Trevor May is hitting his prime at the right time for the Twins. The righthander is coming off a career-low ERA in 2019 and is a key arm in a talented bullpen looking to do its part to help the club return to the postseason.
But, from a career standpoint, his timing couldn’t be worse.
He’s set to hit free agency after this abbreviated season, entering a market that will be suppressed because of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. But being in a tough spot is nothing new for May, who, throughout his career, has been in the worst negotiating position when it was time to cash in.
He was brutally honest and rather comical as he talked about it.
“Yup!” he yelled when the subject was brought up. “Still yet to get to the seven digits. Still haven’t gotten there. I was so excited to [one day] say that. I call it the Dos Commas Club, and I’m still not in it.”
“Dos commas” means two commas, which means at least a seven-figure salary. May was scheduled to earn $2,205,000 this season, but the shortened season means his salary will be prorated to around $817,000. That’s only one comma.
“We’re used to it at this point,” May said. “I’m used to the just poor timing. Had Tommy John my first year of arbitration that set my arbitration scale way back, so that affected me for three years. Then, of course, this happens, so ... I’ve just accepted the fact that if it went perfectly, I would have made a lot more money in my life, but again, out of my control.”
May is open to staying with the Twins, who traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia for him and Vance Worley before the 2013 season. May was initially a starting prospect before finding traction as a reliever — affecting his earning power — then getting injured.
In 2018, May went 4-1 with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 12.8 batters per nine innings. Last season, he improved his slider, threw fewer curveballs and mixed in changeups. That resulted in a 5-3 record, 2.94 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings and an opponent’s batting average of .184.
During an Aug. 5 victory over Atlanta, May kicked and fired a fastball that hit 99.8 miles per hour on the radar gun. He argued that the Fox Sports North broadcast had the pitch at 100, and boasted that he was going to order a commemorative plaque.
But it was a reflection of his progress as a pitcher, his ability to make adjustments and find the mechanical groove to allow him to get the most of out of his body.
“In terms of performance, I’ve gotten to a good place where I kind of know what my process is for getting ready and facing a team, how I want to execute and attack hitters, a very good program there,” he said. “And my body feels as good as it has in a long time. So the pieces are in place and it’s just going to be about executing.”
The rise of the slider has been a game changer for May.
“The newfound slider — truthfully I’m not sure if it was newfound but just the newfound confidence and desire to go to it — helped him in a lot of ways,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “His changeup can be a weapon, too. I think he really honed in on some of his strengths and really found himself. Those things, they do take time and they take confidence and direction, knowing what you are trying to do and he has all those things.
“… He knows exactly what he wants to do when he goes out on the mound and he knows he just needs to go out there and execute. We saw a lot of that execution, especially in the second half last year. But I think that slider is a good pitch, and it is something he will lean on at times.”
With a strong season, May could help the Twins make a playoff run while establishing himself as one of the best available relievers on the free-agent market. Even in a depressed market, it’s better to be at the top of a wish list than in the middle or bottom. That’s how he can make the best out of a not-the-best situation.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but there’s no one to really point the frustration at,” May said. “But you’re right, those things are going to happen. The teams are losing money. We already have a free-agency problem before this, just in our eyes. The market changes and all kinds of stuff that goes into that. And I’m a reliever. So who knows?
“I couldn’t even give you a guess on what’s going to happen. And I kind of like that, to be honest. It’s not like a big ripe fruit sitting there where it’s like, if you do this you will make this much money. I just have no frame of reference at this point, no clue of what it could be. It could be anything, depending on the team. That actually is a little bit liberating. It allows you to go out and just play. Who knows, I might just come back here. And then it’s all just kind of moot. Going to take it one day at a time as usual, try to stay healthy and be on the field because no one is going to pay you if you don’t play.”