On May 15, in the Minnesota Twins final game against the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field, Jake Odorizzi left the game in the sixth inning with a 6-3 lead. Trevor May, Matt Magill, Ryne Harper and Blake Parker all pitched in relief before Trevor Hildenberger entered to close out an 8-4 game.
Hildenberger gave up two more runs, and was credited with another one when Mike Morin allowed another one of his runners to score. Morin loaded the bases, hit Mike Trout to allow a runner to score, making it 8-7, and then got Shohei Otani to ground out to short to end the game.
“When you have the ability…to introduce guys to new spots, I think it’s good to do so,” says Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “Now, you don’t always have the luxury of doing it that way. Sometimes you just have to kind of thrust guys into the spot that you didn’t really plan on.”
Relying on Morin — who was waived by the team that drafted him, the Angels; his hometown team, the Kansas City Royals; and the Seattle Mariners before signing with Minnesota — to get Otani out with the bases loaded is an indication of where the bullpen is at right now. May, Parker, Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers had carried the bullpen through most of the season up until this point.
Baldelli had been working in Magill, Harper and other relievers in order to try to give himself more options in high-leverage situations. Hildenberger had only given up two runs in March and April, but had given up eight already in May.
Hildenberger was optioned to Triple-A after the game, and a possible replacement for him, Addison Reed, was designated for assignment — a precursor to being released from his $16.75 million contract — after failing to his 90 mph on the radar and posting a 14.40 ERA era in five Triple-A appearances during his rehab assignment.
Austin Adams, the player they recalled to replace Hildenberger, is a 32-year-old reliever who posted a 6.29 ERA in three years with the Cleveland Indians from 2014-16.
It’s easy to momentarily forget about the Twins’ shortcomings as they romp through a relatively hapless American League. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine wisely bought cheap power, adding Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop in the offseason to chew through the relatively soft junior circuit while mitigating the risk involved with a rotation full of question marks.
Jose Berrios was coming off an All-Star season and Kyle Gibson was coming off a season where he had a 3.63 ERA (118 ERA+) in nearly 200 innings, but Jake Odorizzi was mediocre in 2018, Martin Perez had a 6.22 ERA with the Texas Rangers last season and Michael Pineda was coming off Tommy John surgery.
So far Berrios has looked like an ace, Odorizzi is having a career year with a 2.63 ERA and Perez learned Odorizzi’s cutter and has a 2.93 ERA, while Kyle Gibson has regressed a bit (4.26 ERA, 104 ERA+) and Michael Pineda is still trying to return to form (5.55 ERA, 80 ERA+). Combine that with a bullpen that needs more depth, and the run protection the lineup provides looks increasingly important.
For those clamoring for the Twins to spend more on the bullpen, consider that Reed was one of the more reliable relievers when he was signed. He had pitched 209.2 innings and posted a 2.63 ERA in the three years before arriving in Minnesota. Furthermore, bullpen depth can be added near the trade deadline on July 31 when teams know whether or not they will be contending this year — and there are a glut of bad teams in the AL who should be looking to offload relievers.
Unlike, say, trading for Madison Bumgarner, the cost of adding relievers is relatively insignificant. Moving top prospects like Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff or Brusdar Graterol to get a pitcher of Bumgarner’s quality means that the team is all-in right now, an act of impatience for a team who’s young stars are in their mid-20s. The Byron Buxton, Berrios, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco core should have a large contending window, especially in the relatively feckless AL Central, as long as management isn’t too short-sighted.
So how much urgency should Falvey and Levine act with this year? Enough to get this team into the playoffs and give fans reason to believe that this team could contend soon. Cleveland’s ownership has indicated that they’re not going to spend to keep the Indians in contention. The Chicago White Sox are still breaking their prospects into the majors. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are rebuilding.
The Twins cannot pass up on this opportunity to become a 90-win playoff team. They also shouldn’t short-circuit their contention window by trading away prospects they will need for depth — especially on the pitching side. Exercising prudence knowing that the rotation and bullpen still have question marks, which are often masked by the potent offense, is key in what has been an exciting start to the season.