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Free agent target preview: relief pitchers

The Twins have a bullpen that needs shoring-up

National League Division Series Game 3: Los Angeles Dodgers v. San Diego Padres Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Welcome to Part Two in a three-part series examining free agent targets for the Minnesota Twins. Part One focused on position players and can be found here.

Ah, the bullpen. It’s a place where the Twins surely thought they had a true strength in 2020. It was true for some time, of course, but then things swung, in the way that they do in the life of relievers.

The Twins bullpen started off hot. Trevor May was nearly un-hittable early on, and save for a tough outing in Milwaukee dominated the first six weeks of the season. Sergio Romo gave up just two earned run over his first 10 13 innings. Even though Taylor Rogers was largely disappointing, Tyler Duffey continued to surprise as his career trends in the right direction.

An area that was a stealth strength for the 2019 Bomba Squad that lacked in consistent, high-end starting pitching took a backseat to a starting rotation that was easily superior to the bullpen in 2020.

Now, the Twins face a situation in which a chunk of innings must be filled.

Trevor May is already gone, having signed a reported two-year, $15 million deal with the New York Mets. The Twins paid Romo’s $250k buyout instead of bringing him back at $5 million. Tyler Clippard is a free agent, and Matt Wisler was surprisingly non-tendered.

Here’s who the Twins have brought back so far:

  • Taylor Rogers (tendered a $6 million deal)
  • Tyler Duffey (signed for $2.2 million)
  • Caleb Thielbar (signed for $650,000)

It’s fair to assume that Jorge Alcala will be given an inside track on a job. Other arms from last year’s bullpen that are still under team control include right-hander Cody Stashak and left-handers Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, the latter two whom may still fight for a spot in the starting rotation.

So, what’s next? Let’s take a look at a few free agent options to round out the bullpen.

High-priced answers

  • Liam Hendriks
  • Brad Hand
  • Blake Treinen
  • Trevor Rosenthal

Let’s be honest. It’s fairly unlikely that the Twins go out and drop $8-10 million per year on a single relief pitcher. It just isn’t how the Twins front office operates, and that’s okay. Rare is the reliever who is actually worth that coin.

Then again, May just received an average of $7.5 million annually, and only old friend Liam Hendriks is sure to get more than that on the open market.

It would be a shock if the Twins shelled out eight figures for Hendriks, so let’s take him off the table. Brad Hand and Blake Treinen are likely seeking multi-year deals at this point in their respective careers, although Hand is a Twin Cities native and graduate of Chaska High School so perhaps there is a hometown discount on the horizon.

Rosenthal may have been slightly more gettable after three straight down years and an injury-riddled 2019, but he was fantastic in Kansas City and San Diego this year and probably played himself back into a $5-6 million deal at the least.

Prediction: The Twins will surely be in the conversation to grab a name from the top tier, and perhaps it’s another one year “prove it” deal for Rosenthal with a second-year option that allows the Twins to slot in another right-handed setup man in front of Rogers. It would be a genuine surprise if the Twins signed a reliever for anything much richer than Rogers’ just-completed $6 million deal.

Middle-tier plug-and-plays

  • Kirby Yates
  • Shane Greene
  • Greg Holland
  • Pedro Baez

This group includes plenty of veteran arms with postseason experience but also varying levels of downsides to consider.

Yates was an All-Star in 2019 but only appeared in six games before he was shutdown after surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. Past performance will probably allow Yates to pull down $5-6 million, however.

Greene, from up-and-down Detroit Tigers fame, was traded to Atlanta prior to the 2019 deadline and was fantastic in 2020. Similar to Rosenthal, Holland had a few down years and turned his trajectory around with a fantastic 2020 for the Royals but is 37 years old.

Baez was an enigmatic performer for the Dodgers for several years yet could offer some upside as a 25-year-old. However, his velocity and strikeout rate dipped in 2020.

Prediction. It’s unlikely that the Twins spend both in Tier 1 and Tier 2, so the bet here is if the Twins don’t land one of the top four or five relievers on the market, they’ll take a chance on a veteran like Holland for one year and $5 million or maybe offer a couple of years and $10-11 million to Baez, hoping to strike lightning in a bottle.

Bargain veterans

  • Sergio Romo
  • Tyler Clippard
  • Joakim Soria
  • Mark Melancon
  • Pedro Strop

It seems unlikely that Romo will be back; the Twins could have kept him for $5 million and instead paid him $250k to leave. While not knowing exactly where the line of delineation would be, it’s hard to see the Twins paying Romo anything more than a couple million on top of his buyout.

Clippard, on the other hand, was fantastic for what the $2.75 million deal he signed last year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Twins keep him for something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million.

Soria was solid for Oakland last year but the strikeouts dipped. Melancon is a similar story. Strop and his high slider volume would fit the reclamation project bill as he appeared in only four games with Cincinnati last season before he was released.

Prediction. The Twins will probably take a flier on at least one player in this category. Perhaps that player is even Matt Wisler, who could be brought back at a smaller amount than he would have received in arbitration. The guess here is that the Twins sign one player from one of the top two categories on this list, bring back Clippard, and maybe add one more veteran arm to battle for the final bullpen spot.

Next Up

As free agency gets underway, we’ll take a look at the starting pitching market as the Twins once again look to shore-up the back-end of the rotation.