Twins

The Twins Can't Let Taylor Rogers Become Another One That Got Away

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff (USA TODAY Sports)

Even more disheartening than the Minnesota Twins’ lackluster 2021 campaign was the seemingly endless success “old friends” experienced elsewhere. Outfielders Akil Baddoo and LaMonte Wade Jr. both had breakout years with their new clubs. A small army of castaway pitchers, including Zack Littell, JT Chargois, and Luis Gil, have also experienced resurgences. Even Eddie Rosario is finally having his signature postseason moment with the Atlanta Braves.

The Twins’ front office decided that each of these players was expendable to some extent, whether because of their injury status or from their supposed spot on the team’s depth chart. While many of these decisions were justified at the time, they came back to bite Minnesota in the end.

This should make one of their off-season’s most pivotal decisions clear and convincing: They cannot afford to allow Taylor Rogers to become yet another one that got away.

One of the most reliable relievers the Twins have seen in the Target Field era, Rogers has cemented himself as a lights-out, high-leverage firefighter over the past six years. While never a high-end prospect, he showed that a wipeout slider from the left side could be about as valuable as any pitch out of the bullpen.

This year, he put that on display as opponents chased 48% of his breaking pitches out of the zone, good for second-best among qualified relievers. That many chased pitches out of the zone led to the highest strikeout rate of his career (13.17 IP), the 10th best among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.

Rogers’ contribution in terms of Win Probability Added (WPA) is quite impressive, as well. In only 315 innings of work throughout his career, his contributions have led to a 7.0 WPA, trailing only Joe Nathan, Rick Aguilera, and Eddie Guardado for most in Twins’ franchise history among relief pitchers. All three of those legendary hurlers are now members of the team’s Hall of Fame.

Granted, Rogers’ strong performance has led to a hefty bill for his final year of arbitration. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Twins should expect to pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.7 million for the 2022 season. It’s a hefty sum, but if he can perform anywhere near reasonable expectations based on his last few seasons, then it would be a value play. Even if Rogers were only half as effective as he was in 2021 in terms of fWAR, he would still be worth about $6.4 million, a virtual push with his arbitration bet.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore the red flags. Rogers was shut down for the season just hours before the July 30 trade deadline. He was undoubtedly part of trade discussions until then, and it sounds like there was even interest even after his injury prognosis. A strained middle-finger, especially for someone who throws as many sliders as Rogers does, can be problematic.

It’s fair to have questions. Will his finger heal in time for spring training? Was surgery ever under serious consideration?

Not only are there questions surrounding Rogers himself, but also the state of the bullpen without him. Who takes his place as the firefighter? Do they pick up Alexander Colomé’s option to try and replace his production? What other left-handed pitchers can the team reasonably count on after Caleb Thielbar?

One aspect that really shouldn’t be a question is this decision’s effect on the team’s payroll. Working on the assumption that the Twins will operate with a similar budget next year, they should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-55 million to spend to fill out the roster.

Sure, $6.7 million is a lot of money for an uncertain outcome, but it shouldn’t sink any other off-season decisions. It sounds like Jim Pohlad is willing to invest in additions that the front office finds necessary. That doesn’t only apply to multi-year free-agent signings; it should include a willingness to invest in uncertain outcomes with high-ceiling personnel already on the roster.

The decision to tender Rogers a contract is a gamble. But fans are sick of this front office folding their hand before the dealer lays down the flop. It has hurt them far more times than it has benefited the team in the last year.

They folded on Baddoo.

They folded on Wade.

They folded on countless pitchers who showed they could provide great value at the major league level if given the right opportunity.

Now, with ample room on the payroll and a clear need for high-upside players, the Twins need to play this hand until the river.

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Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff (USA TODAY Sports)

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