When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over the Minnesota Twins’ philosophy in 2017, they had a clear idea of how they wanted to construct their roster. By acquiring consistent major league hitters, they could field a pitching staff by developing pitchers and finding value in free agency.
The Twins have been actively signing pitchers over the past couple of years, but the results haven’t been good. For every Michael Pineda that has worked out, they’ve signed a Martín Pérez or Homer Bailey, leaving a gaping hole in the pitching rotation.
The bottom fell out last season when the Twins whiffed in free agency and didn’t have any talent in the minors to replace them. Assuming they are hoping to rebound and contend next season, Minnesota will have to find a way to replace all five spots in the rotation. That could mean a big-ticket deal in free agency.
Minnesota’s history with signing pitchers has been a frugal one. Although they’ve been linked to several big names in the past, the only huge signings came when they were in a similar situation in the early 2010s. As they were fading into the bottom of the division, the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco in the winter of 2013. The idea was for the 31-year-old to be a consistent presence in the rotation. But he had posted an ERA under 4.00 twice in eight major league seasons.
The result was just as good as Nolasco’s track record. He lasted just over two seasons of a 4-year, $49 million contract, and the Twins traded him to the Los Angeles Angels in the summer of 2016.
The following offseason, the Twins topped Nolasco’s deal by signing Ervin Santana to a 4-year, $55 million contract. Like Nolasco, Santana was supposed to stabilize the top of the rotation. However, he missed half of the 2014 season after violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Once Santana got on the field, he posted solid numbers, going 30-25 with a 3.68 ERA. But it’s a reminder that the amount of money spent does not guarantee success. Finding the right pitcher is paramount.
Looking at this year’s free-agent list, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious candidate to land a massive deal. Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander are likely looking at big money, short-term contracts. They want to maximize their value and be able to hit the free-agent market for one final big deal. There’s also the tier of bargain signings that could wind up being the second coming of Homer Bailey. Or they could be a pleasant surprise. This variance also plays a factor in Minnesota’s decision on whether or not to spend big on a starter.
The Twins also got bad news when Eduardo Rodríguez signed a 5-year, $77 million contract from the Detroit Tigers. After posting a 4.74 ERA for the Boston Red Sox last season, the number is higher than expected. That will only drive up the price of a more consistent hurler.
If the Twins wanted to go that route, they could take a look at Marcus Stroman. They were in conversations with the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2019 trade deadline, but the Blue Jays asked for either Alex Kirilloff or Royce Lewis in return. Minnesota declined Toronto’s initial offer, and the Blue Jays ghosted them and traded Stroman to the New York Mets.
After opting out of the 2020 season, Stroman spent one full season with the Mets and looked like a potential ace with a 3.02 ERA. By posting some of his best numbers since his rookie season, Stroman is hitting the market at the right time and could command a massive deal.
If Stroman’s price is too high for the Twins, they could turn to Robbie Ray. The lefty could have been a solid signing last offseason, but he was coming off a 6.62 ERA in 2020. After signing with Toronto, Ray cut his BB/9 rate from 7.8 to 2.4 last season and became a Cy Young candidate. Ray’s inconsistency is well documented. But he’s a strikeout machine with the highest K/9 rate (11.2) by a starting pitcher in MLB history. The Twins aren’t keen on handing out a four- or five-year deal for a pitcher like this. However, he could be worth it for a team that ranked 23rd in strikeouts last season.
But the Twins could also try to find a pitcher similar to what they already know about the market. WithRodriguez’ss arrival in Detroit, they could turn their attention to Jon Gray. Trapped in Denver, Gray posted a 4.59 ERA but was comparable to Rodríguez statistically.
If the Twins want to be competitive next season, they’ll have to drop some money on pitching. While these hurlers won’t come cheap, adding one or two could stabilize the rotation and give Minnesota a chance on the mound.