Minnesota Twins’ Pitching Moves are Much Ado About Nothing

The Minnesota Twins replaced starters Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez with Rich Hill and Homer Bailey while re-signing Michael Pineda this offseason. Its impact? Nothing. These are stopgap, placeholder signings.

The Twins agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with Hill, which can climb as high as $9.5 million with incentives; they gave Bailey a one-year, $7 million deal; Pineda re-signed on a two-year, $20 million deal.

To be clear, the aforementioned hurlers are proven, respectable pitchers. There’s nothing wrong with the contracts the Twins gave them. It’s fair value on their end, and none of these starters hamper their future spending ability. The trio of signings simply won’t have a substantial impact on the Twins pitching staff.

Hill has a great deal of postseason experience, but there’s a transparent weakness in his game: injuries. The southpaw has recorded an ERA below four in each of the last four seasons and below three in two of the last four seasons, but his career has been hampered by injuries.

There will be moments of excellence that make the Minnesota faithful fall in love with Hill, but based on his recent track record, him making 20 starts would be a realistic best-case scenario. What do the Twins get out of that, especially if he can’t pitch in the postseason?

Bailey was sent to the Oakland Athletics before last season’s Major League Baseball trade deadline, where he recorded a 4.30 ERA across 13 starts on a team that went to the playoffs. He puts a lot of runners on-base, relies on soft contact, and pitches to a high ERA.

Pineda had an encouraging bounce-back season with the Twins in 2019 after missing a year and a half due to an elbow injury. He recorded a 4.01 ERA across 26 starts before being suspended for violating MLB’s Drug and Prevention Program. When healthy, Pineda is a power pitcher who logs strikeouts at a high rate. At the same time, that dominance comes in spurts, as he has exhibited inconsistency throughout his career.

The Twins 2020 starting rotation projects to include Hill, Bailey, Pineda, Jose Berrios, and Jake Odorizzi (who accepted the $17.8 million qualifying offer) in some order. Respectable? Yes. Good enough to get the playoffs? Probably, they got there with a similar rotation last season. Enough to overcome the New York Yankees or Houston Astros? Nope.

Starting pitching has been the Twins’ kryptonite over the last two seasons. Their offense has always been electric, and they’ve been well-managed, whether it be on Paul Molitor or Rocco Baldelli‘s watch.

Berrios has a Cy Young-caliber pitching arsenal. He throws a wicked curveball, hits the high 90s on his fastball, and pitches deep into games. With that said, he struggled in the second half of last season and labored against the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

Odorizzi had a career season in 2019 and was the lone Twin starting pitcher to perform considerably well in the postseason (Odorizzi surrendered two runs across five innings in Game 3 of the ALCS). At the same time, the veteran right-hander’s remarkable first-half success, which was highlighted by sporting a 1.92 ERA in mid-June, was an aberration. He’s a reliable ground-ball pitcher but not to the extent of sporting an ERA below two or even three.

The two right-handers are, without a doubt, proven commodities and mid-to-top-of-the-rotation starters. But they’re not enough for the Twins to win the AL pennant, let alone a playoff series.

This offseason has featured a historic amount of dollar bills going to starting pitchers. Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the New York Yankees; Stephen Strasburg re-signed with the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $245 million deal; Zack Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Twins are in the middle of the pack in payroll. They’re not going to spend top dollar, but they’re also not afraid to get their feet wet in the free agent market. No one expected them to give that money to Cole or Strasburg. It’s fine.

On the other hand, you could argue that there’s no reason why they couldn’t match Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s four-year, $80 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, Madison Bumgarner‘s five-year, $85 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, or Dallas Keuchel‘s three-year, $55.5 million deal with the division rival Chicago White Sox.

When you thought about teams that would spend big bucks on starting pitching this offseason did the Blue Jays and D-Backs pop into your mind?

The Twins’ pitching transactions are a byproduct of them not making a bold move for their starting rotation. They passed on this offseason’s headliners, as well as many trades over the last couple years. Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, and James Paxton are some high-profile pitchers they could’ve traded for.

According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Twins have a four-year deal in the range of $100 million on the table for 34-year-old third baseman Josh Donaldson. Granted the need for a corner infielder exists in the wake of non-tendering C.J. Cron — who signed with the division rival Detroit Tigers — a high-priced bat isn’t exactly the Twins’ top need. Their lineup features the likes of Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sano.

The Twins have a $20-plus million a year deal on the table for Donaldson, but they can’t put forth a similar contract for a starting pitcher?

Sure, the White Sox have a flashy, young core and have been one of the busiest teams in the sport this offseason, but they’re not yet a surefire playoff team. One could argue that the Cleveland Indians, who won 93 games last season, are still better than the White Sox even after trading Corey Kluber, who started just seven games last season, to the Texas Rangers.

The Twins are the team to beat in the AL Central. The future is now. Their positional core has postseason experience under its belt, can only improve, and is coming off a 101-win season. This is when you’re supposed to take chances and go all in on winning the World Series.

Hill and Bailey aren’t bad signings. Their additions just mean more of the same for the Twins starting rotation.

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