Should the Twins Prioritize Starting Pitching Or Bullpen Depth At the Deadline?

Photo Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

After much anticipation, we are one week away from the MLB trade deadline. The Minnesota Twins have an excellent start to the second half of the season but still need improvement. Outside of another catcher, this Twins lineup doesn’t need much help. However, those who follow the Twins know it’s not the lineup that needs help. It’s the pitching staff that needs work.

The production we saw from the mound in April and May has nearly vanished. At least it’s regressed to the mean. Twins pitching had a 3.77 ERA after the first two months of the campaign, which ranked seventh in baseball. After injuries and regression, the team’s 3.92 team ERA puts them at 16th in the league. The starting staff has its issues after Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray, but the bullpen has been the larger issue outside of Jhoan Durán and Griffin Jax.

Fans rightfully want the front office to address the rotation and bullpen with the best options on the trade market. Ideally, the Twins will need to get multiple pitchers if they want to improve the pitching staff meaningfully. However, there’s only a finite amount of resources to address the roster.

So is the better path to focus on the starting rotation or the bullpen?

Twins fans would love to see the team make some significant upgrades to the bullpen. Nail-biting finishes over the last three weeks and multiple blown saves have made the back end of the bullpen a key area of need. They could really use another lefty. Detroit’s Andrew Chafin and Arizona’s Joe Mantiply both fit the lefty angle. Other top options include Daniel Bard and David Robertson. Minnesota will have a lot of options at the deadline.

Is adding quantity or quality the better option in the bullpen?

Adding relievers would immediately make this Twins team better. Another benefit to bringing in relievers? They only cost mid- to lower-level prospects to acquire.

The front office’s recent history of big bullpen acquisitions has been sketchy, though. Sergio Romo had a nice run in Minnesota. However, Sam Dyson, Alex Colomé, Hansel Robles, and Emilio Pagán all had underwhelming production in a Twins uniform. So another miss trading for a high-leverage arm could backfire.

Bullpen arms aren’t always a wise investment. Some of the smartest teams in the league, like the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Tampa Bay Rays, don’t value trading for relievers at the deadline because of the value proposition. Minnesota’s only deadline trades have been to acquire relievers, but signing Carlos Correa may push the Twins to be more aggressive with going all in on this year’s. Focus more on just acquiring more arms and piecing the bullpen together for the rest of the year rather than just getting the biggest name available.

Landing additional starting pitching has the potential for a bigger impact

The Twins would like to rid themselves of their bullpen woes. But the longer the season goes on, the more strained the starting rotation has become. Offseason additions Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer are unlikely to pitch the way they did early this season. Frankie Montas, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle are the biggest names on the starting pitching market that Twins fans have been asking for since March. ranked the Twins farm system 19th to start the season. They don’t exactly have the same firepower that other teams do to get the big-name arms without having to overpay. However, some mid-tier arms may be there for the taking.

Adding additional Major League arms to the rotation will play a significant role, even if it’s just some middle-of-the-rotation arm. Just having more stable veteran arms again can stabilize a pitching staff that has needed it. Not just that, but it gives the Twins some flexibility that they envisioned for their staff in April before injuries and other factors changed things.

Guys like Josh Winder and Devin Smeltzer can contribute as innings eaters out of the bullpen instead of being needed out of the rotation. That’s where Winder seemed to be headed before getting more starts due to injuries. Smeltzer could also fit that role in small doses. Don’t forget a couple of Twins pitchers who are on the injured list that could come back and help this team if things fall into place.

Jorge Alcalá has been out since April, and it’s unclear when exactly he’ll return. But he is a veteran the Twins have confidence in.

Kenta Maeda could also be a big X-factor for the bullpen. He’s been recovering from Tommy John surgery he had last season. Having Maeda back as a bullpen arm in the playoffs would be huge if he’s ready. That’s a big if, though. Maeda won’t be ready until mid to late September. It would be a gamble to throw him in the most meaningful games of the season, but he is an established veteran with playoff experience.

The Twins would have to spend more to get an arm, but there’s more value in trading for a starting pitcher than a bullpen arm because of the innings a starter can pitch compared to a reliever. Plus, the team has an easier internal path to address the bullpen than the starting rotation.

What the other buying teams do at the deadline is another factor that can play a hand in Minnesota’s. For example, the New York Yankees, Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals have deep farm systems, and they all could be in the hunt for those top starting arms. A bidding war between multiple teams likely means the Twins won’t be able to land a top pitching option.

Falvey and Levine have had some of their signature moments running the front office when they have to pivot and change course on the fly. They landed Josh Donaldson after losing out on Zack Wheeler in 2019. They also signed Carlos Correa after realizing they weren’t going to get Trevor Story after trading Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees. It’s not impossible to see the Twins spend most of the focus on starting pitching to help fix the team’s staff with the list of Plan B options ready if the starting market doesn’t fall in their favor or vice-versa.

No matter the way the Twins prioritize their trade deadline actions, there need to be some meaningful additions to the pitching staff for the team to make a postseason run. There are only so many arms the team can bring in for help. The Twins should focus on adding a starter rather than relief pitching because they’re going to get better value.

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