The Major League Baseball Players Association released a list of 139 players who are now eligible for free agency this offseason and can begin negotiating with any team, beginning November 7 at midnight.
On that list were five Minnesota Twins players, including Torii Hunter, who announced his retirement last week and won’t be negotiating or signing with anybody this offseason. After Hunter, Minnesota risks losing relief pitchers Blaine Boyer, Brian Duensing and Neal Cotts, as well as starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.
With free agency looming at the end of the week, general manager Terry Ryan has a number of decisions to make when it comes to his own players and many more around the league who he might be interested in bringing on board. All of the team’s free agents-to-be are deserving of spots on a 25-man roster, but the big question is where.
Blaine Boyer – Minnesota Twins The 34-year-old right hander revived his career in 2015 with Minnesota and both sides should be happy to reunite on a one-year deal for next season with a little financial bump for Boyer. After not pitching at the Major League level in 2012 and 2013, Boyer posted a 3.57 ERA with the San Diego Padres over 32 appearances in 2014 before finding himself as one of the most dependable middle relief options in Minnesota’s bullpen this year, finishing up with a career best 2.49 ERA over 68 appearances.
After earning a spot on the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training, Boyer’s season did not get off to a good start and it seemed like his run with the Twins would be short lived. He allowed five earned runs over his first four appearances (3.0 innings), but things turned around very quickly as the nine year veteran gave up only one run over his next 23 outings and was suddenly Paul Molitor’s go-to guy in the eighth inning. Boyer continued to be a reliable and consistent option for Minnesota the rest of the way while many other members of the team’s bullpen slipped up at times during the season.
Boyer’s year did end on a sour note when he was the losing pitcher in the second-to-last game of the season, allowing two runs over two thirds of an inning in the game that officially eliminated the Twins from playoff contention. But his overall body of work from day one until the very end last season is more than enough to keep him in good graces for next year.
It’s likely that Boyer outdid himself a bit with a career year in 2015, but the club is trying to improve their bullpen as is and it won’t get any better by letting one of your more consistent pitchers just walk away.
Neal Cotts – Minnesota Twins Both Cotts and Brian Duensing are free agents this offseason and they represent to team’s two left-handed middle-relief options so it’s likely that at least one of them will be resigned this winter and Cotts seems like the better option for a few reasons.
The price of the two players will be a big factor as Cotts will likely be the cheaper option. Cotts is coming off the better season after posting a 3.41 ERA over 68 appearances split between the Milwaukee Brewers and Twins. Minnesota’s bullpen struck out a league worst 6.85 batters per nine innings and Cotts simply gives the team a bigger strikeout boost when compared to his fellow left-handed reliever. Duensing averaged just 4.4 strikeouts per nine innings while Cotts fanned 8.2 hitters per nine innings.
Like Boyer, the Twins will bring Cotts back on a one-year deal after giving up a player to be named later for him in August. He’ll be 36 years old on Opening Day, meaning his next deal should come as a low-risk signing for whoever picks him up and with the Twins looking to boost their bullpen it should be a move they want to pursue.
Brian Duensing – New York Mets All the reason why the Twins will choose Cotts over Duensing have already been spelled out, but that by no means suggests that Duensing will have trouble finding work this winter.
The reigning National League Champions did have some bullpen issues of their own this season and never really had a reliable left-handed option during the regular season, forcing them to turn lefty specialist duties onto starting pitcher Jonathan Niese during the postseason. While New York has to re-sign or replace the bats of Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy, while also filling the holes on the bench left by free agents Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, they’ll still be interested in bringing in another left-handed arm for their bullpen. Duensing could wind up being a good match for them.
He’s an experienced pitcher who has made 354 career appearances over seven seasons, including 61 starts. Duensing has spent most of his career as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but has also served as a long reliever and a set-up man at times. He’s just not a fit for the Twins at the moment, but there is no doubt that he will draw interest from other teams across the league.
Mike Pelfrey – New York Yankees A lot of Twins fans will act like Mike Pelfrey doesn’t even belong in the Majors but that is far from true and his contract last year was very fair for Minnesota, who just simply doesn’t need him back with seemingly endless starting pitching options coming up through the minor leagues.
He was the 65th highest paid starting pitcher in baseball this season and finished 63rd in ERA, so he’s worth what you’re going to pay him and he’s always shown that he’s a very capable starter when healthy. He has a career 4.27 ERA in the five career seasons he’s made 30 starts or more while a number of injury shortened seasons – like his first two years in Minnesota – have been very rough for him.
If Pelfrey can join a rotation where he’ll wind up being the fourth or fifth starter, then he will be one of the best back of the rotation starters in baseball and that is something that the Yankees desperately need. New York only had three pitchers start over 25 games for them in 2015 and only one of them – Nathan Eovaldi – posted a better ERA than Pelfrey.
This would mark a Big Apple reunion for Pelfrey, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Mets, and he would be a big upgrade to a Yankees rotation that caused the AL East to slip away from them in the final weeks of the 2015 season.