Kyle Gibson figured some things out about himself during the second half of last season and is ready to take his new approach into 2018.
But first he has to take care of unfinished business from 2017 — and it could lead to a rather unpleasant experience.
Unable to reach an agreement on a contract for this season, Gibson and the Twins are headed to arbitration sometime next month. It will be there where the righthander will be reminded of why he was 12-10 with a 5.07 ERA last season — and why the Twins should pay him $4.2 million and not the $4.55 million he requested.
“They are going to say some things,” said Gibson, who avoided arbitration last year by agreeing to a $2.9 million deal, “but I know they don’t mean it personally. They are going after what I did and the body of work and not the person.”
There are many instances in which a player and club exchange arbitration numbers and then work out a deal before the hearing, often settling at the midpoint between offers. That is not the case this time.
“At this stage,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said, “this is one that will, more than likely, end up in a hearing.”
Falvey said this case does not fall under the “file and trial” approach that many teams are taking this offseason. The tactic was used to get teams and agents to agree to terms by the Jan. 12 deadline rather than filing numbers and haggling over the midpoint. If the sides file for arbitration, they are heading to court to settle.
While $355,000 seems like a small gap to bridge, each side believes its salary request best represents Gibson’s value. The Twins have not gone to arbitration with a player since 2006, when righthander Kyle Lohse won his case against them for the second year in a row.
“I think this is big picture, when you look at it,” Falvey said. “There are a number of different gaps across baseball that will end up in hearings. I’ve seen some much smaller than this end up in the hearing room. It gets down to the structure around these deals and where guys end up, and ultimately some have to end up in the hearing room.”
Gibson was sent down to Class AAA Rochester after six starts and an 8.20 ERA last season, the first time he pitched in the minors because of performance since 2013.
“When I’m the guy who is struggling the first six weeks of the season, it’s pretty clear I was one of the reasons why we were losing some games,” he said. “And that’s just a bad feeling.”
He returned after two-plus weeks and posted a 5.27 ERA over the next two months before being sent down again July 25. He returned Aug. 5 and posted a 3.55 ERA over his final 11 starts, in which the Twins went 9-2.
Known for his splendid sinking fastball, Gibson discovered that he was more effective when he established his four-seamed (straight) fastball and then worked in his sinker and slider. And he realized that he would get away from his fastball when he got into trouble. Sticking with his fastball made his other pitches more effective.
“My ground balls got a lot better,” he said. “I got a lot of double plays in those situations because they just couldn’t sit on one pitch.”
Gibson was able to pitch his best when the team needed players to step up in the heat of a postseason race, something he will likely point out in arbitration. But he is prepared to see how the Twins will paint their picture of what he deserves. Either way, he will be part of a rotation looking to pitch the Twins back to the playoffs.
“They have a job to do and we have a job to do. It is what it is,” Gibson said. “I’m not too worried about it, I’m not going to take anything personal. Their job is to bring up why I should get $4.2 million, and my job is bring up why I should get $4.5 million and there’s nothing to hide, I had two subpar years in a row.
“Thankfully, I threw a little bit better at the end of last year, but there’s a lot of negative things to bring up and that’s all right.”