If the reemergence of the Yankees in the 2017 postseason has proven anything, it’s that a team can ride a bullpen to and through October success. In advance of the 2017 season, the Twins new front office tandem of Derrick Falvey and Thad Levine did little to bolster a group which consistently struggled in 2016. They brought in Matt Belisle on a guaranteed one year deal. He struggled initially, May punctuated by a bloated ERA over 12.00 with opposing hitters approaching a Hard% of 50%. A dramatic improvement in the second half of the season coincided with the Twins parting with their best reliever, Brandon Kintzler, who was traded to the Nationals prior to their annual elimination game self-destruct in the NLDS at the hands of the Cubs.
The Twins 2017 bullpen was not without bright spots. Trevor Hildenberger emerged not only as the answer to a future Twins related Jeopardy question but also as the Twins best bullpen option. The 5th round pick from the 2014 draft ended his meteoric rise with 9.43 K/9, 1.29 BB/9 and a 2.29 xFIP, cementing his position as the Twins most reliable setup option moving into 2018. Alan Busenitz also showed flashes of promise, more grounded in outstanding stuff than outstanding numbers, his lack of command offset by Twins fans desperate desire for the 27 year old to tip the scales of the swap of MLB scrap that was the Ricky Nolasco for Hector Santiago trade.
Despite the bright spots the Twins pen labored again in 2017, finishing 22nd in MLB by WAR overall, after a terrible first half (0.2 cumulative WAR, good for 28th overall) and a much more promising 2nd half (2.0 WAR god for 14th in the span). With the bullpen ERA not matching some of its peripheral numbers, a large part of its improvement was seemingly rooted in a drastically improved defense (namely Byron Buxton). Let’s take a look at teams at the top of the list; Yankees, Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, I’ll stop. The top of the bullpen rankings is a who’s who of playoff contenders, with Cubs, Nationals, and Twins ranking as the worst 3 bullpens of playoff qualifying teams (let’s remind ourselves of how all three teams were eliminated!). Given that the Twins have some payroll flexibility and a strong lineup returning in 2018, bolstering the bullpen maybe the highest leverage and most cost-efficient way for the team to make the move from good to great.
The Twins declined Glenn Perkins $6.5 million team option on Wednesday the team is clearly in need of some high quality, high experience arms. The Twins have a stable of young, potentially high impact arms within their own system including John Curtiss and Jake Reed, both of whom had success moving through the Milb ranks in 2017, with Curtiss making and struggling in his MLB debut. Here’s a look at some names they might target with free agency approaching.
Jake McGee – The 31 year old left hander was extremely effective in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field in 2017, posting a 1.7 WAR, a 2.93 FIP, and a 9.1 SO/9. The Twins current left handed options are wither unproven (Gabriel Moya), or inconsistent (Taylor Rogers, Buddy Boshers). McGee made $5.9 million in 2017, and after a strong season, should command a slightly higher average annual salary over a multiyear deal.
Tony Watson – the 32 year old lefty may end up with a World Series ring before the season is over, having been traded to the Dodgers from Pittsburgh mid-season. Watson struggled this season with the Pirates, but after being traded, dramatically increased his ground ball rate (41%-61%, and dramatically increased his strikeout rate. Watson made $5.6 million in 2017 and would likely come at a similar cost to McGee.
Addison Reed – Reed was traded from the Mets to Boston midseason and may appeal to the Twins who lack an obvious closer and will likely be priced out of the Wade Davis/Greg Holland sweepstakes. Reed will be expensive in his own right (he made $7.75 million in 2017), he earned that figure with an outstanding season in which he posted a 2.4 WAR, and 9.3 SO/9. Reed may still be outside the Twins budget given the hefty contract he should command.
Bryan Shaw – perhaps the most speculated over FA RHP and the one who makes the most sense. The obstacle in signing Shaw may simply be – why would he want to leave Cleveland? The 29 year old Shaw has the arm 7.6-9.3 SO/9 in the last 3 seasons with the Indians and the connection with Derrick Falvey which may land him in Minnesota. Shaw would most likely be the cheapest of the 4 options having made $4.6 million in 2017, and a higher leverage role than he had in Cleveland may be a tempting proposition for the hard throwing righty.