Twins

Twins Announce Signings of Pitchers Rich Hill, Homer Bailey

Please Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins got in some last-minute action before the calendar shifts to 2020 by landing a pair of starting pitchers — lefty Rich Hill and righty Homer Bailey.

The Twins announced the deals on Tuesday morning. Dan Hayes of The Athletic was the first to report the signings, though Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press whispered the potential of a deal with Hill in a recent column.

As far as terms of the deals, Bailey’s is for $7 million with incentives if he reaches 180 innings according to Hayes, while Hill is getting a $3 million base salary and incentives up to $12.5 million if he pitches either 75 innings or makes 15 starts, per Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan gives a pretty good synopsis of how the deals will be received, but we’ll also fill in some blanks:

Casual fans may lament the team only committing $10 million here, but in reality they’re both very, very astute signings.

Hill has battled numerous health issues in recent seasons and is entering his age-40 season, but there’s no denying he’s the definition of “impact pitching” when he’s on the mound. In parts of four years with the Dodgers, Hill threw 361.1 innings with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.8 walks per nine and a WHIP of 1.08.

The only Twins pitcher in franchise history capable of matching those numbers was Johan Santana. Yes, the health woes are an issue — recovery from elbow surgery will likely sideline him into June, at least — but if he never throws a single inning for the Twins it’ll have cost $3 million. That’s not even Mike Pelfrey money.

And as noted in Monday’s column, the Twins still really ought to add another arm besides this pair if Hill is part of the equation. Plus, the $10 million still leaves the Twins plenty of room to add a big contract such as Josh Donaldson.

Bailey’s career was left for dead at one point — though not to the extent of Hill’s, that is. Hill was drafted by the Cubs in the 2002 MLB draft and despite his age was a pretty decent prospect when he broke through on the North Side in 2005. His time with the Cubs was mostly unremarkable save for a pretty good year in 2007, and entering his age-30 season he was coming off an atrocious year with the Orioles: 7.80 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and 46-40 K/BB ratio in 57.2 innings.

Hill kicked around with the Red Sox, Indians, Angels and Yankees into his mid-30s, and again was fairly unremarkable in that five-year stretch: 3.93 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 5.9 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.59.

But when he surfaced for a four-game stretch with the Red Sox in 2015 — not unlike Charlie Morton‘s stint with the Phillies in 2016 — it appeared some sort of switch had been triggered. Hill was brilliant in that 29-inning sample, posting a 1.55 ERA with 36 strikeouts, five walks and a WHIP of 0.66.

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

He signed with Oakland the next year and gave them a 2.25 ERA through 76 innings before he was traded to the Dodgers, where he was terrific when he was able to take the mound. He’s also had appreciable success in the playoffs, with a 1.06 ERA in 17 career LCS innings and a 1.80 mark in 15 World Series frames.

Bailey was an excellent pitching prospect for the Reds in the mid-aughts — peaking as the No. 4 prospect in the game via Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2007 season and No. 5 via Baseball America that same year — and while it took a while to find his footing, the righty eventually established himself as a solid No. 2 starter with a couple of strong seasons in 2012-13. That deal landed Bailey a six-year extension with the Reds for $105 million — and things went south almost immediately thereafter.

Bailey pitched respectably in 2014 — 3.71 ERA in 145.2 innings — but dealt with forearm fatigue which significantly shortened his season. When that bled into the 2015 season, Bailey was diagnosed with a torn UCL — ultimately leading to Tommy John surgery. The rest of Bailey’s Reds career was an unmitigated disaster: 6.25 ERA (5.13 FIP) in 231.2 innings over four seasons, 6.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 1.68 WHIP.

Not only was the quality of the innings bad, but so was the quantity. Between 2015-16 — the first two years of that stretch — Bailey threw just 34.1 total MLB innings.

After the 2018 season, the Reds flipped him in a massive deal of salary swaps which saw Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and more going from the Dodgers to Cincinnati in exchange for prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray. The Dodgers ate the more than $22 million due to Bailey in 2019 and released him the next day — and it wasn’t until Feb. 9 that he landed with the Kansas City Royals.

Bailey pitched respectably for the Royals — 1.1 fWAR in 90 innings, 4.80 ERA (4.48 FIP), 8.1 K/9, 1.20 HR/9 — but it was in Oakland where he really started to shine after he was traded in mid-July.

His overall numbers with the A’s are strong — 1.7 fWAR in 73.1 innings is about 4.2 wins when stretched over 180 innings — but he was especially good down the stretch for an Oakland team which lost the Wild Card game to the Rays.

Over his final two months — from Aug. 1 on — and 10 starts, he was really, really good: 3.22 ERA, 53-11 K/BB ratio in 58.2 innings, .600 OPS against and a 12 percent swinging-strike rate. In all, Bailey reached the 160-inning mark for the first time since the 2013 season, and at age 33 — he’ll be 34 in May — looked like the version of himself that secured the $100-plus million bag.

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Sep 24, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Homer Bailey (15) throws in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Please Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

So maybe $10 million to two 30-something veterans doesn’t make your socks roll up and down with excitement — I get it. When names like Zack Wheeler and Hyun-Jin Ryu are thrown around and the Twins wind up with a couple of one-year deals to guys with a combined 28 years of MLB experience, people aren’t going to want to dig into the nuance for what makes these astute, smart signings.

But they’re making moves that make sense, and still have the necessary flexibility to land the big fish they’re still trying to fry in Donaldson. Should they still add another arm? Absolutely. Will they? Nobody really knows.

But if the Twins land Donaldson — and the word ‘if’ is carrying a lot of weight here, I know — this becomes an A-/B+ season. If they add Donaldson and another interesting arm via free agency or trade, an A grade is in the works.

The Twins have filled holes capably with deals that don’t hamstring the future budget — which is important when considering adding a big-time free agent such as Donaldson in addition to trying to lock down some of the team’s young talent, which is rapidly ascending toward big arbitration and free-agent paydays.

Maintaining a winning roster requires fluidity and nimbleness — something this front office has shown in spades. Don’t forget that they took a 100-loss team and turned it into a 100-win squad in just three offseasons.

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Please Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

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