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Twins turn to J.A. Happ

Happ fills out a competent, if unexciting rotation.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With Rich Hill entering free agency, the Minnesota Twins had a very important hole to fill: a left-handed starter in his late 30’s, early 40’s. They got that in J.A. Happ. On Wednesday, the Twins signed Happ to a one-year, $8 million contract.

Happ’s recent stint in New York might not be remembered favorably by Yankees fans, but his numbers in pinstripes were likely better than what one might think. In 274 13 innings, Happ pitched to a 106 ERA+ and a 4.87 FIP. In 2020, Happ put together 49 13 innings at a 123 ERA+ and 4.57 FIP.

As things currently stand, Happ slots into a rotation of Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, and Randy Dobnak. It’s a competent bunch; the five of them combined for a 3.67 FIP across 252 13 innings in 2020. That would have been the third-best mark among starting corps last year. Even if Jake Odorizzi ultimately signs with another team, the Twins can count on their starting pitching to give them quality innings.

A 3.67 FIP from the starting staff would be great, but that would also require some combination of Maeda having another career year, Pineda keeping his own FIP under 3.00, and Dobnak continuing to suppress home runs at elite rates. While that’s going on, Berríos needs to pitch to his projections. It could happen, but the staff could also easily fall short of where they collectively were in 2020.

Last week, I wrote that the White Sox were favorites in the AL Central until the Twins came up with an answer for Liam Hendriks and Lance Lynn. Happ is a sensible signing, but he’s not the answer the Twins need.

With the starting pitching market as thin as it is, it’s possible Minnesota would rather reinforce their roster in other areas. The best starter on the market is still Trevor Bauer, but as much I want to see players get paid, I would need a whole lot of convincing to think that Bauer is worth whatever he’s asking for. It might be better to grab another starter for depth and spend on offense.

Whether the Twins do that or fill or the roster in other ways remains to be seen. According to Mark Feinsand and Do-Hyoung Park, the Twins are interested in bringing back Marwin Gonzalez who just finished two underwhelming seasons in the Twin Cities. In 2019, Gonzalez took a small step back as his walk rate fell back to where it was before his 2017 and 2018 highs. In 2020, some bad luck and worse contact led to a lost year.

Gonzalez’s defense remains elite according to Outs Above Average, but he’s not enough to bring back the Bomba Squad. Unless the Twins reunite with Nelson Cruz or Eddie Rosario, they’ll be without two of their four best hitters from 2020, and as a group, they were just a tick above average (101 wRC+).

Again, Happ is a fine signing so long as the plan is Happ and Other(s). It’s been a slow offseason, but with pitchers and catchers reporting in about a month, things are starting to pick up. There are options remaining, but if the Twins aren’t proactive, they could be left behind.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.