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Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski
With the MLB draft starting on Monday and wrapping up on Wednesday, the next pressing issue facing teams will be where reliever Craig Kimbrel and starter Dallas Keuchel land.
Each player has draft pick compensation tied to them which will dissolve once the draft ends — ostensibly setting them up to sign with the highest bidder by midweek next week.
Both pitchers make sense for almost every team at a certain price point, though their markets will surely be blunted by the number of teams simply opting to sit this one out — whether it be the frenzy to sign these two or quite frankly the competitive part of the 2019 season.
And that’s part of what led to this in the first place. Too many teams opting to sit out free agency led to a bottleneck of capable players available not getting the years and/or dollars the deemed themselves worthy of when they hit the market after the 2018 season.
Having draft pick compensation tied to their rights was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back — one that should be mended but surely not healed come next week.
So which player makes more sense for the Minnesota Twins? In a vacuum, if Keuchel and Kimbrel are commanding similar salaries — for comparison’s sake, we’ll just say they are — then the natural answer would be Keuchel, since a healthy starting pitcher will give a team roughly 180-200 innings rather than 60-80 a reliever would with more room for regression to the mean in their statistics.
In short, it’s not just more innings, but a lesser chance of volatility — something we see a lot in year-to-year comparisons of relief pitchers.
But throw into the mix the wrenches of it being closer to midseason and the fact that teams like the Twins have unique needs, and conventional wisdom can be pushed aside.
Does Keuchel make more sense for a Twins team that ranks second in the American League in ERA from starting pitchers than Kimbrel does? In my estimation, the answer to that is no.
Now don’t mistake this for saying “No, he doesn’t make sense for the Twins at all.” But moving Keuchel into the rotation after a half-year layoff means moving Michael Pineda to the bullpen. That might make sense on the surface, but it’d also be punting the ability to let Pineda work through some things to get back to the starter he was before dealing with Tommy John and knee surgeries in recent years.
To the outside observer that wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. Pineda is a free agent at season’s end, and may in fact be a better reliever than starter at this exact second. Who really knows? He could see a velocity uptick and truly be elite as a reliever, but at 30 years old this isn’t a chance Pineda is likely to make willingly. Not with the second half of his career-worth of earnings left on the table.
Maybe he’ll be a good soldier and go out to the ‘pen with no qualms, but that makes re-signing him an unlikely proposition. Feel free to scoff at this if you must, but with a team that only has Jose Berrios hard-committed to their rotation next year — and Martin Perez with an option, too — they’d probably do well to keep someone like Pineda happy as he continues to rebound/rehab on the fly on a big-league mound.
The current version of Pineda is just fine as a No. 5 starter; the best version of Pineda is a nice No. 2-3 starter. The Twins have to consider that as part of what they’d do if they, in theory, signed Keuchel.
There’s also the Lance Lynn factor. Lynn struggled last year with the Twins and many thought it was due to an abbreviated spring training slate of action. Keuchel hasn’t had spring training or any kind of competitive throwing since October of last year. Scott Boras insists he can be ready fairly quickly, but how much will Lynn’s struggles scare off the Twins in this case?
It’s hard to say.
Kimbrel, on the other hand, has less to prepare for because he only throws an inning at a time. Sure, that could make everything blow up more obviously because of a small sample of innings, but it’s important to note that both of these guys would likely be signing with the Twins for just the rest of this season, so that risk is mitigated somewhat.
There would be less risk in Kimbrel due to the ability to manage his workload until he felt ready to be full-go, the fact that preparation wouldn’t take as long and also because he’d be joining a unit that is now 10th in the AL in ERA after Thursday night’s debacle at the Trop (4.48).
Most of the negatives with this Twins bullpen have been tied to individual debacles rather than all-year awfulness — remember Chase De Jong at Citi Field? — but there’s little debate that adding Kimbrel at the back of this bullpen, even as a strictly ninth-inning pitcher, would help.
That would bunch up Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and Blake Parker as the bridge to Kimbrel with Ryne Harper, Matt Magill, Tyler Duffey and Mike Morin — all of whom have strong numbers — filtering in however Rocco Baldelli sees fit.
Early in the season, adding someone like Kimbrel might have felt like a bit of a squeeze with Trevor Hildenberger looking like a bounce-back candidate — and to be fair, he pitched like one in April — and the out-of-options Adalberto Mejia taking up a spot, but that was then.
Now, the Twins could easily maneuver around the situation without so much as losing a player — at least as far as the 25-man roster is concerned. Duffey still his last option left, and the club could also DFA Morin — who isn’t working crazy leverage spots anyway — to make room.
Ultimately, it might come down to the fact that Fernando Romero, at least initially, was unable to make the jump from Triple-A to the big-league bullpen.
Mr. Kimbrel, come on down. You’re the best fit for the Minnesota Twins.