Twins Lack Bullpen Veterans; Need All-Star Jorge Lopez to Reappear

Photo: David Berding - Getty Images

If everyone stays healthy (that’s a big “if”) and the front office avoids any major spring trade temptations, the Minnesota Twins’ lineup and pitching staff are both pretty well set for the upcoming season. That includes the bullpen.

Bullpen Youth Movement

There are still plenty of questions surrounding the reliever staff, however, especially the veteran core… or lack thereof. See, last season, the Twins’ bullpen was hijacked by youngsters like Jhoan Duran and Griffen Jax, who went on to prove themselves far more reliable than any of the more experienced pitchers who were available to Rocco Baldelli.

In 2023, a veteran presence in the bullpen is nearly non-existent. In fact, there are only three relief pitchers over the age of 30 who would be considered “locks” to make the final 26-man Opening Day roster (8 likely relievers).

No other projected 26-man reliever has reached the age of 30, or collected even two healthy years of service time in the big leagues. And the three veteran “locks” — Jorge Lopez (30), Emilio Pagan (32) and Caleb Thielbar (36) — have plenty of questions surrounding their effectiveness, going forward.

All Eyes on Jorge Lopez

    Jorge Lopez is a starter-turned-reliever who has thrived in his new bullpen role. When I say “new”, I mean that Lopez has only pitched 148 innings out of the bullpen during his 7-year MLB career. He’s been good in those limited appearances, however.

    In 273 innings as a starter from 2015-2021, Lopez was horrible. But after being transitioned to reliever by the Baltimore Orioles toward the end of 2021 (8 IP), he showed immediate improvement. Lopez took on a bullpen role for the Orioles full time in 2022 and made the All-Star game.

    Year (Role)TeamIPERAERA+WHIPFIPvs BAvs OPSSO/9
    ’15-’21 (SP)3 Teams2736.36N/A1.579N/A.297.8697.5
    2022 (RP)Orioles48.11.682410.9722.99.174.52910.1
    Baseball Reference

    Then, the Twins traded for Lopez at last year’s midseason deadline. And of course, he immediately hopped aboard the struggle bus, upon arrival. In 22.2 IP as a Twin, Jorge’s ERA ballooned to 4.37, his FIP to 4.35, WHIP to 1.632 and his ERA+ fell below 100 (average), all the way down to 90.

    If Lopez gets back to the All-Star caliber reliever Falvine thought they traded for, it could make the difference between Minnesota’s bullpen being good vs elite. If not, it’ll go down as one of the worst trades in Twins’ deadline history. And that’s saying something.

    Caleb Thielbar & Emilio Pagan

    Caleb Thielbar has become a trustworthy lefty that Rocco Baldelli can lean on. But… he’s 36-years-old and some of his numbers, like ERA, WAR and ERA+, have been slipping the last couple seasons. On the contrary, his strikeouts are up and his home runs, FIP and WHIP were all down.

    After posting a 4.61 ERA, 85 ERA+ and 4.71 FIP in 148.1 innings over the last three season, nobody really knows why Emilio Pagan is still on an MLB roster. Twins fans just wish it didn’t have to be theirs…

    Yet, here we are. Hopefully, Pagan’s leash is extremely short. Or, even better, the front office finds a way to trade Pagan (apparently there’s interest) for something worthwhile (maybe a bucket of balls) before baseball games start to count in late-March.

    Other Veterans Relievers in Fort Myers

    The only other reliever over 30 years old who has any real chance to make the roster out of Spring Training is LHP, Danny Coulombe (33). The last two over-the-hill bullpen pitchers with invites to Fort Myers are Jose De Leon (30) and Brock Stewart (31).

    In other words, there are a lot of questions that surrounding a finite number of Minnesota Twins veteran relievers. If all goes as planned, just one pitcher over the age of 30 (Jorge Lopez) will be counted on to throw high- leverage innings this summer.

    Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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