The Twins’ pitching woes this year were overblown considering they finished tied for eighth in Major League Baseball in ERA. But the playoffs proved what most of us knew: They need more high-end arms, particularly in the starting rotation.
So how do they get them?
First take: Michael Rand
A quick look at the MLB starting pitching leaders in WAR (wins above replacement) in 2019 shows there are a ton of different ways to go about this. The problem is that it also shows what a crapshoot it can be.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole were high-profile trades pulled off by the Astros.
Max Scherzer was a big-money free agent with the Nationals.
Jacob DeGrom (Mets) and Stephen Strasburg (Nationals) were drafted and developed in-house.
Mike Minor and Lance Lynn with the Rangers were lightning-in-a-bottle guys that few would have predicted would be on this list (least of all the Twins, who tried Lynn in 2018 with much different results).
The Twins theoretically have the means to try any of these routes, but I’d say their most likely path to an ace in 2020 is a trade involving two or three top prospects.
Phil Miller: Mike, the trouble with that path is that it takes a willing trade partner with an asset worth acquiring. And there never are many of those around.
You mention the Astros as the model: Send prospects to a rebuilding team for a pitcher with top-end talent who has become too expensive (or is about to, in Cole’s case) for a team looking farther down the road.
Looking around the league, it’s hard to find many potential fits, though there are some big contracts you could take off someone’s hands. If you’re willing to gamble $145 million for five years of Chris Sale, for instance, or $81 million for four years of Yu Darvish, there is probably a deal to be made.
The Mets seem like a potential trade partner, only because they shopped Noah Syndergaard, clearly an ace worth pursuing, at the trade deadline. But Syndergaard or Marcus Stroman, the former Jay who fits the Cole profile, wouldn’t come cheap — having signed Jorge Polanco for four more years, are you OK with putting Royce Lewis in a package?
I’d complete your sentence differently: Their most likely path to an ace in 2020 is … Brusdar Graterol.
Rand: I suppose. And part of what they do will depend on whether they’re able to re-sign Jake Odorizzi and for how much. He’s a good example of an under-the-radar trade (with Tampa Bay before 2018) that turned into a top-three starter.
The Twins already have 2 and 3 with Jose Berrios and, presumably, Odorizzi. They need a No. 1. Does a free agent like Zack Wheeler move the needle enough?
Miller: I don’t think Graterol will start the season in the majors, and the Twins say they haven’t even decided whether he’ll remain a starter. But it doesn’t take much imagination to picture him in the rotation by midseason … he’s got quite an arm.
Wheeler would be quite a pickup, but he’ll require the biggest free-agent check the Twins have ever written — and I don’t know if he’s a true No. 1. Same with Madison Bumgarner.
Rand: Man, it’s almost like finding an ace is hard. Then again, the last time the Twins won a playoff game, Johan Santana was the starting pitcher.
Miller: It’s why the Twins have poured so much money and manpower into their development staff. Trade a team an ace, it will win games. Teach a team to build aces, it will win championships.
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