On July 30, 2017, with a 50-53 record and their playoff odds at 4.8 percent according to Fangraphs, the Minnesota Twins opened up for business.
It wasn’t as big of a sell-off as 2018, to be sure, but they traded Jaime Garcia, the left-handed veteran starter they’d acquired less than a week earlier, to the New York Yankees.
The next day, they also traded reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals.
The returns for both weren’t particularly overwhelming. Zack Littell hung around the longest but was outrighted off the 40-man roster last season, while Dietrich Enns and Tyler Watson have long since left the organization.
And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned there, as well.
The Twins woke up on Thursday — an off-day, mind you — with a 2.4 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Fangraphs.
PECOTA of Baseball Prospectus is more bullish on the team’s chances, suggesting they have a 12.9 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 10.2 percent chance of winning the division.
The chances aren’t high; that much is certain.
But two moves the Twins made over the last few days have me thinking they’re not ready to wave the white flag — yet.
The Twins signed Kyle Barraclough and Nick Vincent to minor-league deals and assigned them to Triple-A St. Paul. And while reactions will range from “who?” to “CHAMPIONSHIP” from people on Twitter — nobody has ever laughed at these reactions, by the way — it still signifies to me that the team is clinging on to hope.
The Twins won five games in a row before dropping the series finale to the Cincinnati Reds in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday. They’re a respectable 9-11 in their last 20, and 8-7 in their last 15.
The offense has been strong over that span, as the team has hit .266/.320/.452 while striking out just 21.5 percent of the time, according to Sportradar. That .772 OPS ranks seventh over that stretch, and only five teams struck out less frequently over that stretch.
The pitching still hasn’t been good over that span (5.19 ERA, 24th) but there have been signs of improvement. Not only does Michael Pineda appear to be closer to returning, but swapping out Matt Shoemaker for Kenta Maeda has been a general positive as well. Bailey Ober has pitched respectably through five starts, and Pineda’s return could push J.A. Happ out of the rotation, if not off the roster altogether.
They probably still need one more starter — more on that another time — but at least there’s some positivity there.
But back to Vincent and Barraclough. Neither of these guys are household names to be sure, but relievers rarely are. Vincent has been in the big leagues for nearly a decade, with a 3.38 ERA mirrored by a 3.38 FIP. In other words, what you see is what you get. He wasn’t good for the Marlins last year (4.43 ERA/5.52 FIP) but for his career he’s struck out a batter per inning, maintained a solid WHIP (1.14) and allowed less than a home run per nine innings.
It’s basically a dart throw — and a good one.
Here are his career numbers compared to another reliever Twins fans are familiar with (Vincent is pitcher A, someone else is pitcher B):
Vincent 3.38 ERA/3.38 FIP | Pitcher B 3.10 ERA/3.65 FIP
Vincent 1.14 WHIP | Pitcher B 1.21 WHIP
Vincent 8.9 K/9 | Pitcher B 8.2 K/9
Vincent 2.3 BB/9 | Pitcher B 3.1 BB/9
Vincent 0.9 BB/9 | Pitcher B 0.8 HR/9
By now, you might have guessed that Pitcher B is Alex Colome, who signed a one-year deal worth $5 million in the offseason, while Vincent had to settle for a minor-league deal from the Texas Rangers, who released him earlier this week.
Now I know what you’re thinking — what good is a reliever the Rangers saw no use for? Valid point. But the life of a reliever is a funny one, and both Vincent and Colome are good examples.
Vincent pitched so poorly for the Giants in 2019 (5.58 ERA in 30.2 innings) that he was released, and snapped up by the reliever-starved Phillies for the stretch run. Then, for the Phillies, he turned things around with a 1.93 ERA over the final 14 innings with 17 strikeouts and three unintentional walks.
What’s to say he can’t do it again? It’s certainly far from guaranteed, but on a minor-league deal in late June, this is about as good as it gets.
The same concept will likely apply to Colome this offseason once the Twins buy out his option. He’ll take a make-good deal, and look to cash in a year later if he pitches well in 2022.
Barraclough is way more of a dart throw, but it’s a much harder dart and might miss the board altogether.
The 31-year-old righty is more known for his raw stuff than anything else, and he’s ridden it to 319 strikeouts — and 155 walks — in 252.1 big-league innings. He’s posted a 3.53 ERA, but his name value mostly comes from a strong three-year run with the Marlins from 2015-17 when he posted a 2.87 ERA (2.93 FIP), 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.29 WHIP despite walking 5.5 batters per nine.
At his best, Barraclough could threaten triple digits with his fastball. Now, it’s hard to say for sure because he hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2019, but he was only averaging 93.6 mph with his four-seam fastball, peaking at 96.4 — which is still plenty of heat.
To the surprise of no one, he’s got a pretty good slider. When he’s at his best, the slider can induce a whiff rate in the 20 percent range with a changeup that isn’t far off that mark, either.
Maybe I’m just wish-casting here. Maybe I’m reading too much into an organization signing two relievers on the wrong side of 30. But still, I don’t think these are moves a team makes if they’ve completely waved the white flag.
The 2017 team was 50-53 at the deadline and made the Wild Card game. Oh, did I neglect to mention that?
To get to 50-53, the Twins would have to go 19-11 over their next 30 games. Is it likely? No.
Is it possible?
Guess we’ll just have to watch and see.
Oh, and by the way, the White Sox lost five in a row before eking out a win over the hapless Pirates on Wednesday afternoon. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.