The 2017-2018 offseason is here for the Minnesota Twins. Who could be Twins be targeting in the free agent market?
Now that the Minnesota Twins have entered the offseason, they are looking to improve the roster through trades and through free agent signings. In this series, we’re going to examine individual players that the Minnesota Twins could have interest in this offseason through free agency.
We will not have any specific order to which player we highlight in this series, but we will look at each player’s past history, why he would be a good fit for the Twins, and, last, the sort of contract likely to be required to sign the player.
We will continue the series with another one of the top starters on the market…
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Arrieta was a three-time draftee, first being selected by the Reds in the 31st round out of high school in Texas but instead choosing to sign with Weatherford College, where the Brewers drafted him out of in 2005 in the 26th round, but he instead chose to attend Texas Christian University. The Baltimore Orioles were the final draftee of Arrieta in the 5th round in 2007.
Arrieta immediately received note due to blowing away minor league competition. He dominated the Carolina League in his first full season and lept into the top 100 lists for Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. He dropped in his ranking but remained on both lists after a 2009 season that saw him move through both AA and AAA, finishing the season on the cusp of the major leagues.
He had just a dozen appearances in AAA in 2010 (with a dominant 1.85 ERA) before the Orioles had seen enough seasoning for him and brought him to the major league club. However, he struggled once he got to the major leagues with Baltimore, posting a 5.46 ERA over just over 350 innings with the Orioles before a mid-season trade to the Chicago Cubs in 2013.
The Cubs immediately set to working with Arrieta in changing his repertoire and delivery. He moved to third base side of the rubber to take advantage of his natural movement on his pitches, he adjusted his follow through so he was ending up with his body square to the plate rather than having his trail leg end up pushing through past his plant leg. He also exchanged his slider for a cutter and began using his two-seam much more than his four-seam.
The results were immediate. In 2014, Arrieta opened in the minor leagues working on his adjustments (and rehabbing a slight injury). He came up to the big league club in May, and in just 25 starts, he was one of the most valuable pieces of that 2014 club, posting a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 6.7% walk rate, and a 27.2% strikeout rate.
In 2015, Arrieta went on one of the most amazing runs in recent pitching history that started as the weather got warm in Chicago and ended with him sporting a 22-6 record over 33 starts and 229 innings with a 1.77 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 5.5% walk rate, and a 27.1% strikeout rate. Arrieta won the Cy Young over two elite performances from the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
However, Arrieta has seen his fastball lose 2.5 miles per hour in average velocity from that 2015 season to what he averaged in 2017. The loss of velocity has been seen across his velocity pitches, as his cutter has dropped 2.5 MPH and his seldom-used change up has dropped almost 2 MPH.
As a result, Arrieta has seen his ball be driven at a much higher rate, with his fly ball rate rising from 22.8% in 2015 to 34.4% in 2017 while his hard hit rate has risen from 22.1% in 2015 to 29.4% in 2017.
His 2017 statistics showed that struggle. He made 30 starts, throwing 168 1/3 innings, allowing a 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.8% walk rate, and 23.1% strikeout rate.
How he would fit?
Arrieta is marketing himself as a front-line starter based off his elite 2015 season, but truly, Arrieta is not that same pitcher at this point. In fact, the way the market sets up, there is Yu Darvish at the very top of the market all by himself as a front-line guy, and then three guys (Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb) who fit as #2/#3 starters that should provide above-average innings and take the ball every turn, but really aren’t elite starter types.
As such, Arrieta should be more of a fall-back after losing Darvish than an original target for the Minnesota Twins this offseason.
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Arrieta is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to get 4 years and $100 million in an offseason deal. The way he is positioning himself, I don’t see that being terribly far off. He’s working to position himself above the Cobb/Lynn level, which is likely to see $20 million annually but not likely to see 5 years, but also below the Darvish level, where he’ll certainly exceed $25 million annually and get 5 years (or see $30 million annually for anything less than 4 years).
That price range does seem in the right range for Arrieta. He is a more sure bet than Lynn and Cobb with both of them coming off of recent Tommy John surgeries to make 30 starts and throw 175-190 innings, but the question is the quality of those innings.
Should the Twins do it?
In this writer’s opinion, no. Arrieta is the guy I’d run from this offseason outside of an incredible discount rate. His loss of velocity and increase in quality contact from opponents is not a one season jump. It’s an incremental rise over the last two seasons. That scares me that Arrieta may be no better than a mid-rotation guy going forward that gets paid like an ace.