MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins saw firsthand what a dominant bullpen can do when they had the Yankees on the ropes in the American League Wild Card Game last year, knocking out starter Luis Severino after he recorded just one out, only to see four relievers shut them down the rest of the way to end their season.
Minnesota made it a priority to revamp the bullpen this offseason as a result, signing closer Fernando Rodney, right-hander Addison Reed and left-hander Zach Duke to a combined $23.4 million guaranteed to bolster a relief corps that already has relievers such as Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, Thomas Pressly and Alan Busenitz. It's the most exciting group of relief arms the Twins have had since last winning the division title in 2010, and it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in Spring Training and beyond.
"It definitely changes the dynamic of how we can go about our business," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "People talk a lot about winning the games you're supposed to win, and hopefully at a very high percentage. I think a lot of teams and the movement in the market this winter all attest to the fact that people are trying to protect games that are going your way."
Minnesota's bullpen had some strong stretches last year, but finished tied for 21st in ERA and 26th in strikeouts. Veterans Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle fared well as closers, but didn't strike many batters out, which Rodney can still do despite turning 41 on March 18. Rodney struck out 65 in 55 1/3 innings while saving 39 games in 45 chances with the D-backs last year.
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The signing of Reed to a two-year, $16.75 million deal was more of a surprise after already signing Rodney, as Reed has closing experience and is coming off a strong year that saw him post a 2.84 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 76 innings with the Mets and Red Sox. But the Twins can now use Reed as their version of Andrew Miller, bringing him into key situations instead of protecting the last three outs of a game.
"I want him to pitch at big times in the game instead of at the end of games," Molitor said. "I think he has that confidence and can get righties and lefties out."
Duke, who had a 2.74 ERA with 208 strikeouts and 78 walks over 180 1/3 innings from 2014-16 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, gives the Twins a second strong lefty along with Rogers.
Rogers and Hildenberger are also locks to make the 'pen, while Pressly and Busenitz are strong candidates as hard-throwing right-handers. Minnesota also has a young group of arms close to making an impact such as John Curtiss, Tyler Jay, J.T. Chargois, Gabriel Moya, as well as Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Kinley. Add it all up, and there's finally much-needed bullpen depth for the Twins, who remain short on reliable rotation options beyond Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson, especially with Santana possibly sidelined until May with a finger injury.
"I think it's going to be a good mix," Molitor said. "It kind of shortens the competition for the other spots remaining, depending on how many we go with."