Indulge me for a moment if you will. Let’s say you know nothing — not hard for me to do — and you’re faced with nameless, faceless pitchers you can acquire to beef up your bullpen.
Let’s assume you can acquire any of these players and cost, players or money, is not a factor.
You’d love to get your hands on pretty much any of the first four or five guys, right? You could talk yourself into the sixth one on the basis that a home run problem could be solved, and the seventh may have better days ahead that you can gamble on at the right price, correct?
Your bullpen is in fairly dire straits, but it’s the only true weakness on your team. When you woke up on July 31, your bullpen was seventh in ERA (out of 15 American League clubs), sixth in FIP, sixth in K/9 and fourth in fWAR as a unit.
So maybe dire straits is overstating it, but things could definitely be better.
OK, let’s add cost back into the mix.
What if I told you that you couldn’t have pitcher No. 1. Well, more accurately, you can’t acquire him — because you already have him.
He’s Taylor Rogers. Not bad. He’s a big reason why the bullpen has any of the positives it does.
Player two stayed put, and there wasn’t much steam on him — but the expectation was that he’d cost a significant prospect return. Based on what the rest of the industry paid for relief help, you’d have probably traded a prospect inside your top 10 for sure, and more.
No. 4 was never mentioned in any trade talks, but has put up some awesome numbers in relative obscurity. With multiple years of control, he’d have cost plenty to acquire as well.
No. 5 signed a multi-year deal and has pitched better than his results show, but it’s hard to tell anyone “it could be much better” when his ERA is approaching 5.00. He’s also 35.
No. 6 is kind of a “Johnny-come-lately” who has been really good this year, but cost a guy who was one year removed from being a very, very good prospect. He’s 33, and a free agent at the end of the year.
And No. 7? He signed a three-year deal worth more than $8 million per season. Yikes, right?
By now you’ve figured out who the third guy is — new Twins reliever Sam Dyson.
For this season, you can’t really poke any holes in Dyson’s numbers. He’s fanned 8.3 batters per nine innings, walked just 1.2 and has a groundball rate of 55 percent, which ranks among the best in the game among relievers. He throws in the mid-90s, has a nasty cutter, has not allowed home runs despite the rest of the league handing them out like Halloween candy, and all he cost was an outfield prospect who didn’t figure into your near-term plans, a wild-card pitcher in A ball who has put himself on the radar with a nice season and a complete unknown in a 19-year-old righty who is still in Rookie ball.
Dyson isn’t out of place in any of the comparisons on this nameless, faceless list, and he cost less than all of them in terms of expected or actual cost — both in terms of players and prospects.
So who are these pitchers?
To see Dyson that close to Smith in value is, quite frankly, a bit jarring. But the 10 percent difference in grounders has resulted in keeping the ball in the ballpark twice as much, and the walk difference and strand rate make up a portion of the difference as well.
Oberg felt like a possible grab-n-go from the Colorado Rockies, but his name never surfaced in any sort of rumors. Soria made sense for the Twins in the offseason, but things have been a little bumpy this season — like most relievers who signed over the winter not named Adam Ottavino — and Martin cost Kolby Allard, a pitcher the Atlanta Braves drafted 14th overall in 2015 who was No. 24 on the Baseball Prospectus list prior to the 2018 season.
Some of the luster has surely worn off, but it’s still six years of control over a guy who could easily settle in as a back-end starter, if not more. He’ll be 22 in two weeks, while Martin is in the midst of a career year heading into his mid-30s with a provision in his deal that he must be released into free agency no matter what after this season.
We don’t really need to spend many words on Kelly, but he was definitely a player on some wish lists this offseason for Twins fans.
What I’m trying to convey here, if it’s unclear, is that finding relief help is a minefield. The Milwaukee Brewers traded Mauricio Dubon — a more than capable, MLB-ready middle infielder — to the Giants for Drew Pomeranz. You read that right, the guy who is a free agent in the offseason and has a 5.68 ERA this season.
Now Pomeranz has been a lot better since moving to the bullpen, but that’s 5.1 innings. He’s allowed zero earned runs in four appearances spanning not even the last two weeks — and the Giants managed to squeeze their potential future second baseman out of the Brewers for him.
The Twins, meanwhile, traded pitcher Kai-Wei Teng, outfielder Jaylin Davis and pitcher Prelander Berroa. If you’re saying “who?” you’re not alone — Davis is mashing at Rochester this season (.331/.405/.708 in 41 games) but was in no-man’s land with the outfield depth the Twins have not only in the big leagues, but even when considering Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff and Brent Rooker. Those three guys were leaps and bounds ahead of Davis on the team’s prospect lists no matter where you looked.
Teng and Berroa never registered much on prospect lists for the Twins, and while both are interesting, they’re still a year or more away from vaulting themselves into any sort of conversation about who they can be if, not when, they make the big leagues.
They carry as much downside, if not more, than they do upside.
And I’ll grant that Francisco Liriano carried that same label when he was part of the A.J. Pierzynski trade, but guys like him are way more the exception than the rule.
The upshot is this: the Twins significantly upgraded their better-than-you-thought bullpen over the last handful of days, and paid almost nothing to do it.
If you’re a prospect hugger, you should be happy.
If you’re a bullpen skeptic, you should be satisfied.
If you’re a Twins fan, you should be hopeful.
The Twins can’t help that the Astros acquired Zack Greinke at the 11th hour. Making a move to counter someone else’s moves is almost always a mistake anyway. Stay in your lane and take care of your own house, in other words.
Is Justin Verlander-Gerrit Cole-Greinke a formidable trio to face in October? You’re damn right it is.
Wasn’t that true of David Price-Max Scherzer-Verlander when they were in Detroit? You can go see how that worked for them — I’ll wait.
Nothing is guaranteed in this game. I understand fans wanting the Twins to ‘go for it’ but the reality is that borrowing from the back end of this contention window — let’s theoretically say 4-5 years — to marginally, at best, improve this year’s World Series-winning chances never made any sense.
Could the Twins go toe to toe with the Astros rotation even without Greinke? Not really. Did it matter in the season series? Not really. Would it matter in the postseason? Frankly, not really.
In three years, if we’ve learned anything from the brain trust at One Twins Way, it’s that their plan is this:
- Build a sustainable winner
- Get to October
- Let the chips fall where they may
The Twins aren’t the Dodgers — a team trying to improve on perfection with every move they make. And what has that done for the Dodgers in recent years anyway?
If you’re surprised by this trade deadline, you haven’t been paying attention. Like Joe Mauer not swinging at the first pitch — even when you implored him to — Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have been slavish in their discipline to the plan.
You can say it’s to a fault because they haven’t won a World Series yet. But yet is the operative word. By not moving Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis, Brusdar Graterol, Jordan Balazovic and Trevor Larnach for a short-term (potential) fix, the Twins have managed to push this year’s window further open while not sacrificing anything of consequence in the near term future.
It’s all about winning the World Seres in the eyes of fans, and I get that. But you can win 100 games five years straight and never sniff the Fall Classic. You can win 83 games and hoist the trophy like the St. Louis Cardinals did in 2006.
You can fall anywhere on that spectrum and be the last team standing or one of the nine sent home with your tail between your legs.
Wouldn’t you rather take multiple sustained, measured cracks at it rather than going all-in when your odds are most likely never going to be higher than 20 percent no matter what you do?
I know what my answer is. I know what Falvey and Levine’s answer is. And if I read your tweets in my feed this afternoon, I probably know what your answer is.
The future is still bright for this time, and so is the present. No matter how it ends, this will be a fun final two months of the regular season — and hopefully deep into October, too.
For what it’s worth, the nerds agree with me.