In my never-ending quest to build my hopes up about the Twins' activity level this off-season, I have been writing about free agent targets and high-end starting pitching trade targets over the last few weeks. The Twins have never signed a free agent to a huge deal and tend to deal in smaller trades or trades for high-end prospects. The more recent Twins trades for MLB pitching have netted players like Carl Pavano and Vance Worley.
I have identified some players who I think profile similarly to pre-2013 Worley, but hopefully can perform more like 2009-10 Pavano. Each of these players is some positive combination of young, far from free agency and talented, although each to varying degrees. Before you jump to the conclusion that I feel it is ok for the Twins to settle for lesser players, just know that I do not feel that way at all. I think the players on this list are talented, can be acquired reasonably (without giving up a top 10 prospect or Glen Perkins) and could perform as a 3rd or 4th starter for many years.
There is something wrong with all of these guys, and that is why they aren't as expensive and untouchable as say, Julio Teheran or Gerrit Cole. However, there is enough to like that the Twins could really see solid value if they seek out one or more of these players.
Felix Doubront - Boston Red Sox - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2018
Certainly not my favorite name on this list, Doubront could have some hidden value. He throws in the low 90s but strikes out batters at an above league-average rate. His ground ball rate is just above league-average as well. His walk rate is somewhat worrisome, at just over 10% in his past two seasons. I would trust the Twins to work with Doubront on his control and if he can get that rate down around 8%, I think he could be a reliable 4th or 5th starter with a little upside.
Marco Estrada - Milwaukee Brewers - Age 30 in 2014, Free Agent in 2016
Estrada is the oldest and closest to free agency on my list, but his durability issues could play in the Twins favor if they wanted to pursue him. He only throws in the 88-90 MPH range, but he gets strikeouts behind a filthy changeup. Batters had a 33 OPS+ against that change and Estrada posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of about 10 when using that pitch. His strikeout rate is legit and his walk rate is even better. He's only thrown 266.1 innings the past two seasons, so there are reasons why the Brewers might not want to rely on him. 133 innings in a season would be a freaking Twins record at this point, so they'd be happy to take a flier.
A.J. Griffin - Oakland Athletics - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019
Griffin was really good last year, but the A's aren't shy about turning an aging (relative term) starter into a mess of prospects. Griffin threw 200 innings and boasted a solid strikeout rate and better than solid walk rate. He is an extreme fly ball pitcher, but from the right side, his fly ball tendencies could play well at Target Field. Griffin holds runners extremely well, with a career strand rate just shy of 80%. Griffin has a filthy curve ball, which hitters basically couldn't hit at all in 2013. He threw it just over 500 times and hitters had an OPS+ of 6. Six! Griffin has out-performed his peripherals in his short career. If he can balance out his ground ball/fly ball ratio just a bit, he could turn into a very solid and consistent number 3 starter.
Jeremy Hefner - New York Mets - Age 28 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019
Hefner isn't very exciting, I have to admit. His strikeout rate is just ok and his walk rate isn't much better. His ground ball rate is fine. There are a lot of oks and fines in that description, and perhaps trading for someone like that isn't what fans really want. Hefner also averaged just slightly over five innings per start in 2013. He did improve from 2012 to 2013 and he could continue to develop into a number 4 or 5 starter. Hefner is the definition of "nothing special." That said, "nothing special" is better than "tornado of suck" and that's what Twins fans have been witnessing the past few seasons.
Dallas Keuchel - Houston Astros - Age 26 in 2014, Free Agent in 2019
5.15 ERA in 2013? Only throws in the high 80s? Houston Astro? Yep, Keuchel is all of those things and I still think he would be a good target. Keuchel's 2013 xFIP of 3.58 is impressive. His strikeout rate isn't dominant and neither is his walk rate, as each is slightly below league-average. However, his ground ball rate of 55.8% and BABIP of .340 in 2013 points toward some upside/positive regression. Houston seems to still be in the process of a rebuild, and Keuchel could be made available for a prospect package. He's not good enough to attract a great prospect and the Twins have crazy depth in their system with plenty of decent prospects to offer. His upside seems to be a better version of Scott Diamond, which the Twins could certainly use for the next six seasons.
Lance Lynn - St. Louis Cardinals - Age 27 in 2014, Free Agent in 2018
Lynn might be a pipe dream. He throws hard, racks up strikeouts and he's been an effective starter for a really good organization. However, when you look at St. Louis, they have starting pitching depth for days, with Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and Michael Wacha. Add in Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, and the Cardinals might be willing to part with one of their young starters for the right price. Lynn might walk more batters than the Twins like, but he can make batters miss and he gets enough ground balls to keep the infielders busy. He also threw 200 innings last season and sits 92-93 with his fastball. He's probably more expensive than the other names on this list, but he might have the most upside as well.
We'll continue tomorrow with six more names. If you simply cannot wait until then, just give me a call and I'll share the six names with you. See you tomorrow!