It's Undeniable: The Twins Need Another Starter
At the start of business Thursday, the Minnesota Twins had a collective 4.39 ERA as a starting rotation.
That ranks 20th among all MLB teams; the team also ranks 25th in FIP (4.56), 22nd in xFIP (4.32), 21st in SIERA (4.35) and 24th in overall fWAR compiled (plus-2.0).
There’s really no way to polish that up — it needs to improve. A lot of that can be accomplished internally with Kenta Maeda struggling, but the reality is the Twins need more than a 1-2-3 punch of Jose Berrios, Maeda and Michael Pineda to dig out of the hole they’ve created.
If the Twins want to keep pace with the rest of the division, they need to act fast and add another starter.
Say what you want about Matt Shoemaker’s last start — which came against the skidding Orioles, mind you — but his tenure with the Twins has been disastrous. It’s not unrealistic to suggest that he’d have been designated for assignment if that start had gone poorly.
Opposing batters are teeing off for a .261/.332/.483 line against Shoemaker, which already sounds bad before considering the league-wide offensive context. According to Baseball Reference, that’s worth about a 128 OPS+.
Shoemaker isn’t really doing anything particularly well. He’s not keeping the ball in the park at all, not striking anyone out, not limiting his walks and not inducing grounders. There’s really no reason to dream on what he might be able to do for this team at any point this season.
Bringing up someone like Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer or Bailey Ober could provide some respite from the Shoemaker experience, but it really doesn’t address the fact that the Twins right now, at best, have 2 and 1/2 competent starters.
J.A. Happ has been more good than bad, but there’s no way to count on anything more than No. 5 starter production from him the rest of the way based on his pitch profile/age combination. He should do a fine job in that spot, but that’s where guys like the aforementioned quartet can really step up to help.
This is also where the Twins are hurt by the fact that no teams played minor-league games last year. Jhoan Duran and/or Jordan Balazovic would most likely be knocking on the door to the big leagues if not for the stoppage, but instead Duran is biding his time hitting triple digits at Triple-A and Balazovic is currently shelved with a back issue but should be setting up shop very soon at whatever affiliate he’s assigned to (Wichita seems like a good bet, but after a layoff maybe he’ll need a little time at Cedar Rapids).
Instead, the Twins are trying to hum along with a pair of veteran starters with little margin for error. As we noted earlier in the season, it’s not as though there wasn’t going to be significant risk no matter who the Twins tabbed to fill the back end of their rotation.
Pretty much every reasonable free-agent option has gotten hurt, pitched poorly or both — and those who haven’t might not have been the obvious fits they might seem like if hindsight wasn’t in play.
So it put the Twins in a tough spot. Dobnak was the long guy to start the season since St. Paul didn’t open up its schedule until early May, but the Twins had little use for him on a regular basis and when he pitched it wasn’t particularly well. He’s been OK in three starts with the Saints and came up and spun a gem against Cleveland last week, but again is it fair to say he should come up and be the No. 4 starter immediately or be the piggyback to whatever might happen with Happ?
I don’t exactly know the answer, I guess.
But that again leads me down the path that the Twins need another starter. A lot hinges on how the Twins view the future of this rotation. Do they have any interest in retaining Pineda? Will they end up extending Berrios, who turned 27 on Thursday?
If the answer to either of those questions is murky, it probably makes more sense to look for a starter with multiple years of control. And that’s tricky, since most teams aren’t going to be moving those guys right now based on where we are at this point in the season, the uncertainty with the upcoming CBA negotiations and the fact that baseball still isn’t all the way back from COVID.
So you can’t rule out rental pitchers altogether.
But even still, who is selling on those right now? The Angels are off to a tough start and are missing Mike Trout for the foreseeable future, but are they really going to throw in the towel when they’re just six games under .500 and the same number back in their division?
But their playoff odds right now sit at 2.0 percent according to Baseball Reference. The Twins, right now, are 10 games under .500, 9.5 games back and only marginally more likely to make the playoffs by the same site’s reckoning (2.3 percent).
Could the Angels be coaxed into moving Dylan Bundy, who came into Thurssday with a 6.50 ERA but a 4.59 FIP and 48 strikeouts in 45.2 innings? He’s probably not quite a qualifying offer-type pitcher, so it’s possible, one might deduce.
Or lets look up one more spot in the standings to the Rangers. They’re marginally ahead of the Angels in the division but have worse playoff odds (0.6 percent) due in large part to the fact that they don’t hit or pitch necessarily well and aren’t even remotely deep enough to make any noise in the AL West.
Could Kyle Gibson interest the Twins? He’s on the injured list right now — it’s not serious, just a right groin strain — but he’s been fantastic (2.24 ERA/3.24 FIP in 60.1 innings) and is only slated to make the prorated rest of his $9.67 million this year and $7.67 million next year.
That would seem to be a natural fit, though the Twins would like to obviously give up less than the White Sox did for Lance Lynn. That shouldn’t be hard, as Lynn’s track record of success was much longer, even if he was signed for just one more season when the deal took place.
Beyond that, who else in the AL makes any sense? Would the Tigers trade Matthew Boyd or Spencer Turnbull? Maybe in a couple of months, but not right now with some of their prospect still needing a little more time to develop. Baltimore isn’t trading John Means and has nobody else of much interest.
Over on the NL side of things, 12 of the 15 teams are either in first place or within four games of it. That leaves Pittsburgh, Colorado and Arizona on the outside looking in at this point.
Tyler Anderson is marginally interesting on Pittsburgh — he had some good years with the Rockies about a half-decade ago and looks pretty good this year — as is JT Brubaker. Brubaker would probably be quite costly since he isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, but he’s in his age-27 season so he’s not quite as young as one might think based on his service time. Anderson is in his age-31 season and will be eligible for free agency at season’s end, but if he keeps pitching even modestly well he’ll be a sought-after target at the deadline.
The Diamondbacks rotation is mostly super young, hurt or super expensive, making any sort of deal kind of difficult. Merrill Kelly is only making $4.25 million this year with a team option for $5.25 million in 2022, but he’s also under team control through 2024 after coming back over from Korea prior to the 2019 season.
He’ll be 33 in October, so trading for him would likely mean keeping him for as long as he can remain effective at a reasonable cost. Kelly isn’t overpowering, but will usually fan about eight batters per nine with reasonable groundball rates on a sinker/curve/change repertoire.
This might be the guy to monitor if the Twins go to the outside but look to keep costs fairly reasonable. It would seem likely he’d cost less than Gibson, but it might be close.
That really just leaves the Rockies, who have a trio of intriguing guys who might be possibly work a look. Everyone knows about Jon Gray and German Marquez if they’ve read my stories for any reasonable amount of time. Gray will be a free agent at the end of the season and has pitched respectably — nothing more or less — this season. Marquez continues to tantalize and frustrate with 56 strikeouts and 30 walks in 52.1 innings, but there remains significant optimism that he could excel upon leaving Coors.
But there’s a 27-year-old lefty I’ve been noticing lately who is also interesting. His name is Austin Gomber, and he’s also not even eligible for arbitration until after next season. Trades like this can happen, but they might be a bit tough to navigate.
What I like about Gomber is not only is he left handed, but he’s also really tough on lefties. They’ve hit just .140/.206/.175 against Gomber this season. And while he’s struggled a bit against righties this season (.752 OPS against), he neutralized them fairly well last year (.509 OPS in 86 plate appearances).
Gomber’s swinging-strike rate has tracked up in each of the three seasons he’s spent time in the big leagues, peaking this season at 10.4 percent. He throws a slider — clearly a positive for this regime — and the swinging-strike rate on it is a solid 17.6 percent. His curveball (12.7 percent) and changeup (14.3 percent) also have strong swinging-strike rates, and all three induce grounders at a level of 50 percent or higher.
I really think there’s something here with Gomber, and I’ve heard from source in the past that the Twins have — at times — been more aggressive trying to acquire other teams’ starters who have club control. It’s not an easy trade to negotiate, but it’s not impossible either.
Zac Gallen netted the Miami Marlins Jazz Chisholm. It wouldn’t quite have to be that strong of a return since I don’t believe Gomber is viewed as favorable as Gallen was at the time, but I do think that’s sort of the pattern the Twins might have to follow.
Would it make sense for the Twins to give up a Keoni Cavaco type for Gomber? I think so, but again that’s just one man’s opinion.
The Twins need another starter to not only dig out of this hole they’re in, but try to make some noise this year. These are just some of the guys I think would fit nicely.