The Twins’ signing of Michael Pineda might feel like the kind of low-budget, under-the-radar move that defines their approach to free agency. But it sets them up to win, leaving them with three or four options for filling out their rotation.
Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi fill the top of the rotation. Pineda and the likes of Devin Smeltzer, Zack Littell and Randy Dobnak candidates to be fifth starters, spot starters and long relievers.
What’s missing is a middle-of-the-rotation starter who elevates the entire team and gives the Twins a chance to compete in the postseason.
Here are their best options:
Option 1: Sign Madison Bumgarner.
This is attractive for all of the obvious reasons. Bumgarner is a proven winner and leader and has performed like a superhero in the postseason. He would be the perfect addition to the rotation because of his toughness and experience.
He poses a risk because he will be very expensive and because, at 30, he has pitched a remarkable 1,846 regular-season innings, and 102⅓ postseason innings, some of which came on short rest in the highest-stress environment possible — elimination games.
The catch: He will be expensive, and might not be the same pitcher at the end of his contract. Bumgarner is far more accomplished than Zack Wheeler, who received $118 million over five years from the Phillies. Will the Twins spend more money per season on Bumgarner than they spent on Joe Mauer, who when he signed for $23 million a year was a reigning MVP from St. Paul destined to become one of the greatest catchers in baseball history while the team was entering a new stadium?
Seems unlikely, but there is another carrot here: The Twins’ main competition for Bumgarner might be the Chicago White Sox, likely to be the Twins’ primary competitor in the AL Central over the next few years. So Bumgarner might be worth the gamble.
Option 2: Rely on Brusdar Graterol.
Graterol throws hard and has been dominant in the minors. He handled the pressure of pitching in the big leagues after his callup last season at the age of 21, but he missed fewer bats than expected given his stuff.
The Twins’ brain trust believes that the nature of the ball used in the big leagues last year, with lower seams and a slicker surface, depressed his effectiveness, and that an expected correction to the ball this season could make him one of the sport’s best young pitchers.
The Twins could bank on him securing a spot in the rotation, but the last time they invested faith in a hard-throwing young prospect, Fernando Romero imploded.
Option 3: Trade.
The Twins have a wealth of hitting prospects due to arrive in the big leagues over the next two seasons and have position flexibility with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco. They could trade current big-leaguers or prospects for a starting pitcher.
This might be the most attractive option — adding quality by trading away superfluous parts and retaining payroll flexibility — but trading partners tend to ask for the moon when dangling young pitchers, the most valuable commodity in the game.
Option 4: Johnny All-Staff.
On Sept. 15, the Twins won two “bullpen” games at Cleveland to secure the division title, using nine pitchers in that doubleheader.
With Smeltzer, Littell, Dobnak and Graterol, they have four arms that performed well last year and might be better suited to short stints than traditional starts.
The fan base would scream if the Twins went this way, but doing so could buy Graterol time and allow for the possibility than one of their young, relatively unproven starters might perform about as well as someone like Wheeler, who has great stuff but has never put together an eye-popping season in terms of traditional statistics.
That might work in the regular season, if the Twins are able to outslug opponents again. The problem is that we have seen Dobnak on the mound in Yankee Stadium in a playoff game.
The Twins have plenty of paths toward contention this season. To win in the postseason, they might want to sign someone who has thrived there before.
Bumgarner could affect the pitching staff the way Nelson Cruz impacted the lineup last season.