Derek Falvey and Thad Levine broke Minnesota Twins organizational norms this offseason by committing two years and $16.75 million to Addison Reed after signing 40-year-old Fernando Rodney to a one-year, $4.5 million deal to be their closer this offseason.
Multi-year deals for relief pitchers, let alone ones with eight figures attached to them, were almost unheard of in the Terry Ryan days. But Minnesota wanted to add depth and veteran leadership to their bullpen, and it did. Add Zach Duke’s one-year, $2.15 million signing into the mix, and the Twins feel they’re pretty set in the bullpen and now are focused on starting pitching.
“The reality is there’s injuries, [and] I’m not gonna tell you that if the perfect opportunity doesn’t present itself, we wouldn’t think about it,” Falvey said when asked if he’s moved on to the rotation after signing three relievers. “But our focus now has shifted away from the bullpen.”
Phil Hughes is not in town for Twins Fest this week due to kidney stones, but he is otherwise healthy and is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. And Trevor May, who suffered from a torn UCL at the beginning of last season, is competing for a starting role as well. But Falvey says the Twins will be in the running for Yu Darvish or another starting pitcher right up until Spring Training starts — or maybe later, if need be.
“Any player we want to add through the course of this conversation won’t be a budget decision”
“If we bring a good baseball decision to Jim Pohlad, I’m certain we will have support for it,” he said. “In the context of how we build this club now and in the future, that’s always something we’re considering. Any player we want to add through the course of this conversation won’t be a budget decision.”
Falvey says that Rodney is “100 percent” the closer to start the season, but things could change as the year progresses. “We all know, we’ve seen how bullpens have been used over the last handful of seasons,” he said. “Getting those outs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings are critical. So having a guy like Reed who battles both lefties and righties very well, [he] certainly could close.”
Rodney is 40, will turn 41 on March 18, and Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger got big outs in high leverage situations last season. Reed, 29, has closed before, but could also be used in an Andrew Miller role.
“In our minds, he might be just as valuable in that seventh-eighth role coming in with a runner on to shut down an inning in a big spot,” he says. “And the same with Zach Duke, which then allows, in our minds, guys like Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger to slot back and get additional experience attacking guys in the earlier innings.”
Pushing them down in the pecking order will help secure leads if a starter is only able to go five or six innings, but the Twins don’t seem to have ruled out moving them into either a setup or closing role if they deserve it later on in the season.
“The way we had to rely on Hildenberger and [Alan] Busenitz and some of those guys in higher-leverage situations,” says Paul Molitor, who was named AL Manager of the Year last season and feels he’s gotten better at managing the bullpen. “With how limited they were with tenure, if they don’t pitch well, it changes how we do.”
Now he’s got veteran options if they falter. Beyond that, there will be competition for major league spots on the Opening Day roster. Tyler Duffey started to establish himself as the long relief guy last year and Ryan Pressly is entering his sixth season with the team. But Busenitz, John Curtiss, J.T. Chargois and Gabriel Moya all have had success in the minors and have major league innings under their belt.
“We know that guys like Alan and Curtiss and some of those guys have a chance. How many locks do you think in the bullpen right now? Five at least?” Molitor asked rhetorically. “It’s tough competition. That’s good though.”
Falvey and Levine have shown a willingness to churn the back end of the 25-man roster in order to consistently have fresh arms in the bullpen. Not only does it create internal competition, but it also allows Molitor to have more arms at his disposal on any given night.
They are doing things differently than they have in the past, and it’s part of the reason why the Twins earned a Wild Card spot after missing the playoffs the past six seasons. Signing a player like Darvish, who Levine has ties to going back to his Texas Rangers days, would definitely add an exclamation point to this unconventional offseason.
“I would say that will all depend on where things go,” Falvey said when asked if the Twins will add a premier free agent starter before the season starts. “I don’t think we’re there yet. But we’ll stay engaged in a group of names that might be considered at the top end.”