The Twins Had the Right Idea On How To Build A Bullpen. They Just Executed It Poorly.

Photo Credit: David Richard (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins felt good about their bullpen entering the 2021 season. With several new faces, the Twins thought they had a cost-effective solution to closing out games. It looked good enough to allow them to make a run at the division title.

However, that optimism was gone before the calendar turned to May. The Twins went from division contenders to competing for the No. 1 overall pick. While some fans believe the best solution is to throw money at the problem, Minnesota had the right idea of how to build a better bullpen. They just didn’t have the proper execution.

It starts with the end of the 2020 season. The Twins had a solid bullpen that included Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo but couldn’t count on either to replicate their performance after a late-season collapse. While they could have re-signed both relievers and hoped they would figure their issues out, it wasn’t worth the risk if they wanted to make improvements elsewhere.

Like most teams, the Twins were quiet in finding their replacements early but signed Alexander Colomé and Hansel Robles for a combined $8.25 million. Neither reliever became reliable options for the Twins, but neither tied the team down for a long time.

Looking around the majors, other teams had buyer’s remorse when it came to signing free-agent relievers. While Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen were successful for their new teams, others got locked into long-term contracts with mediocre results.

None of those relievers struggled like Colomé did with the Twins. But it shows that a hefty salary doesn’t guarantee a lockdown bullpen.

The same theory can be applied to this year’s All-Star roster, where the average reliever made $6.8 million.

The number is weighed down by Gregory Soto, who was the lone representative for the Tigers, and Taylor Rogers, who was an injury replacement. But the trend continues when looking at the bullpens for this year’s World Series participants.

The Atlanta Braves gave Will Smith a $13.6 million salary for this season, but Josh Tomlin ($1 million) is the only other reliever with a guaranteed salary. The rest are either prospects developed within their system or shrewd pickups such as Tyler Matzek, making $600K this season.

The Houston Astros shelled out a little more money as guarantees go, but no reliever is paid more than Ryan Pressly, who made $8.75 million as their closer. When 2021 offseason signing Pedro Báez went down with a shoulder injury, the Astros were set up from within and rode their young arms to the verge of another championship.

Neither team broke the bank by signing several relievers, but it shows a variation on which relievers hit. For instance, Colomé had a strong track record as a high-leverage reliever coming into the season. He had a 2.80 ERA with the White Sox in 2019 and an even better 0.81 ERA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

For whatever reason, that didn’t play out in Minnesota. But it’s not a reason to stop trying.

The Twins will be in a great position to utilize this strategy this offseason as there isn’t a clear top-tier reliever on the market. This could lead Minnesota to throw several low-cost darts and hope to find lightning in a bottle like the Braves and Astros did this season.

There’s also a chance that the bullpen could be improved from within. While Griffin Jax struggled as a starter this season, he could be one of several pitchers who could perform better in a bullpen role. The Twins also saw signs that Jorge Alcala could develop into a high-leverage reliever, and they could use Jhoan Duran as a flamethrower in the bullpen.

Whatever the Twins decide to do, they have the chance to fix their bullpen quickly and save funds to address other areas of need. If they can find the right arms, there’s a chance one of their top priorities could be solved early this offseason.

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