Surprisingly, the Twins (For the Most Part) Have Avoided Offseason Pitching Landmines
An old adage says “The best ability you can have is availability” and I like to think that especially applies to pitching.
Now don’t get it twisted — the tone and tenor of this piece is never going to be that the Minnesota Twins chose wisely when they signed Matt Shoemaker. He’s struggled to a 7.83 ERA in 23.0 innings, isn’t striking anyone out, isn’t keeping the ball on the ground (39.0 percent groundball rate) and is allowing nearly a home run every three innings.
But he’s remained healthy. That’s a big part of the battle for a pitcher — and doubly so for Shoemaker, who is one stellar start from exceeding his innings total from each of the last three seasons.
So again, while Shoemaker hasn’t been good — he’s been available. He could still, in theory, be good.
The same can’t be said for some of the landmines the Twins avoided this offseason.
And maybe it’s nothing more than dumb luck. We’re just making observations here, after all. But through 26 starts, 25 of them have been made by the Opening Day rotation — with a one-off from Lewis Thorpe in Anaheim before the team had a brief pause to its season due to COVID.
Beyond that, J.A. Happ — the other offseason’s acquisition — has been quite good! It’s anybody’s guess who the Twins might target in an offseason before it happens — there doesn’t seem to be an obvious rhyme or reason — but again, the Twins have been fairly fortunate this time around.
And that wasn’t necessarily true last season. They knew what they were getting into when they signed Rich Hill, but Homer Bailey made just two starts for the Twins last year.
So again, it comes back to the fact that a big part of ability is availability, and the Twins have had just that.
In some cases too, the Twins have missed out on pitchers who’ve spectacularly melted down so far this season. We’ll mix in a couple of those as well.
Here’s what they’ve missed out on (not necessarily just starters):
RHP Chris Archer (TB) - one year, $6.5 million
Archer lasted 4.1 innings across two appearances (one start) before going on the injured list with a right forearm strain. He’s already missed nearly a month, and for what it’s worth, his velocity was way down (91.6 mph average) when he came back after missing all of 2020 with thoracic outlet syndrome. His fastball has averaged 94.7 mph for his career.
LHP James Paxton (SEA) - one year, $8.5 million
Paxton returned to Seattle this offseason, where he’d pitched from 2013-18 before being traded to the New York Yankees. Admittedly, Paxton was my preferred option for the last spot in the Twins’ rotation — rather than Shoemaker, who I felt was too boom-or-bust for that much reliance — but almost $9 million felt a bit steep since the lefty had thrown just 20.1 innings last year (at a 6.64 ERA).
Paxton lasted 21 pitches in his first start before departing with elbow issues that have since required Tommy John surgery. His final line for the season is a 6.75 ERA, 1.1 innings pitched, 21 pitches and 13 strikes.
RHP Tyler Clippard (ARI) - one year, $1.75 million with a 2022 mutual option for $3.5 million ($500k buyout)
Clippard pitched more than respectably last season for the Twins — 2.77 ERA/2.65 FIP in 26.0 innings with 26 strikeouts and just four walks — and a return felt possible if not necessarily probable this winter. Given the team’s relative struggles in the bullpen at present, fans would no doubt be clamoring for the veteran righty to still be with the club if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s on the 60-day injured list.
Clippard felt soreness in his right shoulder in late March and the diagnosis was that he’d miss six weeks with a right capsule strain in that shoulder. Arizona put him on the 60-day IL on March 29, so a return in early June is the earliest possible situation for Clippard.
RHP Kirby Yates (TOR) - one year, $5.5 million
Yates won’t throw a single pitch for the Blue Jays this season after having Tommy John surgery in late March. Yates had fired a pair of scoreless innings this spring with two strikeouts but went down with a flexor pronator strain on March 22 — which eventually manifested in him needing surgery.
RHP Archie Bradley (PHI) - one year, $6 million
Bradley gave up a pair of earned runs in his first 3.0 innings this season, and has been sidelined now for three weeks with a left oblique strain. His status has not been updated since mid-April, so it’s unclear how close he is to returning, but he’ll have to be ramped back up — which doesn’t, of course, take as long for a reliever as it does a starter.
RHP Jake Odorizzi (HOU) - two years, $20.25 million with innings-based incentives
Odorizzi made it just to the first inning of his third start with the Astros (a total of 174 pitches) before going down with a right pronator muscle strain, and it’s possible the lack of spring training was affecting him as he’d allowed nine earned runs over his first 8.0 innings (10.13 ERA) with a slash line against of .294/.351/.647.
It sounds as though he’s on the comeback trail and will make a few rehab starts, but it’s been a rough go for a really good guy the past season-plus.
RHP Joakim Soria (ARI) - one year, $3.5 million
Soria missed four weeks with a calf strain, which occurred 15 pitches into his first appearance with the Diamondbacks this season. He was activated from the injured list on Tuesday.
RHP Julio Teheran (DET) - one year, $3 million
Teheran made one appearance with the Tigers — one earned run, four hits in 5.0 innings — before landing on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder strain. Teheran was brutal in a short stretch (10.05 ERA in 31.1 innings) with the Angels last season, but would have signified an interesting flyer based on his career track record (3.80 ERA in almost 1,400 innings) and relative youth (turned 30 in January).
LHP Jose Quintana (LAA) - one year, $8 million
Quintana is perfectly healthy — he’s just gotten crushed this season. He signed a one-year deal that’s almost identical to the one the Twins gave Happ, and he’s responded by posting a 10.59 ERA through five starts while permitting opposing hitters to slash .324/.427/.473 against him.
Quintana has been entirely helpless against righties (1.022 OPS), and probably wouldn’t be long for the Angels rotation if they could keep anyone healthy.
But on the bright side, at least Kurt Suzuki got to play with someone nicknamed “Q" which is nice.
LHP Drew Smyly (ATL) - one year, $11 million
This one was a puzzler, as Smyly has never managed to sync up being good with being healthy. The one year he threw 175 innings (2016) it came with an ERA of 4.88 — and then he didn’t pitch in the majors for two full seasons.
He was absolutely brilliant with Tampa in 2015 (3.11 ERA, 10.4 K/9) but only pitched 66.2 big-league innings.
So yes, Smyly was super intriguing last season after a 26.1-inning stretch with the Giants that looked, to say the least, promising: 3.42 ERA/2.01 FIP, 42-9 K/BB ratio and a .558 OPS against.
But let’s dig in a little deeper to see just how sustainable that is, because one could almost get a “Rich Hill in 2015 with Boston” vibe here. Smyly held lefties to a 3-for-36 mark in 2020 — a .265 OPS with just one extra-base hit. Meanwhile, righties hit a respectable .262/.319/.400 against the lefty.
Flash forward to 2021, and he’s not only getting pummeled by righties now (.986 OPS) but annihilated by lefties (1.111 OPS) in half as many trips to the plate as they took against him last year.
There’s no guarantee Smyly will continue to struggle, but it appears pretty obvious the Braves took a weird gamble on a guy who, when right, should be pretty good! But $11 million good? I’m skeptical.
RHP Mike Foltynewicz - one year, $2 million
Folty was a popular reclamation candidate target for Twins fans this offseason, but while his numbers on the surface look acceptable — 4.32 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.29 WHIP — there’s definitely something brewing underneath.
Opposing batters have hit an obscene .271/.317/.558 against Folty with more than half (18) of the 35 hits he’s allowed going for extra bases — resulting in a FIP of 5.57.
So while there’s no denying that Shoemaker hasn’t been especially good for the Twins, it was a small gamble to take. For a couple million bucks, the Twins can give him a few spins in the rotation working with Wes Johnson to see if he can re-discover his Angels mojo.
If not, a survival-of-the-fittest battle between Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe would decide who’d be the next man up — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.
There is, however, the matter of Alex Colome — but I still think the process there was fairly sound. He’s been a great reliever in his career and the Twins didn’t guarantee him a multi-year deal.
That’s a situation a lot of teams would take advantage of — it just hasn’t worked out.