Twins reportedly might target 2nd tier free-agent starters, but who are they?

With four holes to fill in their rotation, the Twins should be busy this winter.
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Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Minnesota Twins need pitching. After being forced to start an Uber driver in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Twins would be best served taking a look at how to upgrade their starting rotation.

Such a scenario comes at a great time for the Twins. Minnesota has plenty of money to spend with a young core that hasn't cashed in on a contract the level that Joe Mauer had over the past decade and fan interest has risen after a season that generated 101 wins and an American League Central Division title.

But just before you can start stitching C-O-L-E and S-T-R-A-S-B-U-R-G into some custom made Twins jerseys, the Twins may be looking to add quality arms at a cheaper cost. 

According to a story by Dan Hayes of The Athletic (subscription required), the Twins are more likely to look at the "second tier" of free-agent pitchers, a phrase that could sound like nails on a chalkboard with flashbacks of Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

The good news is that this free-agent class is deep after Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, and the Twins can still find a way to patch up the four open holes in their rotation without breaking the bank.

Among the four second tier starters mentioned by Hayes: Jake Odorizzi, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Here's what you need to know about each of them. 

Jake Odorizzi

The most familiar name to Twins fans is Odorizzi, who has been with the team for the past two seasons. While his 2018 campaign (7-10, 4.49 ERA) was a disaster, his 2019 season started white-hot with a 10-2 record and 2.24 ERA in his first 14 starts before coming back to reality with a 5-5 record and 4.68 ERA in his final 16 starts.

While Odorizzi looked more like the 2018 version of himself in the second half, the Twins believe that they can get more of the first-half form that led him to his first career All-Star appearance. 

By giving him a qualifying offer (which has become baseball's version of the NFL's franchise tag), the chances of him remaining in a Twins uniform have increased and the two sides could work out a longer-term deal than the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer in the coming days.

Zack Wheeler

The Twins flirted with one New York Mets pitcher last season, but while they weren't able to get a deal done for Noah Syndergaard, they could lure another Met to Minnesota by signing Wheeler.

The right-hander put up modest numbers for the Mets last season, going 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. While those numbers do not compare to those of Cole or Strasburg, Wheeler could be considered the third-best pitcher in this year's free-agent crop with a powerful fastball that averaged a career-high 96.7 mph last season, according to FanGraphs.

A prime heater is a good thing to have unless you can't control it, however, and Wheeler has done a good job improving his control three years removed from Tommy John surgery. The 29-year-old had a career-high 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season and still deceived hitters with a 30.9% chase rate, according to Baseball Savant.

While he may not be an ace, he still can be a fine complement to Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation.

Madison Bumgarner

Just like Syndergaard, the Twins were also reportedly smitten with Bumgarner as a trade deadline target. Last year's results for the left-hander were not spectacular as he posted a career-high 3.96 ERA but still showed that he can provide what the Twins should be looking for in free agency.

Bumgarner pitched over 200 innings for the seventh time in his career last season while also recording 200 strikeouts for the first time since 2016. He rarely issues free passes with his 1.9 walks-per-nine innings ratio (lowest since 2016) and that could be a godsend for the top of the rotation.

It also seems like Bumgarner has been around forever, but he won't turn 31 until next August. As an added bonus, he's one of the most dominant postseason pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball and there are worse gambles than letting pitching coach Wes Johnson try to coach him up.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

While people know the name of Bumgarner thanks to his World Series heroics, Ryu is a West Coast arm that might fly under the radar thanks to his "here it is" style on the mound and his injury history.

The good news for Ryu is that he's pitched very well for the Dodgers over the past two seasons. As the reigning National League ERA champion (2.32 ERA) hits the open market, he simply gets the job done by not walking people (MLB-leading 1.2 walks per nine innings) or allowing opposing hitters to get their barrel on the ball, finishing in the 96th percentile in exit velocity (85.3 MPH allowed, per Baseball Savant).

The bad news with Ryu are his age and injury history. With Ryu set to turn 33 next March and a list of injuries that includes a torn labrum (2015), elbow debridement surgery (2016) and a groin injury (2018), this seems eerily similar to the Twins pursuit of Yu Darvish prior to the 2018 season. 

While Ryu won't command the six-year, $126 million contract Darvish got with the Cubs, he is a pitcher that many teams will approach with caution.

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