Which Soon-To-Be Free Agents In the Playoffs Make Sense For the Twins?

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball fans in Minnesota may be watching the League Championship Series with distaste, especially on the American League side. The two competitors in the junior circuit are the teams that most recently knocked the Minnesota Twins out of postseason play. But even with a few notably unlikeable teams making a run for the World Series, there is still plenty for local fans to watch for in the coming weeks. Among the most interesting aspects of the teams remaining are the handful of free agents to be. Some even look like reasonable targets for next year’s Twins team.

Sure, fans would much rather see the Twins’ front office make a bigger push for front-end starters or even make a market-value offer to keep shortstop Carlos Correa in the fold long-term. However, that would represent a sizable shift from what the current decision-makers have shown us over the past six seasons. While those outcomes aren’t impossible, it’s more likely that the club would look to tap into the short-term free-agent market. If they decide to go down that predictable route, there could be some solid finds.

Three are potentially on full display in the two remaining playoff series.

Luis Severino

The New York Yankees have a tough decision on a player who was once considered their ace. They hold a $15 million club option on Severino, with a $2.75 million buy-out. Severino is talented enough to be entrusted with a postseason start when healthy. But therein lies the issue. He hasn’t eclipsed more than 102 innings pitched in a season since 2018, and he only pitched 102 innings this year while missing time with a lat strain in the second half.

When Severino was able to take the mound, the 28-year-old right-hander made 19 starts with a 3.18 ERA, 28% strikeout rate, and a strong 12.3% swinging strike percentage. He found himself in the 80th percentile for average fastball velocity, 83rd for expected slugging percentage allowed, and 86th for expected batting average. Severino can get these promising results thanks to his dominance when he gets to a two-strike count. In those instances this year, opponents are hitting just .119 against Severino, good for 6th-best in the major leagues.

Simply put, his stuff was lethal. But it takes a heavy toll on his body.

If Severino becomes a free agent this year, and the Twins can pull him in, he would likely slide into the third spot in their current rotation picture. Severino has a lot in common with the vast majority of that rotation picture, where the club seems to be trying to stitch multiple partial seasons together in the hopes of completing a competitive quilt. It’s an interesting catch-22. Will Severino’s outlook be low enough for the Yankees to decline his option? And if that’s the case, will the Twins want to allocate the resources necessary to secure his services?

Noah Syndergaard

Many remember Thor from his time with the New York Mets, a team that knows the struggle of trying to keep pitchers healthy all too well. While donning the blue and orange for the first five seasons of his career, Syndergaard showed why he belonged at the top of their rotation thanks to his blazing fastball and a full repertoire of secondary pitches. On the other hand, his health could allow him to be in Minnesota’s price range this off-season. Syndergaard’s 2022 season with the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies was pretty mediocre, but there is still a lot to like about the tall right-hander. He may not have the swing-and-miss stuff that he once had, but he does two things rather well – he allows mostly soft contact and rarely walks anyone.

It’s also important to remember that Syndergaard essentially missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. Then he didn’t get to have a typical rehab with his club last off-season due to the league-wide lockout. Maybe Syndergaard will recover some of the velocity and strikeout stuff that was lacking as he gets further from his procedure.

Even if Syndergaard can’t rediscover the filth that made him famous in New York, there is plenty for the Twins to work with. For example, he had a very strong 31% chase rate on his fastball up and out of the zone. That’s something that the Twins have shown an appreciation for, especially when paired with a good slider. He also allowed an average exit velocity of just 87.1 MPH, which was good for 14th-best in the league.

It’s debatable whether Syndergaard would vastly improve Minnesota’s rotation. But it’s reasonable to expect that he would solidify its floor.

Brad Hand

If there is one thing that Minnesota sports fans love more than wallowing in their disappointment, it’s an opportunity to be reunited with a native son. After the Florida Marlins took him out of Chaska High School in the second round of the 2008 draft, Hand became a mostly above-average reliever for seven different clubs. His career 3.62 ERA with 9.1 K/9 shows the solid production from the veteran left-hander.

His 2022 season with the Phillies has been solid, if unspectacular. Hand finished the season with a 2.80 ERA, but some of his numbers under the hood were concerning. His chase rate plummeted, and he found himself near the bottom of the leaderboards in strikeout-to-walk ratio (10th-lowest) and swinging miss rate (fourth-lowest).

The Twins could be interested in an affordable deal with Hand due to his strong first half (2.17 ERA, no home runs allowed) and the lack of southpaw relievers currently in the blueprint for 2023.

The club will have Caleb Thielbar as a late-inning set-up option, and Jovani Moran showed enough promise to be given a more significant role going forward. However, the latter actually has some reverse-split tendencies thanks to his strong changeup against righties. If the Twins want another, more traditional lefty option out of the bullpen, Hand could be a solid get at a reasonable price. If he can rediscover what made him great for the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Guardians, Hand could be the next success story out of Minnesota’s bullpen.

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