With all of the potential “impact” starters off the board with Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu now signed, Minnesota needs to get creative to fill the rotation. Trading for a starter is a definite possibility, but far from a certainty. Might the Twins be best served by snapping up a lottery ticket or three?
While the crop of free-agent pitchers has been pretty well picked through, Minnesota might come closest to obtaining impact pitching by taking on a trifecta of often-injured but high-upside starters. Specifically, Taijuan Walker, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill.
This might sound a bit crazy, but hear me out. Yes, the Twins already have all but two of their 40-man spots filled in and they are likely to add a corner infielder as well. Yes, Walker, Wood, and Hill combined to pitch all of 95 1/3 innings in 2019. But solving the 40-man issue could be as easy as saying goodbye to Ryne Harper and Matt Wisler. And although there is high risk with the aforementioned trio, there is also plenty of upside.
Let’s start with Walker. He is a former top 100 prospect with the Seattle Mariners and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks where he pitched very well in 2017 (157.1 IP, 3.49 ERA, 4.04 FIP). Unfortunately, he has pitched just 14 innings since then while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The good news is that he is just 27-years-old, has pretty good stuff and velocity, and it would be intriguing to see what he could become under Wes Johnson tutelage. He should come fairly cheap on a one or two-year deal.
Like Walker, Alex Wood has struggled with injuries, but is still fairly young (he will turn 29 in January) and has been good in the past. He’s had four seasons of over 150 IP with ERA’s of 2.78, 3.84, 2.72, and 3.69. After pitching well for the Dodgers in 2018, 2019 was an injury-filled affair the Cincinnati Reds (35 2/3 IP, 5.80 ERA). He’s not far removed from success and if healthy would be a solid addition to the rotation.
Unlike Walker and Wood, Rich Hill is not young. Like yours truly, he will turn 40 before the season starts. But when he’s been on the field, he’s thrown really well. In 2019 he pitched to a 2.45 ERA with just over 11 K/9 in just 58.2 innings. Prior to that, he threw for over 130 innings in both 2017 and 2018 with good numbers, but that would be a lot to expect at this point. However, he would make sense as an opener or in a role that wouldn’t require him to pitch deep into games. Plus, his curve ball is a thing of beauty.
The beauty of this plan is in the depth and flexibility it would bring to Minnesota’s rotation. Assuming all three make it through spring training in good health, the rotation would be filled until Michael Pineda’s return. If one or more of the trio is injured or ineffective before Pineda’s return, the Twins can turn to any of Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smetzler, or even Brusdar Graterol (who the Twins could piggy back with Hill to limit both pitcher’s innings). Of course, if all three all pitching well when Pineda returns, we can thank the heavens and potentially move Hill to the bullpen where he would seem a good fit.
Obviously, the odds of all three pitchers (or the rest of the rotation for that matter) making it through the whole season injury free are very low. But again, Minnesota has plenty of young pitchers who would slot in nicely, and would have the luxury of calling up the hot hand. In addition to last year’s rookies, prospects such as Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, or even Cole Sands could emerge later in the season.
The rotation would be pretty stuffed for 2020 but none of the three targeted pitchers would likely command more than a year or two at most, so any young arms that emerge would likely have a slot to land in in 2021 if not sooner.
Obviously, this isn’t the type of plan that Minnesota set out with, nor is it a plan that the fan base would be particularly thrilled with, but it might be crazy enough to work. While none of the three currently fit the “impact” mold, they at least have some potential to do so. And the Twins would still have the potential to land the coveted “impact pitcher” prior to the trade deadline.
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