Twins fans seem to be on the verge of a meltdown every time a relief pitcher gets as much as a three-ball count these days.
Such is life while rooting for a team that has one of the best records in the major leagues but missed out on bolstering its bullpen last week when Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs.
My take on the bullpen since early this season has been this: It’s good enough to get the Twins through the first four months, but there better be some help by July 31. (The notion that it’s good enough for now, by the way, is helped by the fact that the Twins are among MLB’s best in converting save opportunities this season and that the eight relievers on the active roster have a combined ERA under 3).
The trade deadline is still about seven weeks away, which means the market is still developing. Having two wild card spots in both leagues means more teams believe they have the ability to contend at this point — a good thing for the sport, but a factor that complicates the potential availability of relief pitchers in a trade.
That said, here are five relievers the Twins could be able to pursue in order to bolster their bullpen for a push through the summer and into October:
Ken Giles, Blue Jays: He’s been lights-out for Toronto this season, sporting a sparkling 1.08 ERA while striking out an absurd 15.1 batters per nine innings. The righthander would be a nice complement to Taylor Rogers, and Toronto is already far enough out of contention that he should be available. Plus, he’s not a free agent until 2021 so if he pitches well he’d be more than a one-year rental.
Downside: Giles was a disaster for Houston in the 2017 playoffs, posting an 11.74 ERA even as the Astros won the World Series. And despite that, Giles will be in demand — so the asking price in terms of prospects could be high.
Kirby Yates, Padres: This might be the gold standard. Yates, a righthander, is No. 1 among all relievers this season in Win Probability Added, thanks to his 0.96 ERA and 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Like Giles, Yates is still under team control in 2020. He’s not a flash in the pan, either: he was dominant last season as well. The Twins have never won a World Series without a Kirby on their roster.
Downside: It’s unclear yet if the Padres will be in sell mode. They entered Monday with a .500 record, 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot. San Diego management has pointed toward next season as the year for true contention, but Yates could be part of that plan. If the Padres fade, though, being aggressive on Yates would be smart.
Felipe Vazquez, Pirates: He’s under contract through 2021 on a very team-friendly deal, and there are two years of team options beyond that. So this would be a move for 2019 and beyond. Vazquez is No. 8 in WPA and is striking out 14.2 batters per nine innings this season.
Downside: He’s a left-hander, and even though his career numbers against righties are quite good (.619 OPS, vs. .530 against lefties), maybe it makes more sense for the Twins go to after a righty to pair with Taylor Rogers? And he, too, would cost a significant prospect haul to pry away from Pittsburgh — a team hanging on the fringes of contention.
Will Smith, Giants: He’s allowed just 13 hits in 24.2 innings this season, continuing a trend from a very strong 2018. In both years, his strikeouts per nine innings number has been above 12. The Giants are way out of the playoff picture, so he should be available.
Downside: He’s another lefty, so it’s another philosophical question. And he’s an impending free agent, so this could be a rental — meaning he might not cost as many prospects but would only be a temporary solution.
Sergio Romo, Marlins: His overall ERA of 5.48 is not good, but it’s bloated because of two terrible outings: his first of the season and his most recent on Sunday, in which he gave up four earned runs both times. In his 21 other appearances, opponents are hitting just .195 against Romo and he’s posted a 2.49 ERA. The 36-year-old Romo also has plenty of playoff experience, posting a 3.09 ERA in 27 postseason appearances.
Downside: He figures to be available and might not require a blue-chip prospect in return. But while he would help the bullpen, he wouldn’t move the needle enough as a sole acquisition.