We’ve established the rules for post-July 31 trades. Now we should take a look at who the Twins might target, right?
It’s pretty easy to isolate three areas where the Twins can use some help:
- Starting pitching
- Relief pitching
- Batters who can hit left-handed pitching
The pitching woes are hard to miss. Only the Rangers (6.4) have gotten fewer strikeouts per nine innings from starting pitchers than the Twins (6.9), and just four teams have posted higher ERA from their rotations than the Twins (4.89). Similarly, only five teams have a higher bullpen ERA than the Twins (4.53), and no team has a bullpen fanning fewer batters per nine than Minnesota (7.6).
With that said, the Twins bullpen has been quite a bit better of late. Only seven teams have a lower ERA over the past 30 days than the Twins (3.53) out of the bullpen, and that comes with 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.0 walks per nine and a groundball rate of 47.4 percent.
When it comes to making bullpen additions, it’s not just adding that player to a bullpen, though. It’s also swapping out the worst player on the other side of the bullpen. And while that’s a bit tougher to do now than it was a couple months ago, subtracting a Buddy Boshers or an Alan Busenitz now is a bit tougher of a decision than Matt Belisle or Craig Breslow would have been two months ago. Still, there’s room to improve.
As an offense, the Twins aren’t far from the middle of the pack. They have a collected wRC+ of 97 — tied for 13th with the Cubs and Reds — and have been around there most of the season. Against righties, they have a 99 wRC+, which is 13th in MLB. Against lefties though, it’s just 89 — 21st in MLB. So the Twins could use some help against lefties, and that’s easy to see with the struggles of Max Kepler, Joe Mauer and others against southpaws this season.
So let’s take a look at some pieces that might be made available over the next couple weeks to see who might be a good fit for the Twins:
SP Marco Estrada – Toronto Blue Jays
Estrada is probably atop every general manager’s list this month as far as teams seeking starting pitching help. His ERA is unsightly (4.85), but it’s backed by a 4.35 FIP, more than a strikeout per inning and a strong recent run. He’s got a 2.08 ERA over his last four starts, which includes pitching the Jays to wins over the Yankees and Astros — the AL’s two best offenses. This deal might take time to get done, as the Jays are just four games out of the second Wild Card and maybe haven’t quite packed it in yet.
SP Jhoulys Chacin – San Diego Padres
Chacin has had a fine season in a patchwork Padres rotation, and the Twins saw it up front on their recent west coast swing. The 29-year-old righty has made a team-high 24 starts, posting a 4.06 ERA (4.38 FIP) with 7.3 strikeouts per nine and a respectable 1.27 WHIP. He shut down the Twins for seven innings on Aug. 1, and since June 1 has a 2.82 ERA with a .645 OPS against. He wouldn’t start anything more than Game 3 or 4 for a playoff team, but that’s still useful depth.
SP Tyler Chatwood – Colorado Rockies
Chatwood has an ugly 5.15 ERA (5.20 FIP) and has allowed 1.35 home runs per nine innings (about league average), but maybe there is some hope in his home/road splits. He’s got a 3.78 ERA away from Coors Field with 7.4 strikeouts per nine and a WHIP of 1.24. His groundball rate is approaching 60 percent, and he’s only 27. The Rockies rotation is getting more crowded by the day — especially with the return of Chad Bettis, which is a great story — and Chatwood is already the odd man out. He’s worth a possible look.
SP Alex Cobb – Tampa Bay Rays
Cobb isn’t healthy right now — this has been a recurring theme — and the Rays aren’t out of it, but maybe he’s shown enough to be flipped in his walk year? He hasn’t shown enough to get a Qualifying Offer, but with a 3.80 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 147 innings and his pedigree? Worse gambles have been taken.
SP Scott Feldman – Cincinnati Reds
Feldman is the quintessential “keep the line moving” back-end guy who won’t hurt you every fifth day. The stats aren’t exactly pretty — 4.43 ERA (4.50 FIP), 1.34 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 — but he’s allowing the fourth-lowest average exit velocity among 167 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 1,000 pitches this season. In other words, he’s the antithesis of what Ervin Santana has done this year (i.e. bad luck with pretty much the same peripherals).
SP R.A. Dickey – Atlanta Braves
He’s literally having another Dickey-like season: 3.89 ERA (4.91 FIP), 6.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 1.36 WHIP. He’s signed through the rest of the year at $7.5 million with an $8 million team option for next year ($500,000 buyout), and at 42 would likely clear waivers but be in demand immediately thereafter.
RP Juan Nicasio – Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates haven’t packed it in, but despite being four games out of first place are in fourth place. There are lots of teams to leapfrog with the potential of the Cubs going on a hot streak and the Cardinals playing better lately. Nicasio also isn’t likely to get far on waivers — he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season — but he is more volatile than his 2.53 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine would indicate. A recent article at FiveThirtyEight highlighted the stupidity of the save statistic. It also featured a graphic that showed the leaders among relievers in goose eggs, broken eggs and mehs. Broken eggs is basically when a pitcher has the opportunity for a goose egg — allowing no earned runs in an inning — and instead allows an earned run. Nicasio has 10 goose eggs, six broken eggs and eight mehs (I haven’t found a firm definition of mehs but I suspect it is something in the middle).
RP Drew Storen – Cincinnati Reds
Storen is a so-so middle reliever — 3.23 ERA (4.59 FIP), 8.0 K/9, 1.27 WHIP — who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Maybe he clears, maybe he doesn’t? He had a 5.23 ERA last year.
RP Jim Johnson – Atlanta Braves
Johnson is by no means perfect, but at his best is a dominant relief man and at his worst throws hard. The strikeouts have come and gone — but have been a regularity the last two years — while the grounders have been a staple. He’s signed through next season at a reasonable $5 million.
RP Blake Wood – Cincinnati Reds
He’s got one more year of team control, and has been a bit unlucky statistically this season (4.45 ERA, 3.36 FIP). He just turned 32 last week and the Reds aren’t exactly going places. Wood keeps the ball in the yard, has struck out more than a batter per inning and has a career groundball rate of 52.8 percent. He also throws gas (95.8 mph average).
RP Joaquin Benoit – Pittsburgh Pirates
Twins fans have been hearing this name for years, and he’s finally starting to run out of gas. He’s got a 4.50 ERA (4.38 FIP), though his secondary numbers (1.22 WHIP, 8.6 K/9) are pretty good. He’s already been traded to the Pirates, but if they fall out of the race in the next couple weeks, he’ll probably be on the move again.
RP Dustin McGowan – Miami Marlins
Nothing stands out in his numbers, but he just gets guys out. He has a 3.23 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.17. He’s also 35 and an impending free agent. He also has a two-year run of inducing grounders at a 50-plus percent rate. A team could do much worse here.
RP Cory Gearrin – San Francisco Giants
Gearrin has still thrown just 173.1 MLB innings and isn’t a free agent until after 2019, but he’s not exactly a world-beating reliever, either. He’s got a career 3.63 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.30. This year, he’s got a stellar 2.08 ERA (3.87 FIP) with strikeout and walk rates well off his career averages. He is also a groundball guy (47.1 percent this season, 53.1 percent career).
RP Liam Hendriks – Oakland A’s
This would be a very wise target for the Twins. He’s not a free agent until after 2019, but with an arbitration raise due from his $1.1 million salary, the A’s might already be looking to cut and run. The Aussie has seen some unsightly luck this season (5.40 ERA, 3.55 FIP), but has fanned 11.5 batters per nine — a career-high — while dealing with a strand rate of just 61.9 percent and a .346 BABIP. In other words, it would be a good time to get in on the floor level on a guy with good velocity (94.7 mph this year) who has just gone through a bout of tough luck.
RP Santiago Casilla – Oakland A’s
At 37, Casilla is just steady. He fans a batter per inning, keeps the ball in the park and has posted a sub-4.00 ERA every year since 2009. He’s another guy signed through next year, too ($5 million this year, $6 million next). There’s some risk involved here (4.40 xFIP).
RP Tony Barnette – Texas Rangers
I was told the Twins were interested in Barnette the first time around when he came over from Japan prior to 2016, but the Rangers ultimately won out. Thad Levine is surely aware of what he brings to the table, and although he’s almost 34, his MLB results have been really, really good: 3.31 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and 1.26 WHIP. The acquiring team would have his rights through 2021 — his age-37 season.
RP Darren O’Day – Baltimore Orioles
O’Day easily clears waivers because he’s having a down year and is due $18 million over the next two seasons. He also has a limited no-trade clause — seven clubs — and we don’t know who those teams are. But it could be an interesting gamble for a team to jump in on an elite set-up man when he’s right. His peripherals aren’t that far off from last year, when he was still pretty good. He’s also posting his best groundball rate since 2008, which is a reason for optimism.
RP Brad Ziegler – Miami Marlins
The Marlins would probably be happy to let you take the sidewinder off their hands, as he’s due a prorated $7 million for the rest of this season and $9 million for next. Ziegler isn’t far off from what made him good — elite groundball rate, no home runs — but a .375 BABIP and 64.5 percent strand rate have doomed him to a 5.56 ERA (4.02 FIP). This would be a possibly savvy buy-low for a guy who can get a big double play late in a game.
1B/DH Mike Napoli – Texas Rangers
Conspicuous by his absence on this list is Jose Bautista. Napoli and Bautista are having very similar years (85 and 89 OPS+, respectively), while Napoli is regarded as a good clubhouse presence while the back story on Bautista is a bit….mixed. Napoli has hit lefties well in his career and is still doing so this year (.805 OPS), and should come very cheaply considering he’s hitting only .197/.281/.435 this season. He was better in July (.229/.309/.578) before tailing off in August (.156/.270/.281 in nine games). Bautista, on the other hand, has faded hard: .174/.284/.354 over his last 37 games (since July 1). This would be a Don Baylor/Phil Nevin-type move.
2B Brandon Phillips – Atlanta Braves
He’s already cleared waivers and has a career line of .285/.333/.452 against lefties. He’s played second and third base this season, but could also DH against lefties.
3B Trevor Plouffe – Tampa Bay Rays
He’s in the midst of an absolutely dreadful season, but is still hitting a respectable .282/.344/.341 against lefties this year. For his career, that line is .269/.344/.452.
OF Rajai Davis – Oakland A’s
He’s having a rough year, but almost all of his damage has come against left-handed pitching (.271/.333/.417). Has also stolen 25 bases this season, so he could play a “Dave Roberts” role on a contender.
OF Chris Young – Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox don’t really need him with a starting outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, and he’s hit .245/.327/.417 in 68 games this season. That he’s gotten into that many games is sort of remarkable, but his career calling card has been hitting lefties — at least late in his career. He was a really good defensive center fielder at his peak. He hasn’t hit lefties as much this year (.636 OPS), but for his career, he’s hit .264/.363/.472 against them.