As the Minnesota Twins settle into a cozy, lockout-induced hibernation by the fire, they can’t help but look out the window at all the fun their neighbors seem to be having. Oh look, the Los Angeles Angels got a shiny new front-line starting pitcher. The Texas Rangers used their holiday bonus to get a new pair of elite middle-infielders. Even the neighbors across the train tracks, the Detroit Tigers, got themselves a new opening day starting pitcher and an exciting shortstop to boot.
Instead, the Twins used their allotted holiday spending to pay their bills and keep the lights on. They extended franchise cornerstone Byron Buxton but have done little else. It’s a worthy and necessary expenditure, but fans are surely getting jealous of the many empty boxes waiting by their neighbor’s trash bins after a satisfying holiday season.
It’s too late for the Twins to spend their way out of the vacancies in their starting rotation. However, it may be time to try and take advantage of the neighboring teams with an embarrassment of riches in their starting rotation, namely the Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and New York Mets.
Atlanta Braves – Kyle Wright
The reigning world champions have a lot to be grateful for this year. They haven’t opened their pocketbooks for any of the top names in this year’s free-agent class. But that’s primarily due to the strong depth that they already have. The Braves found themselves hoisting the trophy due in part to their starting rotation. But interestingly enough, that staff received little from Wright, a former top prospect.
The former first-round draft pick who they took with the No. 5 overall pick in 2017 only made two appearances with the big league club in 2021. But his work in Triple-A and his location on Atlanta’s organizational depth chart make him an enticing under-the-radar trade target for the Twins. Wright had a 3.02 ERA (1.18 WHIP) in 24 minor league starts last season. His strikeout numbers were a tick higher than his career average (9.0 K/9 in ‘21 compared to 7.59 career rate), and his walk totals were more than palatable (3.0 BB/9).
A promotion to the big-league roster would usually follow that strong of a Triple-A campaign. But the Braves already had, and still have, a full rotation’s worth of starters. Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa paint a crowded picture in Atlanta’s 2022 rotation. Plus, they have the eventual return of staff ace Mike Soroka and top prospect Kyle Muller.
If the team finds Wright to be expendable, the Twins could swoop in and acquire a 26-year-old with a top prospect pedigree and hope that the change of scenery provides continued improvement. He’s under team control for the next five years. If the Twins can harness Wright’s slider — his best offering — as they have with other projects in recent years, then he could be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come.
Seattle Mariners – Justus Sheffield
Seattle’s rotation is just as deep as Atlanta’s, especially after inking reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a 5-year, $115 million mega-contract. By landing arguably the best pitcher on this year’s free-agent market, the Mariners now have a plethora of solid starters on their staff as they try to end their playoff drought. Therefore, Sheffield, a former top prospect, could be pushed out. The soon-to-be 26-year-old is only a year removed from an encouraging pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign where he had a 3.58 ERA in 55.1 innings.
In that pandemic-shortened season, his slider alone was worth plus-4.5 runs above average, according to Fangraphs. However, that pitch regressed considerably in 2021, and his overall results took a huge hit. He finished the year with a brutal 6.83 ERA and a career-worst K/BB rate.
If the Twins can rediscover something in his slider, the results could look closer to his 2020 numbers. Better yet, they could land a 25-year-old diamond in the rough with four years of club control left. His Fangraphs steamer-projected 4.14 ERA with a more palatable strikeout and walk numbers in 2021 would be a huge upgrade to Minnesota’s rotation. And his chance to develop a long-term role in a rotation with more opportunity could be good for him, as well.
Another interesting note on Sheffield is that he was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Indians when Derek Falvey was running their pitching pipeline. Sheffield’s familiarity with Minnesota’s current President of Baseball Operations may be a factor as the Twins window shop for possible pitching targets.
New York Mets – David Peterson
So far, nobody’s lot looks fuller than the mansion on the corner belonging to the New York Mets.
Last month, papa Steve Cohen went through the various gift catalogs that serve as his household’s wish lists, and he opened up the pocketbook. The Mets’ owner doled out more than $254 million on new toys for the kids, including future Hall-of-Famer Max Scherzer ($130 million), outfielders Starling Marte ($78 million) and Mark Canha ($26.5 million), and old friend Eduardo Escobar ($20 million).
And while the Mets’ mansion is huge, there’s no way they can fit all of these new goodies into the playroom with all the current toys taking up so much space.
Enter the Twins, who would be happy to take Peterson off the Mets’ hands.
Peterson is another 26-year-old former first-round pick who finds himself on the outside of the projected opening day rotation in Flushing, NY. His case is different from that of Wright and Sheffield, though. He more than likely would be the first ringer in the event that a starting pitcher went down with an injury. And that’s likely to happen to a Mets’ rotation that counts on Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker, who have all recently dealt with prolonged injuries.
But if the Twins trade one of their upper-echelon prospects in a deal for Peterson, he could be a great fit. He broke out in 2020 when he debuted (3.44 ERA in nine starts) but regressed to a 5.54 ERA in 2021. Interestingly enough, his strikeout and walk numbers improved in his sophomore season, but the output suffered due to a hard drop in production with runners on base (76.8% LOB in 2020, 65.4% in 2021). One area that provides encouragement for the young hurler is that he has a penchant for putting hitters away once he gets to two strikes in the count.
Since debuting in 2020, opponents could only muster a .093 batting average once he gets to a two-strike count, good for fourth-best in all of baseball, according to Inside Edge. That skill set represents an underlying factor that most front-line starters possess and could point to making a reliable starter with a high ceiling – something that the Twins desperately need under their tree.
The Twins certainly have a handful of blessings that they should be grateful for. Whether it’s having the face of the franchise signed to a long-term deal or the excitement of some talented sluggers ready to emerge as lineup stalwarts, the club can feel good about the offensive side of their game plan for the most part. But on the starting pitching front, Minnesota might want to consider looking under other teams’ Christmas trees, or maybe even their recycling bins the next day, if they want to really feel the holiday spirit.