Not every single sensational sports story has a happy ending. Jeremy Lin and Linsanity. Freddy Adu with U.S. Soccer. Vince Young in the NFL. All were all superstars for a short time, but their careers never lived up to the hype. The Minnesota Twins may be dealing with a similar (though less exciting) problem with Randy Dobnak.
Dobnak burst onto the scene with the Twins in 2019, putting together an excellent nine game run to finish the season. His final three starts in particular (where he allowed just four earned runs over 16.1 innings) earned him the nod in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
While that game didn’t go as planned for the Twins, the Twins were particularly happy with what they saw in the Uber Driver turned pitcher. He was immediately inserted into the 2020 rotation with high hopes that the Twins found a guy they could trust behind Jose Berrios and the freshly added Kenta Maeda. It didn’t go as planned.
2020 saw Dobnak start off really well, with the rookie pitching his way to a 1.78 ERA and a 16-7 K-BB ratio over his first six starts (30.1 IP). He looked like a rookie of the year contender and was competing with Kenta Maeda for the title of ace in a revamped Twins rotation. Then, as things seem to do often for the Minnesota Twins, things fell apart.
Dobnak was terrible over his final four starts, giving up 15 runs in 16.1 innings. He was so awful that the team had to send him down to finish out the year. The likable mustached pitcher’s fall from grace was quick and well documented. That didn’t stop the Twins from giving him an extension that is set up to take him through arbitration.
The deal, which lasts through 2025, will cost the Twins $800K in 2022, $1.5M in 2023, $2.25M in 2024, and $3M in 2025. It also includes a $6M team option for 2026, $7M team option for 2027, and a $8M team option for 2028. Those are all very good numbers for a solid reliever and great numbers for a starter. Here’s the issue though: Dobnak is neither.
The Twins are on the hook for $6.85M in guaranteed salary and up to $1.2M in buyout money to void the three team options that are attached to the end of his deal. Because of this $8.05M that the Twins are still on the hook for, the team keeps trying to find ways to get Dobnak going again. It hasn’t gone well.
Dobnak has started 6 games this year. Here’s his line in those six games:
- 34.1 IP, 1-4, 24 ER, 6.29 ERA, 14-9 K-BB ratio
That’s a truly awful line. Maybe he’s better as a reliever?
- 16.1 IP, 0-3, 19 ER, 10.47 ERA, 13-3 K-BB ratio
Nope, definitely not that either. Hitters have Dobnak figured out. Below-average stuff combined with a limited pitch mix has allowed him to get lit up in the just-over 50.2 innings he’s thrown in 2021. This brings the question: What should the Minnesota Twins do with Randy Dobnak?
It’s a simple question without a simple answer. It’s easy for the Twins to know right now that all three of Dobnak’s options will be declined. Barring a major turnaround in the next four years, the pitcher would be 31 in 2026 and would be worth nowhere near the $6M he’s owed. The buyout for the three years (as we mentioned earlier) would put the Twins in the hole for $1.2M.
That’s a no-brainer. What isn’t as easy will be determining what to do next. Dobnak is fine on the roster for the rest of 2021, but if the team is going to be a contender again in the next couple years, he really shouldn’t be in the rotation and honestly shouldn’t be a part of the bullpen.
Where does that leave the Twins? It leaves them with a pitcher who might not have big league stuff, but is definitely someone who you want to have as part of your organization. It’s a tough spot.
As a person, Randy Dobnak is phenomenal, and his family is quite funny on Twitter. He’s well-liked within the organization, and the fans like him as well. Minnesotans are a loyal bunch, and Dobnak is a guy worth supporting. I don’t know of a single Twins fan that doesn’t want Dobnak to get back to the success he had. He’s easy to root for.
From a purely baseball perspective, Dobnak has struggled. In his last 18 games, his ERA is 9.16. The Twins cannot continue to bring him out on the mound every week without tweaks and expecting different results. That’s bad for both team and pitcher.
Randy Dobnak has three options left. The best course of action may be to send him down to Triple-AAA and let him work on his craft. Maybe some work on his fastball would help it be more viable. The Minnesota Twins should allow him time while off of the 40-man roster next year to rebuild his game.
An outright or a DFA wouldn’t suit Dobnak. He shouldn’t be tossed off the roster (like at least one of his teammates should be), but to keep putting him out on the mound simply isn’t a good option anymore. To best help the team, it’s time for the Minnesota Twins to look at other options for the once promising pitcher.