With Thanksgiving now behind us, we are comfortably in the “hot stove” part of the baseball calendar. Given the current pace of transaction activity (or lack thereof), maybe we are better off calling it the warm stove? Are we sure the stove is even lit? Yes, it is lit (thanks Atlanta), but the rest of us might have to blow on the faint flames a little bit to make the tinder and kindling really take off.
While we patiently wait for the free agent markets to heat up, we will be asking the Twinkie Town staff to weigh in each week on the free agents they think the Twins should target. Today’s roundtable focuses on starting pitching. Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill, and Homer Bailey are all free agents, which likely leaves Minnesota with two rotation spots to fill behind José Berríos, Kenta Maeda, and Michael Pineda. Sinkerballer Randy Dobnak and lefties Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer will be back to compete for those open spots and prospects Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Dakota Chalmers, and Bailey Ober could be in the mix as well.
Despite the availability of internal options, it seems likely Minnesota will dip into the free agent market to bring in a veteran starter or two. With that in mind, we asked the staff:
“Which starting pitcher(s) do you think the Twins should target in free agency, and why?”
The Twins should target Jake Odorizzi, Jose Quintana, and Corey Kluber to fill their rotation holes this off-season. A reunion with Jake Odorizzi makes lots of sense for both sides, as Odorizzi has experienced great success in Minnesota and seems to like it here. He also had a lost year in 2020, and could probably be had for about his same salary in 2021 ($17.8 million), although it may take a multi-year deal to bring him back. Quintana and Kluber would be more in line with the reclamation projects that the Twins front office has taken on (to great success) in recent years. Both have experienced incredible highs in their careers, although Quintana had been about average before an injury-riddled 2020, and Kluber has been injured for almost two entire years now. However, Quintana clearly has more in the tank, and I could see Wes Johnson bringing him back to his #2-starter level; if Kluber can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he can’t still pitch at a high level. Both could be had on affordable deals due to their respective warts.
I don’t have any great individual suggestions. The thing is, the Twins have operated under a “minimize risk” strategy for two decades. It was one style of that under Terry Ryan and a slightly different style now, but it’s basically the same concept. A middle-market team will get burned harder on bad signings than a team like the Yankees who could probably afford to buy and then blow up the Moon.
And it’s been, largely, successful. Aside from a few wonky years in the early 2010s, the Twins have had competitive teams. Yet they don’t win in the postseason. It’s worth noting that Oakland, using their own version of a similar strategy, hasn’t been winning much in the postseason, either. Not the same streak of individual playoff game losses... still, they don’t win playoff series.
Of course, saying “take more risks” is easy for me, it’s not my job on the line. But, “Take More Risks” Falvine!
My preferred option: Simply bring back Jake Odorizzi. I like Odo and I think he fits in well with this club. He’s had extraordinary bad luck in terms of injuries/contracts, but there doesn’t seem to be any ill will between him and the organization.
The safe, middle-of-the-road option: Investigate Mike Minor. Minor always seems to be right on the fringes of being a top-tier starter, and with Berrios and Maeda (as well as potentially Pineda) occupying those roles here, that’s really all we need. I don’t think the piggy bank would need to be busted open for Minor either.
The flyer: If budgets are as tight as expected and the conservative approach is in, I’d take a flyer on Mike Foltynewicz. Two years ago, he looked like he could be the ace of the Atlanta Braves staff. Now the league seems to have forgotten about him entirely. Would be worth a kick on the tires if all else fails.
Jake Odorizzi. Not because I’m sentimental about ex-Twins (though I totally am) but because I think Odorizzi is way better than we saw in the bizarro 2020 season. I pay too little attention to contracts to talk specifics about cost, but his near non-existent 2020 combined with all teams crying poor should make him available for a modest price, and maybe for just one year. My second pick would be Masahiro Tanaka, whom I think a change of scenery would do well. My third pick is not Trevor Bauer, anyone but Trevor Bauer please.
I’d like to see them at least pursue Odorizzi. Last year was truncated by injury and pandemic, so Odo only made four starts; he’s one year removed from an All-Star nod; and at 31 he’s towards the younger end of starting pitchers available in FA.
I’d also like to see them go after Taijuan Walker. Aside from being one of the youngest FA starters on the market at 28, he wore both 99 (for Seattle) and 00 (for Toronto) last year, and that’s just too cool.
I think the Twins will continue picking up veteran starters this winter, eschewing one big-ticket splash in favor of a handful of savvier pickups. They may not be Homer Bailey and Rich Hill all over again, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a pair of similar stopgaps get brought into the fold. With an increasing reliance on pitching changes and quick hooks, Falvey and Lavine may wind up getting a lot of value for older arms who are just asked to stay healthy and put in a trip through the order. They may be unsexy picks, but let’s say — Mike Fiers at 1/$6.5M with incentives, and an invite to spring camp for old friend Tommy Milone.
Oops, I completely forgot to reply to the email, so I’m editing this in at the last minute. Do better, TJ. Anyway, I’m on team Jake Odorizzi. The Twins know him better than most teams, and have the inside knowledge of what the health issues that really derailed his 2020 look like, so if their medical staff is comfortable, thats a good sign. Odorizzi clearly liked the Twins, as the infamous kneeling-on-the-target-field-mound moment attests. He’s probably the best pitcher available in the Twins’ budget. They’ll probably add three-ish starters overall though. One in the higher tier, like Odorizzi, that can be thier #3/4 type, and a couple guys who will compete for the last spot. That last guy is almost a commodity, so I’ll just trust the front office there. One to keep in mind though, Bartolo Colon is trying to make a come back. He might want to go to the Mets, but hey, he pitched for the Twins a couple years ago. Please?
I’m on the record that I think Corey Kluber would be an excellent fit for Minnesota. If healthy, he has the potential to produce like a top tier free agent, but for only a fraction of the cost. A one-year, incentive laden deal to reunite him with Falvey and give him a chance to work with Wes Johnson and the Twins’ spin factory seems like it could make great sense for both sides. I’ve also written that Taijuan Walker would be an interesting project for Johnson. Just 28, the former top prospect is a good candidate for some pitch mix adjustments and will be another year removed from elbow surgery. He also might make sense on just a one year deal. An opportunity to pitch for a winner with a good defense behind him could be enticing and help him improve his numbers before heading back to free agency again before 2022.
Like others have said, a return for Jake Odorizzi also makes sense given how his 2020 was essentially taken from him. If a multi-year deal can’t be found elsewhere, perhaps the Twins would be willing to give him another one year opportunity to build his platform for another run at free agency. Odo returning would probably be at the expense of signing one of Kluber or Walker. For me, it’s a pick two of three from that group, with a slight preference for Kluber and Odorizzi. Because you can never have too many starters, I’d also absolutely be open to another year with Rich Hill. He got better as the season went last year. Perhaps a full offseason and more time away from his elbow surgery prior to last season will help Hill recover another tick or two of velocity on his fastball. Despite the surgery and short summer camp, Hill remained in the top quartile for spin rates on both his fastball and curveball. There’s little reason to doubt he could produce at the same or better level in the same kind of role in his age 41 season.
Altogether, the staff votes look like this:
Jake Odorizzi - 6 votes
Corey Kluber - 2 votes
Taijuan Walker - 2 votes
Jose Quintana - 1 vote
Mike Minor - 1 vote
Mike Foltynewicz - 1 vote
Masahiro Tanaka - 1 vote
Mike Fiers - 1 vote
Tommy Milone - 1 vote
Rich Hill - 1 vote
Bartolo Colon - 1 vote
Not Trevor Bauer - 1 vote
With that, now it’s your turn Twinkie Town. Let us know in the comments, which starting pitcher(s) do you think the Twins should target in free agency, and why?”