The Minnesota Twins should be among the most active teams this winter in terms of seeking starting pitching, with many spots to solidify in their starting rotation and a fair amount of good options that are available in free agency or on the trade market.
James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays is widely mentioned as a potential trade target for a lot of teams, including the Twins, and the Rays are likely to still look to trade him despite picking up his $10.25 million option for 2013 last week. But another recent report suggests Shields’ teammate, Jeremy Hellickson, is drawing more trade interest from other teams at this stage. Could Hellickson be a more logical fit for the Twins than Shields?
Hellickson just completed his second full season in the big leagues, going 10-11 with a 3.10 ERA over 31 starts (177 innings) as he took home a Gold Glove. He was named American League Rookie of the Year in 2011 after going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts (189 innings), including two complete games. Hellickson’s first major league action came late in the 2010 season, when he went 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 appearances (four starts).
Hellickson appeal to a lot of teams, assuming the report is true, would be rooted in his youth (26 next April) and the fact he will not be arbitration-eligible until after next season. That means he would not able to become a free agent until after the 2016 season, and even with the virtual certainty of yearly raises via the arbitration process there is a level of cost certainty and cost control that other teams should covet. At minimum, Hellickson can be a long-term piece of someone’s starting rotation.
Hellickson does not have ace-worthy peripheral numbers, with a K/9 rate of 6.3 and a BB/9 rate of 3.0 in 2012, but his ground ball percentage did rise to 41.8 percent from 35 percent in 2011 to help offset a rise in his HR/FB percentage (12.4 percent, up from 8.1 percent in 2011). He would fit in well as a No.2 or No.3 starter for the Twins, even with a skill set that looks similar to a lot of the pitchers they’ve had in the rotation in recent years.
Depending on what other teams have interest in Hellickson, the Twins may be in the best position to get a trade done. If the Rays lose center fielder B.J. Upton in free agency, and he should have plenty of suitors, they could be looking to add an outfielder this off-season. Depending on how committed Tampa Bay is to keeping Desmond Jennings in left field, Twins’ outfielders Denard Span and Josh Willingham could both be good fits for the Rays since both are under contract for at least the next two years. Span is from Tampa Bay, and that angle could help sell some tickets despite the fact he is not a marquee player.
Adding to Tampa Bay’s desire to trade Hellickson, assuming they indeed have such aspirations, is that his agent is Scott Boras. That means the likelihood of reaching agreement on a contract extension is minimal, and even if a deal can be reached the cost may be too much for the Rays to take on as one of the lowest payroll teams in baseball.