Twins

The Twins Should Avoid These Free Agent Pitchers When the Lockout Ends

Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has been an absolute enigma for MLB teams and fans alike. It started with the frantic blaze of a rushed free agent blitz, with teams jumping to make some quick roster moves before the impending doom of a lockout. Buyers readied themselves to make whatever hurried additions they could, like cars lining up around the block at a gas station before a hurricane is set to make landfall.

However, the Minnesota Twins decided to hunker down in their cellar and take their chances with what they had in stock. The only addition that they made was signing Dylan Bundy to a one-year deal. But that offered as much relief as an unlabeled can of mystery meat while other teams grabbed generators, batteries, and bulk food rations from Costco.

Now, it feels like the Twins are stuck in a dark cellar with nothing to do but wait and see what’s in their can. Surely, they’ll make some moves when the lockout ends. But with the shelves all but picked over at the market, their options will be limited. In fact, they may be tempted to grab additional cans of mystery meat, but that could end up hurting them far more than hunger ever could.

With that said, here are three pitchers that remain on the free agency shelf that the Twins should avoid once the lockout ends.

Yusei Kikuchi

A phenom in Japan, Kikuchi was a high-profile signing for the Seattle Mariners heading into the 2019 season. At 27, he had just entered his prime and was ready to make the jump to MLB action with a 3-year, $43 million guarantee. The Mariners saw him as a high-upside addition to their rotation, especially given the value of the deal. Unfortunately, he could never truly find his footing in Seattle, culminating in him declining a $13 million player option for the 2022 season.

Kikuchi’s 2021 campaign wasn’t a nightmare by any means. He did earn an All-Star game appearance, after all. But he clearly wore down as the season went on. Kikuchi had a commendable 3.48 ERA through the first half of the season, but that production dramatically fell off in the 58 innings that followed. He finished the year with a brutal 5.98 ERA, and opponents had a .904 OPS against him.

That should be enough to cause concern for a Twins team desperately seeking stability in their rotation. However, the underlying numbers paint an even bleaker picture for Kikuchi. When he was behind in the count in 2021, hitters batted .244 with a 1.436 OPS, the highest in MLB among qualified starters. He also allowed an average exit velocity of 91.1 MPH when opponents put the ball in play, which was also the highest in MLB among starters with at least 80 innings pitched. The Twins would be wise to leave this can on the shelf for now.

Zach Davies

A mainstay with the neighboring Milwaukee Brewers for the first five years of his MLB career, Davies has always been viewed as a high-floor starter. While Davis was unexciting, he could at least be relied upon to eat innings with solid results. He has made at least 28 starts in all but two of his seven years in the big leagues — not to mention the 12 starts Davies made in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — with a career 4.14 ERA. On paper, that looks like somebody that the Twins should be exploring, but his 2022 season raised some red flags. In 32 games with the Chicago Cubs, Davies had a 5.48 ERA, a career-high walk rate (4.56 BB/9 in 2022, 2.62 in the rest of his career).

He’s always been somebody who nibbled on the fringes of the strike zone, but 2022 showed the danger in that approach when he couldn’t get back in the count. His 53% strike rate was the lowest in the majors, and his 61% strike rate since 2019 is the third-lowest among qualified starters. That led to his aforementioned sky-high walk rate and certainly far more pitches thrown, which deteriorated his effectiveness later in games. His late-game issues are highlighted in the unsightly 1.160 OPS that Davies allowed to opponents when going through a lineup for the third time. The Twins should not take a chance on a starter who has a fastball that tops out at 89 MPH and fills the base paths more than the strike zone.

Andrew Miller

Once dubbed the best fireman in the game, Miller has a long history of being a notable force out of the bullpen. He was an elite starting pitcher prospect but never lived up to that potential. Miller eventually transitioned into an even better weapon as a reliever with the Boston Red Sox and would go on to take prominent roles in the bullpens of the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and St. Louis Cardinals. A good portion of his peak occurred in Cleveland when Derek Falvey was their pitching czar, so there is some familiarity there. And even though he is set to occupy a role that the Twins should be looking to fill, Miller’s numbers since joining the Cardinals should be enough to make Falvey look elsewhere.

Since 2019, Miller has a 4.34 ERA and a spectacular strikeout rate of 10.9 K/9. But he has struggled with walks (4.2 BB/9) and allowing home runs (16% HR/FB, league average is 10%). Even worse, he’s lost his ability to wriggle out of jams when the team needs him the most. Since 2019, opponents are hitting .302 against him with runners in scoring position — the 12-highest of any qualified reliever in that span. Given the uncertainty around Taylor Rogers‘ finger injury, the Twins should be looking to add somebody with more potential to Houdini out of trouble. Ideally, somebody younger than 37 years old.

Surely, the storm of the MLB lockout will one day pass, and the Twins will trudge their way to see what is left over at the market. Their shelves at home need a restock, especially when it comes to the team’s pitching. However, the club would be better off finding their additions elsewhere. These cans are dented, unlabeled, and/or expired.

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Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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