Elephant in the Room: The Twins Need Two More Starting Pitchers

Please Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

We’re converging on the end of the 2019 calendar year, but that shouldn’t be confused with the end of the MLB offseason. And while there are precious few intriguing starting pitching options left in free agency, the trade market has yet to really heat up.

And maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But the fact remains that if the Minnesota Twins are truly going to get the impact pitching they so dearly require, it’s going to need to be done creatively.

But the Twins don’t need just one pitcher. The fact of the matter is that on this day, Dec. 30, the current rotation is as follows:

  1. Jose Berrios
  2. Jake Odorizzi
  3. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
  4. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
  5. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ for six weeks, then Michael Pineda

Everyone agrees the Twins need one more pitcher to fill one of the top three spots, either displacing one of the top two further down the list, or at the very least, giving them another adequate support beam. But the reality is the Twins really should aim for two more starters, with the final spot — ultimately, Pineda’s — going to the winner of a three-headed battle in spring training between Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer.

An argument can be made that one of those three should have a permanent, full-time rotation spot but the reality is that promising that spot and the potential of the 30 starts — whether it be to one of those pitchers or the trio in tandem — it comes with is not really a recipe for success.

To maximize the potential of a team coming off a 101-win season, ideally those are the club’s 6-7-8 starters.

Depth can be a difficult thing to manage when it comes to starting pitching and the big leagues. Pitching is a spot that lends itself to frequent injuries — severe and otherwise — and having players at the ready, either in the bullpen or in the minors, is a must.

But having those players fill in capably while still being maneuverable between the bullpen or the minors is not an easy task. The Twins are in an enviable position in that respect, as each of that trio could theoretically give the Twins good support in a limited role but most likely not as a full-timer.

It’s been written in this space before, but we’ll break it down again. The top-five guys in the rotation for the Twins in terms of games started last year totaled 146 starts — or a touch over 90 percent of all possible regular-season starts.

In 2018, that number was 127 — or 78.4 percent.

In 2017, that number was 123 — or 75.9 percent.

It seems pretty clear that 2019 was a good year for starting pitching health — perhaps we can call it luck — for the Twins, even with Kyle Gibson dealing with ulcerative colitis down the stretch and Pineda being suspended. In all, only 16 starts came from outside their established top five. It really seems like that is a difficult number to repeat.

So if we assume something like 25-30 starts needed from outside the top five in a given year, that’s about 10 starts apiece for Smeltzer/Dobnak/Thorpe and anyone else who might enter the fray in that conversation, such as Brusdar Graterol or Jordan Balazovic. What’s ideal about the aforementioned trio is that they’re largely fully developed and MLB-ready, so the worry doesn’t necessarily have to be there that they could be ruined in the process of making their earmarked 10 starts each, but at the same time, they’re not exactly in the upper echelon of the team’s prospect list.

In short, they’re a really nice standby option. They could be more than that, but we can establish that as a baseline, anyway — and again leave room for them to achieve more or a younger pitcher to push through.

But again we’re left with a team with high expectations after winning 101 games, and a quickly narrowing gap between them and their competition. Not so much Cleveland, who was there in the first place but could easily fade away if the long-rumored dealing of Francisco Lindor happens, but rather Chicago, which has quickly added talent in key positions to a team that was a few key breaks away from finishing .500 last season.

Not only have the White Sox added significant talent and thus closed the gap a bit between them and the Twins, but any sort of regression from last year’s monstrous offensive season could further narrow that gap — and it might be out of Minnesota’s hands depending on that construction of the baseball MLB uses next season.

So the Twins have to act appropriately to keep the White Sox at bay with — in addition to perhaps Josh Donaldson — two more starting pitchers. One of them has to be of the “impact” variety, and the other can be a useful back-end guy with some potential or a guy on the upswing coming back from an injury or something of that sort.

So we’ll look at this in two facets — via free agency and via trade. There are still some interesting arms in free agency, but again, pretty much all of the “impact” pitching will have to come via an aggressive trade, most likely.

Via Free Agency

Impact Starters

The reality here is that there really aren’t any, unless you can get really excited about Rich Hill. And while Hill offers high-end potential, he doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Twins. He threw 58.2 really, really good innings for the Dodgers last year, and 130-plus terrific innings in each of the two years before that, but he doesn’t provide any sort of the stability the Twins would be looking for. Especially since he isn’t expected to be ready until around midseason after having primary and revision surgery on his left elbow in late October, per Rob Bradford of out of Boston.

Oct 7, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) pitches during the first inning in game four of the 2019 NLDS playoff baseball series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Please Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins are already waiting on Pineda until the second week of May — it doesn’t make sense to wait for the potential of Hill, unless he’s not one of the two pitchers the team should be adding besides. On an incentive-laded deal as a flyer outside of those two guys, absolutely. As the first or even second pitcher added under this theory — that simply won’t work.

Secondary Starters

Free agency is still littered with guys who could be useful back-end guys, and there are even some who — if everything breaks right — could creep into that “impact” tier. But expecting them to do so as a baseline would be a very, very risky proposition.

Here’s a look at some of those guys:

  • Alex Wood — Wood is the most intriguing player on this list, as he’s really, really good when he’s healthy — but that hasn’t been terribly often. He only threw 35.2 innings — and pretty bad ones — in the big leagues last season, but simply getting on the mound to show something would have helped more, if he hadn’t missed all of September with a back issue. Wood is just two years removed from a top-10 Cy Young finish and one year removed from a 3.68 ERA in 151.2 innings with the Dodgers. Wood has reportedly been working with Driveline, though it’s unclear what his status would be for Opening Day — though it seems to be generally optimistic.
  • Collin McHugh — McHugh has been hiding out in Houston’s bullpen the last two seasons, with one really good year in 2018 (1.99 ERA/2.72 FIP) and one really tough one in 2019 (4.70/4.43). He did make a few starts last season and would still seem likely to prefer to start, and his stuff has spiked in recent years even before his move to the bullpen. His last two years as a full-time starter resulted in 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, a mark exceeded when he moved to the bullpen, which wasn’t terribly surprising. There hasn’t been much buzz around McHugh this winter, and he battled elbow discomfort for most of the 2019 season, so he’d definitely have to have a clean medical checkup for any sort of deal to materialize.
  • Homer Bailey — Bailey went from Reds ace to complete afterthought after posting a 6.25 ERA in 231.2 innings between 2015-18, but his 2019 season was fairly decent. He threw 163.1 innings — his first with that many since 2013 — between stops in Kansas City and Oakland, and while his 4.57 ERA wasn’t all that sexy, he had a 4.11 FIP with respectable secondary rates across the board (8.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.32 WHIP). He turns 34 in May.
  • Ivan Nova — Nova also is by no means a sexy option, but the Twins need innings and he eats them. He’s thrown 160-plus innings in each of the past four seasons and went over 180 last year with a 4.72 ERA (4.98 FIP). He’s posted a 4.31 ERA over the last four seasons (4.54 FIP) and should come relatively cheaply after filling a rotation spot behind White Sox ace Lucas Giolito on the south side last year. He’ll be 33 shortly after the new year.
  • Drew Smyly — Smyly also got a two-year deal the same winter Pineda did coming off an injury, but his 2019 was far less promising than Big Mike’s was. He had a 6.24 ERA and was ushered out of Texas after an 8.42 mark in 51.1 innings, but he was far more interesting after landing with the Phillies the rest of the way: 4.45 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9. The homers are scary, but there’s just enough command and swing and miss to dream on as a flyer working with Wes Johnson.
  • Danny Salazar/Aaron Sanchez/Jerad Eickhoff/Jimmy Nelson/Taijuan Walker — These are all health-related dart throws. Every one of them has been a highly-rated prospect or capable big-league starter in the not-too-distant past, but would probably be too much of a risk to guarantee a rotation spot to at the start of 2020.

Via Trade

Impact Starters

We’ll just take a look at some names, what it might take to get them and if it seems they’re truly available. Have a look (all costs listed are just my own best guesses and not scientific in any way, shape or form):

Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies

  • The good – He’s had his ups and downs but has survived the battle scars of pitching in Coors Field for the last five seasons. The raw talent is immense — so much so that some might wonder if he could be the next Gerrit Cole-like leap.
  • The bad – There isn’t much here. He gets strikeouts and grounders, keeps walks mostly in check and somehow managed a 1.14 HR/9 rate in Coors on a year where baseballs flew at unprecedented rates. He’s been good for a while, but a breakout feels imminent.
  • Is he really available? Nobody knows for sure. He’s not technically listed on Colorado’s depth chart, but that’s because he missed the end of the season with a fractured left foot. But if the season started today, he’d be their Opening Day starter most likely. This isn’t a Rockies team ready to contend this year, but they might not see it that way and keep Gray for a bit longer. Prices can rise in July.
  • The cost – Multiple top-10 prospects, and maybe even top-five guys.

Matthew Boyd – Detroit Tigers

  • The good – He’s got a touch of Robbie Ray to him, but instead of walks, he gives up more homers. His strikeout rate spiked to 11.6 per nine innings last season, and his swinging-strike rate jumped to 14.0 percent. Unlike Ray, he has three years of club control instead of one. Pitching coaches should salivate at the prospect of being the one to unlock his immense potential.
  • The bad – He’s got a touch of Robbie Ray to him, which means his talent and numbers point toward a breakout but it hasn’t quite happened yet. The pieces are in place for this to be a really, really great starter.
  • Is he really available? He should be, but it A. won’t be cheap and B. might not be an option since the Twins and Tigers are in the same division. Mini rant here: That shouldn’t really matter. The Tigers most likely won’t be competitive in the three-year window Boyd is expected to be with the team he’s traded to, and if the best offer comes from in the division, why not take it?
  • The cost – Immense. Talks with the Angels reportedly centered around outfielder Brandon Marsh — a 50-grade prospect via MLB Pipeline. For what it’s worth, the Twins have 13 (!) prospects with 50 grades or higher.

Robbie Ray – Arizona Diamondbacks

  • The good – He strikes out everyone.
  • The bad – There’s really no consistency in anything else he does. Is he a groundball pitcher? Kind of. Can he limit walks? Not especially. Can he keep the ball in the ballpark? Sometimes. With all of that said, it’s doubtful there’s an impending free agent with more potential to take a Patrick Corbin– or Zack Wheeler-type leap in the 2020 season.
  • Is he really available? Probably more so than the Snakes are letting on. They’re seven deep in starters right now, though only six of them have appreciable MLB experience. It’s impossible to have too much starting pitching, but they’re a little veteran-heavy right now so it might make sense to pare one off the list — and get back a solid prospect return.
  • The cost – Best guess is maybe a prospect in the Nos. 6-10 range to start discussions. Josh Rojas is intriguing as a starting right fielder, but this might not be the worst possible landing spot for Eddie Rosario, either.

Chris Archer – Pittsburgh Pirates 

  • The good – Cost, perhaps in more ways than one. First of all, Archer is only due $9 million in 2020 and has an $11 million team option for 2021 as well. But Archer is also coming off back-to-back down seasons and hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015. At his best, Archer is a strikeout machine who can keep the ball in the yard and on the ground.
  • The bad – See that last sentence above? He was none of that in 2019. He also threw under 150 innings for the second season in a row.
  • Is he really available? Does anyone know? The original Archer trade never made much sense and the team badly needs to retool if not outright rebuild. But at his cost, maybe the Pirates hold on a little longer for a rebound — which to be fair, makes a lot of sense.
  • The cost – Even after a pair of shaky seasons it’d probably still start with a prospect in the Nos. 6-10 range.
Aug 24, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Chris Archer (24) reacts before playing the Cincinnati Reds in a MLB Players’ Weekend game at PNC Park. Please Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Clevinger – Cleveland Indians

  • The good – He’s the total package on the mound. He strikes everyone out and doesn’t walk anyone. He doesn’t get as many grounders as one might like, but he’s in the ballpark and keeps the ball in there, besides. He only threw 126 innings last year and was still a 4.5-win pitcher according to Fangraphs. 
  • The bad – He did battle back issues which landed him on the 60-day injured list early in the season. As long as those check out, however, he’s good to go.
  • Is he really available? This is really, really murky. If the team trades Francisco Lindor, why not trade Clevinger too? If they trade Clevinger, where does it end? Jose Ramirez? Shane Bieber? Clevinger is older than you think — 29 just before Christmas — but once the thread starts unspooling, where does it stop? This is why the Indians are such a wild card for next year. Do they keep everyone and run it back? Do they gut it to the studs? Do they do something in the middle?
  • The cost – One of Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff to start the discussion — and plenty more.

David Price – Boston Red Sox

  • The good – He’s one of the best pitchers of this era, and even despite dealing with wrist and arm issues managed to post a pretty good season in 2019: 4.28 ERA (3.62 FIP), 10.7 K/9 and just 1.26 HR/9 despite the juiced ball.
  • The bad – He’s due $96 million over the next three seasons and had wrist surgery in September. He also battled left elbow tendinitis, though it was reportedly not as painful as the elbow issues that cost him most of the 2017 season. The reality is these are just the risks associated with acquiring and paying pitchers.
  • Is he really available? With the Red Sox trying to cut payroll it would certainly seem so. And despite Price’s lofty contract, there isn’t a no-trade provision in his contract. But finding a deal that mitigates the risk of acquisition but still makes it worth it to the Red Sox will be tricky.
  • The cost – Not even worth guessing.

Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox

  • The good – The ERA spiked and he threw only 147.1 innings last year, but considering he was dealing with a shoulder issue it was still a pretty solid season. Sale fanned 13.3 batters per nine, walked just 2.3 and really only saw a spike in home-run rate (1.47 HR/9) due to a blip on the radar in HR/FB rate (19.5 percent). The pieces are mostly in place for a return to form here.
  • The bad – He’s been limited to just over 300 innings the last two seasons with shoulder (2018) and elbow (2019) issues. He got a clean bill of health from elbow doctor James Andrews around Thanksgiving, however.
  • Is he really available? Less so than Price, it would seem. He also has a three-team no-trade clause from 2020-21 — no word on when that kicks in whether it’s Jan. 1 or Opening Day or somewhere in between.
  • The cost – Also not really worth guessing, but it’d be more than Twins fans would be comfortable with for sure.

Joe Musgrove – Pittsburgh Pirates

  • The good – He’s just really solid at pretty much everything. He gets enough strikeouts (8.3 K/9), limits walks (2.1 BB/9), keeps the ball in the yard (1.11 HR/9) and on the ground (44.5 percent GB rate). His swinging-strike rate of 12.0 percent foretells room for improvement, and he reached the 170-inning mark for the first time in his career in 2019.
  • The bad – There’s nothing really bad to report here. The pieces are in place for a big leap and the acquiring team would get three years of control.
  • Is he really available? Seems unlikely, but never say never.
  • The cost – Not Kirilloff or Lewis, but the conversation starts not far behind them.

Charlie Morton – Tampa Bay Rays

  • The good – He’s absolutely terrific. He absolutely blew up for the Rays last year — after not signing with the Twins — and was somehow better than ever in his age-35 season. He fanned more than 11 batters per nine, walked almost nobody (2.6 BB/9) and did his usual groundball song and dance.
  • The bad – Instead of wasting time trying to post things about Morton that are bad — there aren’t any pitching-wise — let’s just go with this: the Twins are at the forefront of wanting to be the team to find the Mortons of the world out there. Morton was a back-end starter for years with the Pirates, surfaced with the Phillies for a four-game stint that was really intriguing in 2016 and has been very good, and very different, since.
  • Is he really available? No. And even if he is, he’s publicly stated that he may retire after the 2020 season, when he’s a free agent. It’d be a big price for one year of control of a 36-year-old pitcher. It’s not without risk!
  • The cost – Immense — and who wants to trade with the Rays, anyway?
Oct 7, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton (50) looks on in game three of the 2019 ALDS playoff baseball series at Tropicana Field. Please Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

German Marquez – Colorado Rockies

  • The good – He’s battle-tested. He’s waged war with Coors and won — even if he came back to the pack in 2019. Most of his luck came via unsustainable measures (1.50 HR/9, 20.1 percent HR/FB) that will likely mitigate with or without Coors. He’s always been a little unlucky with homers (1.30 per nine on a 17 percent HR/FB rate) but that’s one easy spot for potential positive regression. Beyond that, he strikes people out, doesn’t walk them and gets grounders.
  • The bad – Maybe he really is going to give up homers on one in every five or so fly balls he allows in his career. I see a lot of young Pineda parallels here.
  • Is he really available? He’s 25 in February and under club control through 2023. There’s no reason for the Rockies to trade him.
  • The cost – The initial ask starts with the top-two guys, but maybe there’s a deal with quantity over quality with lower top-10 guys. It’d cost a ton. 
Secondary Starters

It’s possible some of these guys could emerge as “impact” pitchers in the near future, but the reality is they’ll be viewed as secondary pieces if acquired this offseason — so we’ll treat them as such in terms of classification.

Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins

  • The good – He’s everything you could want in a young starter from an “unlocking his talent” standpoint. He’s 24, throws the hell out of the ball, keeps it in the yard and on the ground and has a repertoire with ample room to improve. His career swinging-strike rate is 11.0 percent, which tells a rosier picture than his career mark of 7.2 K/9.
  • The bad – If he never improves one bit, he’s a solid No. 4-5 starter. Is that really….bad?
  • Is he really available? It doesn’t really make any sense with him under control through the 2024 season, but the Marlins traded a better pitcher (Zac Gallen) with even more club control (FA after 2025) to the Diamondbacks for some reason.
  • The cost – You might skate by without Lewis or Kirilloff, but it’d be a haul beyond that. The Marlins got a 55 prospect (Jazz Chisholm) for Gallen. The Twins have five 55 — or higher — prospects: Lewis, Kiriloff, Brusdar Graterol, Jordan Balazovic and Trevor Larnach. Choose wisely.
Sep 24, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22) pitches against the New York Mets during the second inning at Citi Field. Please Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Smith – Miami Marlins

  • The good – We have to come up with some sort of label for pitchers like this; ones who can get strikeouts but have just enough off in the rest of their peripherals that it’s keeping them from making the leap. It’s the Robbie Ray effect to some degree, and Smith is part of it. He’s fanned 9.9 batters per nine over parts of three MLB seasons, but without much consistency otherwise.
  • The bad – He’s a fly ball pitcher to the extreme — which has worked for Odorizzi and can be effective with Byron Buxton and Max Kepler in your corner — so he’ll ebb and flow with home-run luck. That bit him last year with an astonishing 1.94 HR/9 mark, but there’s plenty of reason to believe in regression. First of all, it’ll be worth watching what league-wide home-run rates look like — ahem, if there’s a ball change — but also Smith limited long balls to a rate of 1.16 in 2018. He’s capable of doing it — but just has to sustain it. I was tempted to put him in the “impact” category here but thought I’d get lambasted for it. I think the talent is definitely there.
  • Is he really available? The Marlins have a bunch of younger, interesting starters who all come from sort of the same general level of present-day value. They’re all good, and could possibly be very good, but aren’t quite there yet. How many of them will they keep? Nobody knows, but moving Smith — who turns 29 in July — might be the best bet of all.
  • The cost – Would they do this for Rosario? Nobody is totally sure how their outfield will line up with Corey Dickerson in the fold. Will Jonathan Villar play center? Will he play second if Isan Diaz goes back to the minors? Will he play third and shift Brian Anderson to right? There are a lot of questions to answer here.

Jose Urena – Miami Marlins

  • The good – The raw talent is there. Urena throws the crap out of the ball (95.9 mph average last year) and did see a slight spike in swinging-strike rate, though it was still only about average at 9.7 percent. Still, he keeps the ball on the ground and the swinging-strike rates on his slider (17.8 percent) and changeup (12.4 percent) in 2019 provide room for optimism.
  • The bad – He’s 28 and still hasn’t broken through the glass ceiling of middling strikeout rates and no real carrying tool in his pitching
  • Is he really available? Urena is due roughly $4.75 million this year and isn’t guaranteed a rotation spot. This might be a solid bet.
  • The cost – See “Smith, Caleb — cost.”

Pablo Lopez – Miami Marlins

  • The good – He’ll be 24 in spring training and has shown enough in spurts to seem interesting: 7.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 47.6 percent GB rate, 10.2 percent swinging-strike rate.
  • The bad – He’s risky just like any other young starter. He’s coming off a season with a 5.09 ERA, though Steamer likes him to take a leap forward this season: 4.18 ERA, 2.2 fWAR.
  • Is he really available? Less so than Smith and Urena, for sure.
  • The cost – Might be able to get something done with a prospect outside the top 10, but probably not too far outside it.

Jordan Yamamoto – Miami Marlins

  • The good – Competed at a fairly high level in his first MLB experience in 2019. Definitely didn’t show any sign of rookie jitters.
  • The bad – What’s his ceiling? Will he stay healthy? Basically the same thing one could ask about any young pitcher.
  • Is he really available? Probably even less so than Lopez, honestly.
  • The cost – It’d cost a pretty good prospect, as Yamamoto was a big part of the return for Christian Yelich.

Elieser Hernandez – Miami Marlins

  • The good – His strikeouts, walks and swinging-strike rate are all definite points in his favor as a future impact starter, as is his age — 25 in May.
  • The bad – He’s given up a ton of home runs to this point. Like more than two homers per nine innings last year, an unthinkable number for almost any pitcher before 2019 happened. This was an issue in High-A in 2016, but otherwise, his minor-league rates were acceptable.
  • Is he really available? Seems like he could be based on some rumor reporting this winter.
  • The cost – The rumor floating around during the Winter Meetings was him for Jake Cave. That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

John Means – Baltimore Orioles

  • The good – Means put up one of the best rookie seasons by an Orioles pitcher in many, many seasons: 155 innings, 7.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.60 ERA.
  • The bad – Not a lot of it feels sustainable with a .256 BABIP and iffy rates across the board, including just a 30.9 percent GB rate.
  • Is he really available? Doubtful. Someone has to pitch for the Orioles and the peripherals arrow isn’t exactly pointing up.
  • The cost – More than would make sense for the Twins.

Marco Gonzales – Seattle Mariners

  • The good – Gonzales has been really, really good for the Mariners the last two seasons. Like 7.1 fWAR combined over the two seasons-level good. He feels a little like Jose Quintana just before the White Sox dealt him — no real standout rates but he just gets the job done.
  • The bad – Declining swinging-strike rate — just 7.9 percent in 2019 — and no carrying attribute statistically makes acquiring him a bit of a leap of faith.
  • Is he really available? With four years of club control left, even with the Mariners not in good shape at present, Gonzales looks like he’ll be staying put.
  • The cost – The Mariners would probably have their pick of the litter from the Twins’ strong pack of middle-tier prospects.

Spencer Turnbull – Detroit Tigers

  • The good – He had a lot of really, really nice rates across the board: 8.9 K/9, 0.85 HR/9, 48.3 percent GB rate, 10.7 percent swinging-strike rate.
  • The bad – Fans will look at his 3-17 record and 4.61 ERA and immediately write him off, but he deserves a far deeper, more analytical look.
  • Is he really available? Probably not, but he is 27. This might be the chance for an enterprising team to strike.
  • The cost – Darren Wolfson of KSTP maintains the Tigers — especially Al Avila — have always loved Rosario. This would be a fascinating challenge trade.
Sep 29, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull (56) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Please Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Norris – Detroit Tigers

  • The good – While he hasn’t come close to justifying the hype that saw him headline a Price trade from Toronto — along with Boyd, actually — Norris broke through in some interesting ways in 2019. Look past his 2019 record (3-13) and you’ll find he threw a career-high 144.1 innings, punched out 7.8 batters per nine and posted a swinging-strike rate of 10.3 percent.
  • The bad – There isn’t that one “a-ha” number that grabs you by the lapels and says “this guy is on the verge of figuring it out.” The strikeouts have been there (10.4 K/9 in limited action in 2018, 9.2 in 2016) and they’ve been a bit more scarce (7.8 last season, 7.6 in 2017), the walk rates have been mostly acceptable and the groundball rate has never really spiked one way or the other. He’s 27 in April and a free agent after 2021, but there’s a pretty good pitcher in here I’m quite certain — how much are you willing to gamble here if you’re Falvey and Levine?
  • Is he really available? More so than Turnbull, it’d seem.
  • The cost – This might actually make more sense for Rosario straight up.

Merrill Kelly – Arizona Diamondbacks

  • The good – The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Kelly pitched respectably for the Diamondbacks last season — his first with the club after pitching the previous four years with the SK Wyverns of the KBO. Kelly’s contract calls for a modest $3 million salary in 2020 with team options for $4.25 million in 2021 and $5.25 million in 2022 — his age-32 and -33 seasons. After that contract ends, he’s still under club control for two more years if a team decides to keep him.
  • The bad – There’s nothing especially bad here, though he did lead the NL in….losses? Oh, who cares? He’s a respectable back-end guy with a modest contract who could be available after the team signed Madison Bumgarner. He threw 183.1 innings last year, posted a 4.42 ERA and decent rates — 7.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.42 HR/9 — when considering the offensive environment last year. Of potential note: opposing batters hit just .241/.333/.396 against his four-seam fastball last season. Ordinarily, that might seem like a healthy line, but in reality, it’s pretty solid. It’s not uncommon to see .800-.900 OPS figures against fastballs for pretty good pitchers.
  • Is he really available? Probably.
  • The cost – Fans would hate it, but Rosario might make some sense here, too. Prospects could also be in the mix, but the Diamondbacks have a really, really good farm system already.

Danny Duffy – Kansas City Royals

  • The good – Duffy’s been a really, really good pitcher in the past and even in his down years has been able to show there still could be something more there. However…
  • The bad – The last couple of years have been pretty spotty. Duffy has only pitched 285.2 innings the last two seasons with a 4.63 ERA (4.74 FIP) and a 1.41 WHIP. The fastball might not be what it once was, but it’s not that far off, either. He’s about a full mph off his career rates on the two- and four-seam fastballs, but he’s steadily been in that 92-93 range for quite some time now — even when he was pitching a little better. For what it’s worth, his slider (14.0 percent) and changeup (15.1 percent) still miss plenty of bats.
  • Is he really available? Yes.
  • The cost – Duffy is due $30.75 million over the next two years, and the Royals are shopping him hard. Even if the Royals pick up money, the cost will be minimal for the lefty, who just turned 31 a little over a week ago.

Matt Strahm – San Diego Padres

  • The good – There’s no denying the arm talent of the 28-year-old West Fargo native. He sat in the mid-90s with his fastball as a reliever with the Royals when he first came up in 2016, though those numbers look a little odd on the surface right now. More on that in a second. For his career, Strahm has a terrific 10.6 percent whiff rate on his four-seam fastball, a 15.5 percent mark on his slider, a 10.6 percent mark on his changeup and a 9.7 percent mark on his curve. All of these are in at least respectable territory, if not a little better — especially the fastball.
  • The bad – At first blush, it looks like the bottom fell out of his fastball. Hitters ambushed it for a .948 OPS last year after a .657 mark in 2018, and his average velo on it went from 94.0 mph two seasons ago to just 91.7 last year. Now some of that could be adding and subtracting since he pitched a little as a starter and might have needed to keep hitters on their toes more times through the order, but the reality is that he peaked at 95.4 mph on his four-seam fastball last year — well below the 97s and 98s he put up in the past. Again, that is likely largely due to role, but the pitch suffered as a result. So….is he a starter (24 career MLB starts) or reliever (108 relief appearances)? That’s an important question to answer.
  • Is he really available? Probably more so than he was a year ago at this time.
  • The cost – Difficult to say, since San Diego might just prefer to keep him as insurance for Garrett Richards and Dinelson Lamet. They have plenty of depth there though with Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill and the eventual arrival of Mackenzie Gore.
Sep 8, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Matt Strahm (55) pitches against the Colorado Rockies during the eighth inning at Petco Park. Please Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

J.A. Happ – New York Yankees

  • The good – Happ is left-handed and a pretty good bet to chew up innings — two things the Twins don’t have going for them as of this writing. That can change in a hurry! But still, Happ fell prey to the home-run spike last year with an astonishing 1.90 HR/9 rate, but otherwise was the equivalent of a possession receiver in the NFL: 4.91 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9. He moves the chains, but it ain’t sexy.
  • The bad – He’s 37 and is coming off his toughest year in the last five or so. Though to be fair, he was really, really freaking good from 2015-18: 3.48 ERA (3.78 FIP), 1.21 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9. An age-38 bounce-back season might not be a slam dunk, but it’s not impossible, either.
  • Is he really available? Definitely.
  • The cost – He’s making $17 million in 2020 and has a vesting option for 2021 if he makes 27 starts or throws 165 innings this upcoming season. If he meets those marks, chances are a team would want him back for 2021. Yet at that price, the Yankees are likely willing to pick up some of the freight — on the 2020 season, at least. It’s worth a phone call, anyway, because the acquisition cost won’t be much.

Brad Peacock – Houston Astros

  • The good – Like McHugh before him, Peacock has had a weird last few seasons as a swingman for the Astros. As of right now, it seems like Peacock could be on the outside looking in, but that might mean guys like Francis Martes, Rogelio Armenteros, Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy getting cracks at the rotation ahead of him — which seems a bit spotty. Over the last three years, though, Peacock has been good: 3.46 ERA (3.59 FIP), 1.19 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9. He’ll turn 32 on Groundhog’s Day and is no doubt champing at the bit for a crack at starting full-time. Will the Astros finally give it to him?
  • The bad – He’s extremely susceptible to home runs — over 1.45 HR/9 in three of the last four MLB seasons — and he battled shoulder issues last season. He’s also a free agent after 20202.
  • Is he really available? There’s a fair chance, though he probably makes more sense as insurance against the kids getting roughed up more than anything.
  • The cost – A mid-tier prospect the Astros find to their liking would probably get it done if a deal was in the cards.

Mike Leake – Arizona Diamondbacks

  • The good – Innings — he eats them. The Twins need that, and Leake has thrown 180-plus innings in six of the last seven seasons. In the season he didn’t? He threw 176.2. The two years before he started that stretch? He threw 179 and 167.2. He’s like the NL version of Rick Porcello without the super weird random Cy Young season.
  • The bad – He’s due $15 million in 2020 and has an $18 million mutual option with a $5 million buyout for 2021 — his age-33 season. His pitching profile is effective, but not sexy whatsoever. He doesn’t strike anyone out — never has, never will — but he relies on pinpoint command and tons of grounders. That’s probably not the best plan in front of this infield defense. He was also especially crushed by the home-run bug last year (1.87 HR/9, 1.17 for his career). He’s basically what Mike Pelfrey hoped to become.
  • Is he really available? Definitely.
  • The cost – The Diamondbacks might move Kelly or Ray, but what they’d really prefer to do is move Leake. It doesn’t seem likely that teams will desire that contract.
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