Quiet Winter Meetings Tests Minnesota Twins Fans’ Patience
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It was a typically quiet Winter Meetings for the brass of the Minnesota Twins last week in Nashville. The Twins received top marks for their early off-season work, adding Korean slugger Byung-Ho Park, who hit a slew of home runs in the KBO in recent seasons, whilst entertaining fans with his best Jose Bautista impersonation. Additionally the Twins traded from a position of strength in the outfield, dealing Aaron Hicks for John Ryan-Murphy, who the Twins will need to pick up the slack for Kurt Suzuki, who had a pedestrian 2015. Aside from the Twins groundhog day need to improve their starting rotation, the most obvious need for the organization to support its talented but mercurial core is upgrades to a slightly worse than mediocre bullpen; it still is.
In Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen, the Twins two extremely solid options for the back end of the pen (Perkins health issues aside), that’s about where the certainty ends. Minnesota seems content to let Blaine Boyer (who outperformed his peripherals) depart. With the likely departure of Brian Duensing and Neal Cotts, the Twins find their bullpen in flux.
Ryan was in a tricky position at the Winter Meetings; with 8-10 of the Twins top 30 prospects (depending on which list you consult) occupying relief pitching roles, Ryan seems unwilling to dole out multi-year deals to relief pitchers outside of the organization with names like Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois, Mason Melatokis, and Cameron Booser on the horizon. The Winter Meetings seemed like the perfect opportunity to break with tradition, with a number of outstanding relievers available either through free agency or via trade.
Tony Sipp recently resigned with the Astros in a deal worth $18 million over 3 years, Joakim Soria signed a similar pact with the World Champion Royals for $25 million. Even the Tigers got in on the act, trading two prospects for the outstanding Justin Wilson, who, with a 2016 salary of $1.3 million and 3 years of team control represents one of the best under the radar deals of the off-season. Still the Twins remain quiet. Mike Berardino recently reported that Rochester Red Wings AAA workhorse Taylor Rodgers will be a LHP who will compete for a bullpen slot this spring. This may work out, but it seems like quite the gambit for a pitcher who has yet to make his major league debut.
Even to the casual observer, the link between a dominant bullpen and regular season performance seems obvious. Of the top 12 bullpens in 2015, 7 of the teams which contained them made the playoffs. Therein lies the frustration for Twins fans, the shift towards pitching specialization, high velocity, and high strikeout arms has been increasingly noticeable even to the casual observer.
There is plenty of time left in the off-season and pitching to be had. Ryan has consistently reiterated that the Winter Meetings laid the groundwork for deals to be done. Twins fans will continue to hope that the organization does not remain reticent to pull the trigger a pay for two quality bullpen arms.
With rumors swirling about a potential trade for Rays lefty Jake McGee (detailed here), Minnesota Twins fans will be hoping Ryan can pull the trigger and execute a trade to upgrade the back end of a bullpen that badly needs left handed assistance.