The Minnesota Twins’ bullpen failed them down the stretch of the 2015 season as they fell just short of the second American League Wild Card spot. Addressing this issue will be one task that general manager Terry Ryan takes on this winter.
Three-time All Star Glen Perkins mans the back end of the bullpen along with Kevin Jepsen, who posted a 1.61 ERA with Minnesota after he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline in July. The depth of the Twins bullpen, however, remains a big question mark, especially when it comes to left handed options. This makes Matt Thornton an attractive free-agent option.
Getting a left-handed relief pitcher wouldn’t just be a luxury for Minnesota this offseason, but a necessity. Lefties Neal Cotts and Brian Duensing are both free agents, creating a big hole on the roster.
While Cotts and Duensing are both in play to be re-signed by the Twins, Thornton would provide a nice upgrade, along with years of big league experience that could be passed along to a young pitching staff. The 39-year-old veteran has posted a 1.98 ERA over the last two seasons in 124 appearances with the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals. Left handed hitters slashed just .198/.205/.179 against him in 2015. Thornton finished last season exceptionally strong, posting a 0.66 ERA over his final 20 appearances while the rest of the Nationals seemed to crumble around him.
He would bring 12 years and over 700 appearances worth of experience to a Twins bullpen. It might cost the Twins up to four or five million dollars per year to ink the veteran lefty. Thornton was able to ink a two-year, $7 million deal with the Yankees after a rough 2013 campaign when he went 0-4 with a 3.74 ERA splitting time with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. That 2013 season also included a few trips to the disabled list, which, in turn, forced him to miss the entire postseason in which the Red Sox won the World Series.
Now that Thornton has re-established himself as a top-tier lefty specialist over the past two years, it’s going to take a little more than $3.5 million per season to sign him, even though he will turn 40 in the middle of next season.
An investment in Thornton should still be a welcome one. Their efforts to bolster the bullpen ranks last offseason backfired when they had to waive Tim Stauffer and his 6.60 ERA in early June after signing him to a $2.2 million deal in the offseason. Then they faultered late as well when Perkins was unable to be effective after back and neck injuries slowed down his All-Star season in the second half. A full season of Jepsen and a healthy Perkins along with added pieces like Thornton should give manager Paul Molitor a better and deeper unit in 2016.