Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The Twins starting rotation stunk in 2013 and generally it is a good idea to cut ties with a player who contributed to the problem in the first place. But after seemingly and unexplainably chasing Mike Pelfrey all offseason, yesterday the Minnesota Twins signed him to a 2 year/$11 million deal that is laden with $3.5 million in incentives. Pelfrey was 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013 and received too much praise whenever he managed to pitch a standard 6 innings. However, the Twins organization seems to like him a lot and Pelfrey expressed his enjoyment pitching for the team so perhaps this is a good fit.
Pelfrey underwent Tommy John Surgery on May 2nd, 2012 and started a game for the Twins on April 4th, 2013. Tommy John usually takes at least a year to recover from and Pelfrey was already starting games again within 12 months of his surgery. The Twins are banking on Pelfrey being much improved two years after his surgery and by every means he should be. Last offseason Pelfrey was likely still recovering from his surgery and learning how to pitch with his new elbow. With that in the past, Pelfrey can focus this entire offseason on strengthening and conditioning, instead of recovery, and this should ideally translate into better results.
Reports still suggest the Twins haven’t pulled out of the running for other starting pitchers but they should focus now on other holes on the team. This thoroughly rebuilt rotation gives the team a much better chance to win every day but nothing is certain. Pelfrey and Phil Hughes are coming off of dreadful seasons and they need to improve for the team to improve. You can argue against these signings but at least for the first time in a while, the Twins have made offseason deals for pitchers that have upside and promise instead of cheap fillers. These aren’t shutdown pitchers, but fans with reasonable expectations for these guys could be pleasantly surprised with their seasons.
On Friday, the Twins signed Jason Kubel to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Drafted and developed by the team, Twins fans should fondly remember Kubel for his .271/.335/.459 (Avg./OBP/SLG) line during his 7 years with the team. Kubel successfully hit the road with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 with a major year but bombed out and was cut by the team in 2013. The Cleveland Indians picked him up for their postseason run but he didn’t produce much offense there either.
Now he is back with the Twins organization and this should play out to be mostly a good deal for the team. Kubel provides outfield depth and, if he rediscovers his swing, a formidable lefthanded bat. In my 2014 Twins Wish poll, 15% of voters said a good way to spend any remaining money would be to “Find a Left Fielder so Willingham’s Knees Can Just DH.” Although he isn’t a defensive whiz, Kubel should still be an upgrade over Josh Willingham in the field and has much more outfield experience than Ryan Doumit. If Kubel starts hitting, he makes the lineup better and gives Gardenhire additional options, whether Jason becomes a weapon available on the bench or an everyday player again. If he doesn’t start hitting, then the Twins aren’t out too much money and avoid a big headache because he is only on a non-cluttering, minor league deal.
The only way that I don’t like this signing is if Kubel makes the club, out of Spring Training or later in the season, and starts to take away at bats from Oswaldo Arcia. Another lefty with power potential, Arcia ideally would produce the same, if not better, stats as Kubel during his offensive peak but needs at bats to continue to improve and develop. As long as Arcia’s bat stays in the lineup every day, the Twins can play Kubel wherever they want but he should never “replace” Arcia on the depth charts.
– Rule 5 Draft
The Twins added two relief pitchers during the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, righty Kevin Thomas from the St. Louis Cardinals system and lefty Jim Fuller from the New York Mets system. Thomas played most of 2013 in Double-A, but pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A at the end of the year. Thomas is a promising set-up reliever who had a combined 2013 3.00 ERA and put up an exciting 11.4 SO/9 with his plus fastball and developing plus slider. He should be slotted into the Rochester bullpen for 2014.
Fuller pitched very well in High A ball with a 0.84 ERA over 32 innings but struggled in his promotion to Double A, posting a 7.50 ERA over 18 innings. However, he did surprisingly increase his SO/9 from 8.7 (A+) to 13.5 (AA). Since 2013 was his first year as a full-time reliever, this jump in strikeouts could reflect him figuring out how to best use his stuff during shorter outings. Lefty relievers always have a greater chance of making a difference for organizations so keep an eye on Fuller to see if he can find some traction in New Britain and possibly beyond.
While the Twins picked up two relievers, they lost two starters in the draft as well. The Mets took Jonathan Velasquez, a righty who the Twins had just signed out of the Independent League and the Oakland Athletics took Tim Atherton, a righty who pitched at Cedar Rapids in 2013. Neither move should be heartbreaking for the Twins but you can never be too sure with guys who have such little experience.