This is a series of evaluations that will be done this offseason on every player who closed the season on the 40-man roster for the Minnesota Twins throughout the winter until each player has been evaluated. The plan is to start with Mr. Belisle and move all the way through the pitchers, then to the catchers, infielders, outfielders and finally those listed as designated hitters on the club’s official MLB.com roster. That means we’ll wrap it up with Kennys Vargas sometime before the season starts.
- Name: Dillon Gee
- 2017 Role: Gee signed with the Twins near midseason, worked his way into the bullpen within a month and even worked his way into some higher-leverage work down the stretch. For an in-season pickup, it’s hard to ask much more.
- Expected 2018 Role: Gee signed a one-year deal with the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan) worth just over $1 million. Plenty of pitchers have gone overseas and returned to the big leagues — Colby Lewis, possible Miles Mikolas this year with the Cardinals — and Gee will still only be 32 on Opening Day if he returns in 2019. It’s an interesting gamble.
- MLB Stats: 3.22 ERA, 3.79 FIP in 36.1 innings with Twins; 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.27 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR.
- MiLB Stats: 2.00 ERA, 3.00 FIP in 27 innings at Triple-A Rochester; 6.7 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 1.00 WHIP.
- Contract Status: Likely to try return to MLB after 2018 season in Japan.
After posting solid numbers, it’s a little surprising Gee would forgo opportunities stateside to go pitch overseas in Japan. Then again, the free-agent market has been slow to develop for a lot of positions, including non-elite relievers. So rather than waiting for guys like Matt Albers, Matt Belisle and Tyler Clippard to sign and clear the way, Gee opted to head overseas – where it looks like he might work as a starter based on some of the incentives built into his deal.
Gee would probably have to be considered a success story for thoracic outlet syndrome, something the Twins are all-too-familiar with regarding Phil Hughes both last offseason and now. He had the surgery in October and began throwing just two months later, and by early January was already cleared medically. Gee landed on a minor-league deal with the Rangers and was a full participant in spring training, but did not make the team to start the year. He was released, then returned later on a deal that — if I’m not mistaken — sweetened the pot for him but allowed him to be sent to the minor leagues in the meantime.
Gee made just four appearances and only one start before the Rangers designated him for assignment, and after a solid spring (3.20 ERA) threw just 13 uninspiring innings for Texas before being jettisoned. The Twins snapped him up just a couple days later (June 20), and he was promoted in early August after his initial call-up in late June resulted in no mound time. Gee took the roster spot of Jaime Garcia after he was traded to the Yankees, and filled in as a swingman over the final two months of the season. He made three starts and appeared in 14 games overall, and filled a pretty important role on a pitching staff that was in flux all season long for manager Paul Molitor.
Gee’s final line with the Twins won’t drive anyone crazy, but it isn’t hard to make a compelling case that re-signing him might have made some sense. He wasn’t going to cost much, and he kept the ball in the yard, posted a 3.22 ERA in 36.1 innings (3.79 FIP) and posted solid rates (7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) otherwise.
As it wound up — and this is probably to the surprise of quite a few people — the Twins just ended up aiming higher in their relief efforts this offseason.
Gee didn’t do anything all that unusual with the Twins repertoire-wise. He stuck with the sinker he’s thrown quite a bit over his career, though his velocity was more in the 91-92 mph range than the 89-90 range he’d been at prior to surgery. With the Twins he scrapped his slider usage, cutting it in half in favor of more curveballs, and threw more sinkers in place of his changeup.
He didn’t return overwhelming results on his groundball rate — just 40.6 percent with the Twins, below his career rate of 44.9 percent — but the swing-and-miss numbers were encouraging. Gee had a swinging-strike rate of 10.6 percent in the 2017 season — 11 percent with Texas, 10.5 percent in Minnesota — which is well above the 9.0 percent for his career.
Now that’s not a totally apt comparison because he was a starter earlier in his career, but as far as relievers are concerned, the average AL bullpen pitcher whiff rate was 11.5 percent. Gee was in that neighborhood with some ability to throw multiple innings. It’s not hard to see teams who might value that, but it’s highly unlikely it would have been at a price much higher than the $1 million or so he got to go to Japan. And it’s perhaps even less likely he’d have seen that money in the big leagues with the freeze-out we’ve seen to this point.
Ultimately, Gee did a very good job filling in the role the Twins asked of him — almost like a modern-day Matt Guerrier, maybe? — and probably was wise to head overseas to see if he can rekindle the starting pitching flame. It seems like a decent gamble.
Grade: B+. Gee’s overall numbers were pretty good, and five of his eight September appearances came in fairly big spots. He wouldn’t have been a bad guy to bring back — but that ship has (literally) sailed.