MLB hot stove season is in full force and with the winter meetings happening in San Diego this week, all eyes are on the Twins to see if they'll move mountains or break the bank to improve the team's starting pitching.
The first move Minnesota made was brining back Michael Pineda on a two-year, $20 million deal, followed by the signing of backup catcher Alex Avila to a one-year, $4.25 million deal.
After missing out on Zack Wheeler, the Twins are reportedly among the "heavy suitors" for Madison Bumgarner, but beyond that the rumor mill runs void of Twins mentions.
If ownership is reluctant to give out a $100 million contract to Bumgarner, then maybe they should explore a trade. Specifically, they should look into the idea of dealing for former Cy-Young winner Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2018, Snell was an absolute stud going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, 221 strikeouts and 64 walks in 180 innings.
The 27-year-old came down to earth a bit last season as he dealt with elbow issues that limited him to just 23 starts. Snell had a 4.29 ERA in 107 innings but was still an effective pitcher.
If you take a look at his Field Independent Pitching (FIP), a stat that measures the things a pitcher can control, like preventing home runs, walks, hit batters and strikeouts. Snell's 3.32 FIP last season was nearly a whole run lower than his ERA (4.29). That screams bad luck, and that Snell was better than his overall numbers would indicate.
If you look at Snell's peripherals from last season compared to his Cy Young campaign, a lot of the numbers are about the same.
- Strikeout rate: 31.% in 2018, 33.3% in 2019
- Walk rate: 9.1% in 2018, 9.1% in 2019
- Fly ball rate: 36.4% in 2018, 36.3% in 2019
And even though he dealt with elbow issues, his velocity and pitch usage remained mostly the same. Here's his pitch type, speed and usage in 2018 vs. 2019:
- Fastball: 95.8 mph (51.5%)
- Slider: 88.1 mph (9.1%)
- Curveball: 81.3 mph (20.2%)
- Change up: 87.5 mph (19.3%)
- Fastball: 95.6 mph (48.4%)
- Slider: 87.3 mph (6.7%)
- Curveball: 81.0 mph (24.5%)
- Change up: 86.3 mph (20.4%)
Snell dropped his slider a bit while upping his curveball usage. However, his stuff was just as good, Snell's swinging-strike rate was 17.7% last season, which was the best of any pitcher with at least 100 innings pitched, according to FanGraphs. That's better than Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
The areas where Snell struggled inwas his ground ball rate – down from 44.7% in 2018 to 39.0% in 2019 – and his line drive rate, which increased from 18.8% to 24.7%.
In 2018, next nobody was getting on base against Snell, as opponents hit just .176 against him. That wasn't sustainable in the first place and last season it showed as batters hit .240 against him.
Clearly, Snell still has the makeup to be one of the best pitchers in the league.
So who would the Twins give up?
Tampa Bay is notorious for either bailing on players by the time they hit arbitration, or they'll sign rising stars to team-friendly deals early in their careers.
In Snell's case, it was latter, as he's now in the second year of a five-year, $50 million contract and is set to make $7.6 next season with steady raises in future seasons.
- 2020: $7.6 million
- 2021: $11.1 million
- 2022: $13.1 million
- 2023: $16 million
Maybe Tampa keeps him around this season, but it'd be surprising if he finishes out that contract with the Rays. At the same time if he were to be traded, he's not going to come cheap. So if the Twins wanted to target him, Tampa Bay would probably ask for Brusdar Graterol and other top talent in the minors in return, and if that's what it takes, the Twins should pull the trigger.
Graterol is 21 years old with a plus fastball that's in the triple digits. Minnesota called him up and immediately put him in the bullpen despite him being a full-time starter in the minors. The rookie put up decent numbers: 1-1 record, 4.66 ERA, 9.2 innings pitched, 10 strikeouts and 2 walks.
But if the Twins weren't in a playoff chase, it's very likely Graterol would've stayed in the minor leagues and he's certainly not a lock to make the team out of spring training in 2020 either.
Graterol has just 16 appearances (12 starts) above Double-A, and judging by his cup of coffee in the majors, he needs more time in the minors to build up his stuff.
Meanwhile, the Twins are in a position to win now and Snell is already an established front-line pitcher who's locked into a very friendly deal for four more seasons.
Graterol might be a top prospect but that doesn't mean he'll pan out. Look at how long it took Jose Berrios to be an effective pitcher. Although he's currently an integral piece in the rotation, the hype around Berrios had him as a future staff ace but at this point it doesn't appear that he'll be a bonafide, dominant No. 1. .
The Twins front office has an opportunity to push their team over the top in the Central Division for years to come. If that means parting with top prospects and possibly overpaying for free agents, these are the moves the fans want to see them make.