FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins need to add another starting pitcher before the season begins and the guess here is that they know it. As the front office monitors the free agent market and has regular contact with agents, it’s also likely that they’re keeping in touch about trade possibilities.
The Twins are one of the teams in the baseball landscape that could most benefit from adding a high-quality starter, and there are only so many of those guys to go around. (The Astros, for instance, would get a boost from adding another good starter, but it would simply take them from World Series contender to a better World Series contender; the Twins, meanwhile, could be elevated from non-playoffs team to qualifying for the postseason with the addition of another good starter.)
Here’s my subjective ranking of the best starters reportedly on the trade block. My list is based on a mix of considerations ranging from age to skill, risk and contract status.
Archer has 4 years left on his contract that will pay him a shade less than $34 million. As one of the best pitchers in the game, that’s a pretty good value for the Rays.
It’s also the reason I would be surprised to see him dealt this winter. You’d have to really get a lot back in return to justify trading a guy like that at this juncture of his career. The only good reason I could see for wanting to move now is to mitigate the risk of injury hurting his trade value. Otherwise, it makes sense for Tampa Bay to ask for the moon, and keep him if they can’t get it.
McHugh missed the first day of Astros spring training because of an arbitration hearing, sort of like Kyle Gibson with the Twins. The price to acquire him would be substantially lower than Archer.
It’s not apparent to me that the Astros would have to trade McHugh. But he’s been on the rumor mill — even tied to the Twins by Ken Rosenthal — and so I’m including him here. I have to be honest. Any time a smart team is looking to a trade a player that could help them, I have to wonder if there’s some rationale that I’m missing. McHugh pitched limited innings because of tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, but I’d be willing to take a chance on the hope that he could return to his previous form. Still, I hesitate if an Astros front office decides that he’s expendable, even with their incredible starting pitching depth.
Last year McHugh pitched just 63 1/3 innings with a 3.55 ERA. The 3 years before that, he logged 543 innings and a 3.71 ERA.
McHugh is currently projected 6th on Houston’s depth chart, behind Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton. But the next team to believe that it has too many starting pitchers would be the first.
The righty struck out 22.9% of hitters and walked 7.4% of them — just slightly better rates than J.O. Berrios. If the price is right in a trade, I’d think that’s a good pitcher to target if you’re the Twins.
Corbin is in the final year of his contract, and might be the second-best among the five pitchers on this list. The second year of McHugh would appeal to me, considering the Twins are not exactly all-in to win it all this season.
Corbin is a good starter for the Diamondbacks, and it’s not clear to me that they should want to trade him, either. If they want to bring back J.D. Martinez, perhaps they’d prefer to clear some salary. At $7.5 million in his final arbitration season, moving Corbin’s salary wouldn’t provide that much cash relief for the Snakes. (Moving Greinke’s deal would, but that’s another story.)
Corbin bounced back in a great way last year. He made 32 starts and posted a 4.03 ERA in 189 2/3 innings. His 21.6% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate would similarly be in line Berrios from a year ago. In short, he’s be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on a team that could use a couple of those guys.
Archer’s teammate has 2 years of team control remaining, is rumored to be on the trade block, and is a solid pitcher in his own right.
Projection systems don’t seem to love him this season, thanks to a bit of down year in 2017. Over the past three years, though, he’s logged 500 innings with a 3.71 ERA, which is noteworthy in the American League East. Over the past 3 years, his 108 ERA+ (adjusted for ballpark and league) represents the best 3-year track record on this list — including Archer.
You can make cases against acquiring Odorizzi. His ERA has gone up each of the past 3 seasons; he’s never reached 190 innings; his walk rate climbed each of the past 3 seasons, and was a very high 10.1% last year; he keeps allowing home runs year after year; his ERA consistently tops what his Fielding-Independent Pitching numers would predict for his earned-run average.
Still, there’s something to be said for an affordable starting pitcher with a good ERA track record in the A.L. East. He wouldn’t be the most attractive option in my mind, but he’d make the Twins’ starting rotation deeper.
Straily is unique on this list in that he has 3 years of team control left. I haven’t necessarily heard that he’s available but then again he pitches for the Marlins, and so the standard assumption should be that he’s available in trade talks.
Straily’s not that interesting to me. He’s a fine pitcher, with a career 4.25 ERA in his 633 1/3 big league innings. It’s just that trading for a pitcher like that with 3 years of team control might cost a bit, and I’m not sure I’d be interested in giving up anything of note to acquire him. He’d make the Twins’ rotation better because he’s a fairly dependable arm and Minnesota needs more depth, even if it’s back-end depth.
His strikeout and walk rates last year profiled along the lines of Corbin and McHugh. One difference is that Straily’s not going to get many ground balls (career 34.1% GB rate) and he’s had some slight homer problems in the past. His peripheral stats don’t point to a great starting pitcher. On the other hand, he’s logged at least 180 innings in each of the past two seasons, he won’t hit free agency for 3 more years, and he just posted the best swinging-strike rate of his career (12.1%).
I didn’t bite last summer when I put together a list of non-rental pitchers for the Twins to target at the trade deadline. But maybe at the right price Straily would make a good fit for Minnesota.
Probably Nots: Michael Fulmer and Zack Greinke, Danny Salazar.
*Has been in the rumor mill this winter. But Fulmer has 5 years of team control left for a Tigers team that’s playing for the future.
*If the Diamondbacks want to get out of the megacontract they gave Greinke two years ago — with $126.5 million remaining over the next 4 years — my guess is that they’d look toward competitive teams that are nowhere near the luxury tax threshold. The Twins fit that bill on both counts.
*Danny Salazar has been reported and speculated as a trade candidate this winter in various places. The Indians have a few great pieces in their starting rotation, and if the best team in the American League Central wants to address other needs on its roster, then that could make sense for Cleveland. My question would be this: Why would the Indians want to make a trade to strengthen the Twins, thus making their life more difficult the otherwise cake-walk division? And add to that the fact that Twins GM Thad Levine told us this week that the buyer-to-buyer trades can be difficlut, and the Twins found the prospect of trading from the Major League roster as “not appealing.”