Earlier this year, I wrote about how the bullpen options might shake out heading into the next season. As a team, they have mostly relied on internal options, save the minor league signing here, the one year deal there. However, in that piece, I presented several options to add as a closer for the team, which might then shift Hector Neris back in a setup role, causing a domino effect for the rest of the options beyond the centerfield fence.
Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the pitching staff. While I think we can all agree that the rotation is the part that deserves the most attention, the bullpen also will need a tweak or two for us to truly feel better about it. Here, I want to look at a player who might not be a popular name now, but will surely become so once the offseason starts in earnest following the World Series.
Shoulder surgeries are hard to come back from. Ask Mike Minor. Once one of the more heralded pitching prospects in the Atlanta Braves organization, Minor was going places. He was drafted seventh overall in the 2009 draft, then made his major league debut the following season. After beginning to establish himself as a part of the rotation in 2011, Minor then became a mainstay for Atlanta in 2012, throwing 179.1 innings of ever-so-slightly below average baseball (97 ERA+). The following season, 2013, was his breakout: 204.2 IP, 32 GS, 22.1 K%, 5.6 BB%, 3.1 bWAR. He looked like he would be a mainstay forever in Atlanta.
Then the injuries started. He pitched most of 2014 with a sore shoulder and his results reflected as much. Everything got worse: strikeouts were down, walks were up, runs allowed were up. It wasn’t pretty, especially when it is that joint that is troublesome. In spring training of 2015, Minor began having shoulder issues that would eventually lead to surgery for a torn labrum. He missed all of that season, and wouldn’t throw a major league pitch in 2016 either as he recovered from the surgery.
At that point, he had signed with Royals, who gave him a two year deal, knowing that the first would be a wash since he was still getting into pitching shape. This year, he has come back with a vengeance.
Since he has shifted into the bullpen, Minor has been electric. Take a look at his stats this year (through Saturday):
74 IP, 84:21 K:BB, 28.6 K%, 7.1 BB%, 42.9 GB%,
Since he converted this season to the bullpen, he has transformed himself into a pretty darn good reliever. This piece was written not long ago by Stephen Loftus of Fangraphs about this transformation and how he has been able to be so effective. The article is very interesting in that it points out how Minor’s fastball has come back better than before, gaining 3 miles per hour from the last time he pitched in the big leagues. This is a big deal because you would, not expect someone with shoulder surgery to regain all of his fastball and then some. Loftus also points out how good Minor’s slider has been, generating more whiffs than he previously did. All in all, it’s a good read about how Minor has been able to become one of the better relievers in the game.
Adding an arm like Minor would be a seemingly cost effective way of improving that area of the roster. He hasn’t been a reliever long enough, let alone this good, to command Andrew Miller-type money on the market. Even though most teams are realizing how important a strong bullpen can be (especially those with World Series aspirations), Minor will probably not command money that would price him out of the Phillies range.
However, there is an issue with adding him: he technically won’t be a free agent unless the Royals decide they want him to be. See, the Royals hold a $10 million option on that left arm. They may not want to bring him back at that price, but with several of their core players set to become free agents, they will have the money available to do so.
Yet those impending free agents also could work in reliever’s favor if he wishes to explore the market. With names like Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas ready to take aim at their big payday, perhaps the Royals’ braintrust will want to allocate the funds designated for Minor towards re-signing one or more of those players. That would set Minor free to lock down a contract of his own.
The other side of this is that Minor wouldn’t be too much of a priority due to the emergence of Adam Morgan as a good left-handed option from the bullpen. That could mean that Matt Klentak and company look to put their funds elsewhere. However, doing due diligence on Minor may change their minds. Either way, should he become available, the team should consider requesting his services for 2018 and beyond.