The World Series is almost over, and the talks of the Minnesota Twins offseason plans are heating up. After a disappointing campaign, the Twins have multiple areas they can address and improve on. The starting rotation will naturally be a point of emphasis. That position group is at a crossroads right now.
There are plenty of exciting options on the free-agent pitching market. We’re talking about a list of impact pitchers with accolades, including Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Marcus Stroman. But there may be a free-agent pitcher the Twins can bring in and get the best return. He’s a familiar face and just pitched in the World Series this weekend. Zack Greinke could be a valuable option for the Twins to pursue in the free-agent market.
José Berríos and Kenta Maeda were Minnesota’s best starters last year. But the Twins traded Berrios to the Toronto Blue Jays, and Maeda will miss most of next season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. They could also enter next season without some veteran pitchers. No. 3 starter Michael Pineda is set to hit the free-agent market, and it’s unclear whether he will return.
The Twins have some talented prospects who could eventually headline their rotation. Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober have shown plenty of promise in their limited action in the majors. But it’s important to make sure that they address the front of their starting rotation. It’s not just about filling out empty spots; they need to add a talented veteran who can anchor the front of the group. This will provide a buffer for some of the prospects who aren’t ready yet.
In terms of Greinke, we’re not talking about a Cy Young candidate here. Instead, he’s a respectable arm the Twins can rely on come Opening Day in Chicago. They need to avoid repeating 2013 when they ran out Vance Worley after acquiring him from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Greinke has maintained his production late in his career after the Arizona Diamondbacks traded him to the Houston Astros in 2019. Most fans will remember his time in a Kansas City Royals uniform. He was the only bright spot for a bad era of Royals baseball. In 2009, Greinke had a 2.16 ERA, won the Cy Young award, and received MVP votes.
He’s been a dominant starter throughout his 18-season career with a 2.84 ERA and 63.8 fWAR mark. The two-time ERA title holder also has an 8.13 K/9 in 3,110 innings pitched and has received Cy Young votes in five seasons since 2009. An addition of Greinke could add plenty of veteran experience for the young arms to learn from.
But Greinke, 38, is in the twilight of his career. The six-time All-Star’s fastball has lost velocity, and he’s no longer an ace-caliber pitcher. However, Greinke has done what most pitchers over the age of 35 do to prolong their careers. He’s used his experience to retire hitters with more finesse.
Greinke’s fastball has dipped in velocity over the years. In terms of vFA, which calculates average velocity of a pitcher’s fastball, Grienke owned a 94.7 vFA in 2007. Fast forward to 2021, that number dropped down to 89.0 vFA this season, according to FanGraphs, allowing him to modify his pitch selection. He’s relying less on his fastball over the last five years. According to Baseball Savant, he’s throwing a slider and curveball low and inside to get batters out.
Minnesota’s coaching staff loves to make slight but meaningful adjustments to pitchers. They target players who know how to locate their breaking pitches and are willing to use them frequently. The Twins could get him to use his slider more to try and maximize his talent. Greinke has had plenty of success locating his slider, according to Baseball Savant.
But on top of all of that, the biggest reason is that Greinke is still a productive big-league pitcher who keeps his ERA low. In 16 seasons, his career-worst is only a 4.37 ERA. Along with that, he’s also a big-time innings-eater. Greinke has pitched over 170 innings in all but two seasons, one of which included the pandemic season.
There is precedence for the Twins bringing in older arms to shore up the rotation on shorter-term deals. They have signed Pineda, Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, and J.A. Happ. Greinke would command more money than any of those pitchers, roughly $10 million. But the Twins have shown willingness to spend on one-year deals. If they were willing to shell out $6 million on Alex Colomé last season, they should be willing to spend a bit more of that for a starter of Greinke’s caliber.
One issue is his interest in coming to the Twins. He listed them on his no-trade clause in 2018, but plenty has changed for both parties since. Minnesota wasn’t thought of as a contender at that time. At this point in his career, if the Twins make him the best offer, there’s a good chance he’d jump on board.
Greinke would bring multiple playoff experiences and successes. He also might not be the best piece to just throw into a locker room with a leadership vacuum. Not that he would be a bad figure in the locker, but that riling up the team to load was never his strong suit. However, his laid-back style of play might mesh with Rocco Baldelli’s hands-off management style.
Long story short, a move like this doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary for the Twins. Bringing in older players on a bargain who have previously had success isn’t new. Greinke has separated himself from the rest of the free-agent pack by reinventing himself. The Twins can help him be a primarily curveball-slider pitcher who can still get outs.
He’s not going to be a vocal leader, but Greinke’s calming veteran presence and baseball wisdom would be a bonus for Minnesota’s young pitchers. Greinke isn’t the pitcher he once was, but he can still be an anchor for a Twins rotation that desperately needs one.