Twins’ Pitching Search Includes Mahle, Montas, Marlins

The Twins currently hold a 2.5-game lead in the American League Central, but another poor performance from a pitching staff that has squandered far too many leads this season cost them a win over the Brewers last night. Upgrading the pitching staff will be a priority for the Twins before next Tuesday’s deadline, and to that end, they’ve been in the market on both Reds ace Luis Castillo and Athletics top starter Frankie Montas, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

The Athletic’s Dan Hayes, however, writes that the Twins are more interested in Castillo’s teammate Tyler Mahle than in Castillo himself. Hayes adds that the Twins have been in talks with the Marlins about pitching help. Minnesota and Miami, it should be noted, have had talks regarding potential swaps sending pitching to Minnesota frequently in offseasons past. The Marlins are reportedly open to offers on Pablo Lopez, and reliever Anthony Bass, Dylan Floro and Steven Okert are a few speculative trade candidates in the Marlins’ bullpen. Generally speaking, the Marlins are deep in pitching options that’ll appeal not only to the Twins but other clubs seeking upgrades.

Whether the preference for Mahle over Castillo — which Hayes also indicated back in the offseason — is a reflection of asking price or of the Twins’ belief that he has the superior raw stuff isn’t clear. But Mahle has flown somewhat under the radar for the past few seasons despite being quite similar, statistically, to both Castillo and Montas since 2020.

It’s hard not to wonder just what Mahle’s performance might look like in another uniform, as his numbers away from the homer-happy Great American Ball Park are tantalizing. Few pitchers have such a dramatic home/road split as Mahle, who since 2020 has pitched to a 2.93 ERA on the road but an ugly 4.89 mark at home. Mahle has allowed 1.75 homers per nine innings pitched in Cincinnati, compared to just 0.52 long balls per nine on the road. He also has a better strikeout rate and opponents’ hard-hit rate than either Castillo or Montas, dating back to 2020 — albeit with the highest walk rate of the three.

Broadly speaking, Mahle is much closer to the Montas/Castillo tier of pitcher than most pundits credit him. And, with a $5.2MM salary compared to Castillo’s $7.35MM mark, he’s a bit more affordable than his teammate and right in line with Montas ($5MM). Like that duo, he’s controlled through the 2023 season.

Mahle got out to an awful start in 2022, pitching to a 6.32 ERA through his first ten appearances. However, most of the damage against him came in two brutal outings — eight runs versus the Cubs on May 24 and seven runs against the Dodgers on April 17 — and he’s been excellent over the past two months. Dating back to May 29, Mahle has a 2.81 ERA, 27.5% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate in 51 1/3 innings. Overall, he’s sitting on a 4.48 ERA this season, but marks like xERA (3.30) and FIP (3.78) feel he’s been quite a bit better than that. A minor shoulder strain sent him to the IL earlier this month, but Mahle returned Sunday to fire six quality innings.

Regardless of the specific names they acquire, the Twins seem nearly certain to augment both their rotation and their bullpen in the next six days. Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax have been their only two consistently reliable arms, and their ’pen depth took a further hit yesterday when left-hander Danny Coulombe was transferred to the 60-day injured list. The Twins announced today that Coulombe required season-ending surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip, subtracting a quietly useful lefty from the mix.

The 32-year-old Coulombe is a journeyman southpaw who found a home in the Twins organization back in 2020. He only made two appearances with the Twins that season but returned on a minor league deal in 2021 and has been solid overall in the Twins’ relief corps. Dating back to 2020, Coulombe has pitched 49 1/3 innings with aa 2.92 ERA, 22% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk rate. He’ll get big league service time while finishing out the year on the 60-day IL, but he’ll be a clear non-tender candidate following that surgery.

Meanwhile, Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets that promising young righty Josh Winder, one of the Twins’ brightest arms and currently the game’s No. 68 prospect at Baseball America, is being shut due to recurring shoulder discomfort. The Twins are still trying to determine the cause of the issue, but the loss of Winder, who’s already given them 45 1/3 Major League innings (3.77 ERA) is a huge hit to the Twins’ rotation and bullpen depth.

For all the focus on the Twins’ pitching staff, it’s not their only area of need. Catcher Ryan Jeffers’ fractured thumb will sideline him for up to eight weeks, which has pushed Gary Sanchez into a starting catcher role with Minnesota. He’d previously been used more evenly between designated hitter and catcher, but Sanchez will now get the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate now. Caleb Hamilton, a 2016 23-round pick who’d never hit much above A-ball prior to this season, is currently serving as his backup.

It’s not terribly surprising, then, that Darren Wolfson of 1500 SKOR North mentions in his latest podcast that the Twins will explore the market for a more veteran backup to Sanchez. Twins fans probably shouldn’t expect to see Willson Contreras riding into town anytime soon, but players like Tucker Barnhart or Pedro Severino jump out as possibly available veteran backups.

Wolfson adds, via Twitter, that outfield prospect Matt Wallner and infield prospect Spencer Steer have been mentioned in trade scenarios the team has had recently —  and understandably so. Wallner, the No. 39 overall pick in 2019, recently jumped to Triple-A after posting a .299/.436/.597 batting line (157 wRC+) and 21 homers in 342 plate appearances with the Twins’ Double-A club. Steer, selected just 51 picks after Wallner, is hitting a combined .274/.359/.549 in 78 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He recently just landed in the No. 99 spot on Baseball America’s latest Top 100 prospect ranking. Certainly, neither Wallner nor Steer would be included in a small trade for a backup catcher, but it’s easy to see both being the type of players coveted by teams peddling controllable help in the rotation and bullpen.

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