Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Twins Expendable Hurler

For Twins fans, this is a position that Minnesota has not been in for quite some time. Experiencing a starting rotation drought that had the Twins five at the bottom of baseball for years, a new wave is being ushered in. Now with depth, and improved quality on the mound, Paul Molitor has some tough choices to make going into 2016. However, with more arms than openings, it may be time to consider a more aggressive quality over quantity approach.

As always, there's five openings in the starting rotation. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, and Kyle Gibson are absolutely locked in for three of them. That leaves a slew of arms including Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Duffey, Tommy Milone, Trevor May, Jose Berrios, and even Alex Meyer to fight over the final two spots. While not all of those options are ideal, a handful of them are. That said, Minnesota could opt to make an aggressive move that may pay dividends both now and into the future.

Formerly a first round draft pick back in 2009, Minnesota selected Kyle Gibson out of the University of Missouri. As a college pitcher, he was expected to accelerate through the farm quickly. Tommy John surgery derailed the debut somewhat, but he surfaced at the age of 25 in 2013. Now 73 big league games under his belt, Gibson turned in a 2015 worthy of turning some heads.

In 32 starts, Gibson owned a 3.84 ERA. It was backed by a 3.96 FIP and a 1.289 WHIP. His 6.7 K/9 mark was a career best and his 3.0 BB/9 tally was in line with his past totals. Gibson also allowed a career low 8.6 H/9 and was virtually one start away from compiling his first 200 inning season. By all standard statistics, Kyle Gibson's 2015 was a breakout year.

Then there's the advanced statistics. They tell a very similar story. Over the past year, Gibson allowed hard contact on just 27.3% of his pitches, in line with his career totals. He also generated ground balls on over 53% of his pitches put into play. While he gave up more home runs than at any other point in his major league career, that may have been his lone blemish. Gibson's 35.7% out-of-zone swings were a career high, and he pushed his swinging strike percentage to 9.8 (also a career best).

So why then would the Twins look to trade a young pitcher at the top of his game? The answer is two fold, and not necessarily cut and dry.

First and foremost, Kyle Gibson is not nearly as young as you'd believe. 28 years old on October 23rd, Gibson is most definitely a late bloomer. While he is under team control until 2020, and doesn't hit arbitration until 2017, the expectation should be that his prime could be somewhat muted. As much as team control is an asset to the Twins, it is also a commodity to a trade partner in any scenario as well.

Then things circle back to the idea of the rotation construction for the Twins. At his best, Gibson may be a number two starter, but more likely is a three or four. Minnesota is in a position to begin a window of competitiveness for years to come. The rotation is currently comprised of arms that would likely top out as a number two starter at best. Moving Gibson could clear the way for that to change.

Both May or Berrios could immediately pick up Gibson's slack, and may have higher ceilings. Any move that would send Gibson away from the Twins would also need to command quite a return. Taking on a veteran, or a higher ceiling prospect with front of the rotation stuff could be something that would move the needle for Terry Ryan.

While a significant longshot, and something I myself am not even convinced I would entertain, there's definite reason to explore what the return for Kyle Gibson would look like. With the Twins entering a time where they should again be good, raising their own floor through higher ceiling acquisitions needs to be a part of the strategy. Whether Gibson is a part of the Twins future or not, his potential to help Minnesota could come on the mound just as likely as it could come off of it.

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