Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Relief For The Pen, Without The Cost

Thus far, the Minnesota Twins major moves this offseason came before free agency got underway. The club signed Byung Ho Park and traded for John Ryan Murphy. Despite having a rather ineffective bullpen a season ago, the club hasn't really addressed the situation to this point. With the way the market has shaped up however, that may be the best choice.

So far, the Twins have taken fliers on players like Fernando Abad and Brandon Kintzler. Signed to minor league deals with spring training implications, it's essentially Terry Ryan and crew asking veterans to prove it. Rather than doling out big money, they've taken the path of least resistance. If that was the only thing the Twins had going for them, I'd have much more concern. The reality is, they don't.

The Pittsburgh Pirates just inked former fireballing closer Neftali Feliz to a one-year deal just shy of $4 million. Last season Felix owned a 6.38 ERA split between the Rangers and Tigers. His strikeout rates dipped again, and he continued a career long path of less than ideal walk rates. In fact, Feliz hasn't been reliable (mostly for health reasons) since 2011, a year after he won the Rookie of the Year.

With deals like that of Feliz floating around the market, and many teams looking to replicate the dominant bullpen that the Kansas City Royals patented, money has gone over the top. Tony Sipp, who was just a short time removed from a DFA action, will play for a $6 million average annual value over the next three seasons. Thanks to the Royals, and the emergence of bullpen importance, the relief market has exploded. In Minnesota's case though, the best route may actually have been to stand pat.

There's a pretty logical argument to be made that it will be Abad who emerges from spring training with a big league roster spot. No doubt both sides could see the mutual benefit of one another, and Abad is just a year removed from a 1.57 ERA and 8.0 K/9 for the Athletics. As a low risk placeholder, Minnesota could have done significantly worse.

What makes the Twins best suited to take the plan of action they seem to have embarked on though is not the minor league signings they have inked, but instead their own internal option. Among my 2016 Top 15 Twins Prospects, ten players are pitchers. As of this moment, four of those ten are already relievers. As they saying goes, failed starters make some of the best relievers, so it's safe to assume a transition of at least a couple more will take place.

Thus far, the Twins have begun to roll the ball down the path of clearing the way for the fruits of their labor to be unleashed. In drafting players like Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and J.T. Chargois, the Twins have compiled strong relief arms. Rather than go over the top on an inflated pitching market, Minnesota controls its own fate from within the internal talent pool.

Looking at what Feliz has been for the majority of his career, there's a solid argument to be made that at least one of Reed, Burdi, or Chargois outproduces him in 2015. Alex Meyer seems to factor into the Twins bullpen, and Tyler Jay could eventually return to that designation as well. As a whole, Minnesota has plenty of projectable contributors already within the organization.

Should the Twins decide to slow-play the aforementioned pitching prospects, or not use them at all, it would be quite the unfortunate step backwards. They've opened the door to reworking their relief corps into a strength through internal options, but the process has to continue. Both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor must be aware and willing to call upon the young arms that truly can help at the next level. By not signing big deal relievers, there's no impending road blocks for the Twins to continue along the current path. The organization must continue to remember that as those prospects begin to force their hand.

In all situations, choosing a cheaper or less risky route isn't completely ideal. With the organizations current makeup however, and the handful of solid relief prospects, the Twins may have started down a road that makes a lot of sense in the year ahead. The biggest mistake at this point would be to turn around.

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