The Twins could choose to use him in the Dillon Gee role, especially if they don’t re-sign Gee.

Between these four guys, you can easily make a case to fill the remaining bullpen spot. But of course, you need some more depth in case of injuries and ineffectiveness.

There are also a lot of young guys who the Twins should be willing to promote if they are ready:

  • J.T. Chargois - Despite spending most of the season on the DL, many Twins fans wanted him to make the team out of Spring Training last season.
  • Mason Melotakis - He passed through waivers during the season, but could still be a valuable asset.
  • Randy Rosario - he didn’t do well when called up, but is still a big, young, lefty. The Twins should give him another look.
  • Fernando Romero/Stephen Gonsalves/Felix Jorge/Kohl Stewart - These guys all will be on the 40-man roster, and while they are more likely to remain starters in minors, we have seen other teams develop starters in the pen for a couple years before transitioning them back. Rochester and Chattanooga are going to have loaded starting staffs, one of these could be an option.
  • Nick Burdi/Jake Reed - both lost a lot of 2017 to injuries, but could earn a shot at the big leagues with a strong rebound.

Two other factors to consider. First, the Rule-5 draft. The Twins like to take a pitcher and stash him in their pen. They did it with Ryan Pressly and it worked out. They did it again with Justin Haley, and it didn’t. Years ago, they took this route with Johan Santana. They may end up filling another spot this way.

The Twins have also been very good at finding relievers on the scrap heap. A couple of veterans on minor-league deals, and playing the waiver game a little could also help to round out the pen.

I could see the Twins starting the season with a bullpen which is much better than 2016’s opening day staff, composed of something like the following, if they do not sign anyone.

  • Closer - Rogers (L)
  • Set up - Busenitz, Hildenberger
  • Mid-innings/Low Leverage - Hughes, Duffey, Boshers (L), Pressly
  • Long Relief - Slegars

Just bringing back Belisle and Gee would look even better:

  • Closer - Belisle
  • Set up - Rogers (L), Hildenberger
  • Mid Innings/Low Leverage - Busenitz, Pressly, Boshers (L), Duffey
  • Long Relief - Gee

I don’t think either of these constructions makes it past mid-June without seeing some guys get promoted (and others demoted), but I could see either option as a valid opening-day bullpen. Moya and Curtiss will likely be the first two guys up in either scenario, and May and O’Rourke will need roster spots when ready. You could also substitute any one of the four of them, or a rule-5 guy in for Hughes in the first scenario; and for Boshers in either scenario. If you go with the second, you have to find a spot for Hughes, or eat his contract. Having this many options is good though, in case of injury or ineffectiveness. The Twins lost two pitchers they were counting on in spring training last season. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but having a plan B is good.

The point here, is that the Twins already have a lot of good options, even if they don’t have many great ones. Signing the kind of veteran that would be considered a “great” pitcher, or really even a major improvement, would probably require at least a four year commitment at $5 million or more per year. We aren’t the Yankees. I don’t think we can buy a competitive bullpen, and with the in-house options, we aren’t too far from possibly growing our own. Keep in mind, most of these guys are young, and have only a season or two MLB experience. They can get better. I’d rather try that while putting money towards locking up our best players and adding the one or two pieces to put us over the top.

Poll

What do you think, should the Twins sign any free agent relievers, or trade for relievers?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Yes, 3 or more, blow it up and start over
    (33 votes)
  • 66%
    Yes, but only one or two, get some help but see what the kids can do
    (370 votes)
  • 18%
    No, they should have other priorities this offseason
    (103 votes)
  • 9%
    No, but they should make Chris Gimenez a pitcher
    (54 votes)
560 votes total Vote Now