3 Salary-Dump Options for the Twins' Rotation

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea (USA TODAY Sports)

With rotation upgrades being an area of great need for the Minnesota Twins next year, many are starting to speculate how they can fill these crucial openings. And while the needs are anything but new for this club, their potential resources for acquiring them have changed from years past. With roughly $40-50 million in the budget, if Minnesota hopes to have a payroll similar to the past two seasons, they have an opportunity to get creative in their pursuit of starting pitchers.

Sure, they can try to throw an absurd amount of money at top-tier free agents like Max Scherzer and Robbie Ray. They can even try to pull off an impact trade as they did last year when they shipped a package headlined by Brusdar Graterol for proven piece Kenta Maeda. And while those options could still be considered this off-season, the Twins could be wise to explore trades that see them absorb financial commitments for proven (and in some cases overlooked) commodities. While these options aren’t going to make headlines like a Scherzer or Ray deal would, they can provide usefulness at a price that’s closer to their market value rather than an overpay based on desperation.

David Price

A former Cy Young winner and postseason star, Price found himself dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a secondary piece in the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the west coast. While he didn’t get to shine in the postseason for his new team during their championship run last year because he sat out due to COVID-19 concerns, he saw himself become the team’s swingman this year.

The results were a mixed bag, as he finished the season with a 4.03 ERA (1.46 WHIP) and a career-low strikeout rate (7.1 K/9, down from 10.7 K/9 in 2019). Not really what a contending team wants to see from somebody being paid $31 million for the season.

Price’s numbers as a starting pitcher this year would make Price appealing to the Twins. He pitched to the tune of a 3.92 ERA when starting games and had a very respectable 1.16 WHIP. Opponents were only able to muster a .680 OPS against him. His numbers as a reliever jumped to a 4.18 ERA, and he had a brutal 1.76 WHIP. Furthermore, his walk rate nearly doubled: 2.4 BB/9 as a starter, 4.18 BB/9 in relief.

While the Dodgers didn’t have much opportunity for him to be cemented in their rotation due in large part to some incredible depth, the Twins could write his name in pen as their No. 2 or 3 option on the rotation depth chart. It would undoubtedly require the Dodgers to eat some salary, but the two clubs could benefit from a deal.

If Los Angeles was willing to eat, say, half of the $31 million owed to price, a one-year deal worth $15.5 million feels reasonable for the Twins. It frees up some cash for a Dodgers team that is trying to re-sign multiple star players, and it would be sensible enough on the Twins side for them to continue looking for more front-end options.

Miles Mikolas

A veteran hurler who reinvented himself in the Japanese Central League for four seasons, Mikolas represents more of a buy-low option, even though he’s locked in for two more seasons. He returned stateside in 2018 and absolutely shoved for the St. Louis Cardinals.

That year, he had a 3.18 ERA (1.07 WHIP) in just over 200 innings pitched. He used his opportunity overseas to hone his breaking pitches, especially his dynamic slider and a 12-6 curveball. The following season showed more regression to the mean, but his 4.18 ERA in 184 innings was still a worthwhile contribution.

The last two years haven’t been spectacular for Mikolas. He has been plagued by nagging injuries, causing him to miss the 2020 campaign and almost all of this season. When he found his way back to the mound this year, he showed the same steadiness that made the Cardinals want to extend him in the first place. His 4.23 ERA (1.20 WHIP) wasn’t a nightmare but was still just below average.

If the Twins decide to gamble on his injuries being manageable, maybe he can bounce back to the solid performances he put together from 2018-19. He’s owed roughly $34 million for the next two seasons, so St. Louis would need to pay that contract down if they want the Twins to take Mikolas off their hands. If Minnesota could get his contract down to two years and $17-20 million, he could represent a crafty veteran in the J.A. Happ/Rich Hill mold that Minnesota’s front office has shown a penchant for signing in recent years. Fans may not be thrilled with those comparisons, but this would be a hypothetical move for a No. 3 or 4 option in the rotation.

Patrick Corbin

After selling off two of their biggest superstar players at the trade deadline, the Washington Nationals made it clear they are going into a rebuild. Sure, they still have one of the best players in the world in outfielder Juan Soto, but the rest of their MLB roster leaves much to be desired. With that said, they could grant themselves some additional financial flexibility by trading Corbin while they still can.

He’s midway through a six-year, $140 million contract, making him the highest-paid player on their team, at least until Soto signs some outrageous 15-year extension worth a half-billion dollars.

Corbin’s last two seasons have been pretty terrible, but he’s just a few years removed from being one of the premier starters in the game. From 2017-19, Corbin had a 3.47 ERA with a fantastic 3.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It’s hard to say how much the Nats would have to eat in a swap, but the Twins should be willing to cover more than half of the deal, considering he’s still under control for three years in his age 32-34 seasons.

If he can regain his form before the pandemic-shortened season, Corbin could be a solid find for a Twins team that is desperate for high-ceiling starting pitchers. Then again, his last two campaigns show the fickle nature of sharing a high ceiling with a low floor. It all depends on who the Twins think the real Corbin is.

If the Twins intend to bounce back into contention next year, it’s clear that they’ll need to do more than wait for top-tier free agents to accept their offers. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be active on the free-agent market, but history has shown Twins Territory that it takes more than just a solid offer to get the big boys to land here. While money certainly does talk, so does finishing in last place in one of the weakest divisions in baseball. Absorbing some larger contracts could bring some certainty into what is currently a dubious rotation picture.

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