Mike Minor salvaged a once promising career with a sojourn to the bullpen in 2017. He overcame years of shoulder problems and transformed into the Royals’ most trusted reliever. On Monday, he reaped the rewards for his comeback, agreeing to terms on a contract with the Texas Rangers, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
The terms of the contract were not immediately known. The deal will not become official until Minor passes a physical. Yet the news represented a thawing of a frozen free-agent market and ensured that the Royals will be looking to replace a key bullpen piece as they transition into a rebuilding phase next season.
Minor, a left-hander who will turn 30 later this month, posted a 2.55 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings in 2017, his first season as a reliever. He had not pitched in the major leagues since 2014 after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder in 2015.
It is possible that the Rangers could envision Minor returning to the starting rotation, a role he occupied for the Atlanta Braves from 2010 to 2014. But it was his work in the Royals’ bullpen that made him one of the most intriguing free-agent pitchers on the market this winter.
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Originally signed to a two-year, $7.25 million deal before the 2016 season, Minor spent his first year with the Royals rehabbing from shoulder surgery. In the early days of that season, the club believed that he might be available to join the rotation for the second half. Yet Minor’s shoulder never cooperated. Unable to build up beyond three to four innings during multiple minor-league rehab stints, the Royals shut down Minor for the year in the second half and looked for ways to utilize him in 2017. The answer came in the form of a bullpen role.
At first reluctant to give up on starting, Minor quickly took to his new role. He recorded a 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break, including a 0.90 mark in June, before taking over as the team's closer in September and earning six saves. His fastball averaged 94.9 mph, 3 mph faster than his fastball as a starter. His breaking stuff offered a potent mix.
Minor entered free agency as one of the most coveted relievers on the free-agent market, the leading member of a second tier behind former Royals closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland. His pedigree as a starter, however — a former first-round pick with premium stuff — caused clubs to view him as a possible swingman who could offer value to a pitching staff in multiple ways.
As the offseason began, Royals general manager Dayton Moore expressed interest in re-signing Minor. Yet the prospect dimmed when it became clear that Minor would likely sign for at least three seasons.
For the Royals, it made little sense. In the beginning stages of a potentially long rebuild, the Royals are allocating most of their offseason resources toward the pursuit of first baseman Eric Hosmer. For a club in this position, one that could lose more than 90 games in 2018, a reliever such as Minor would typically be viewed as an unnecessary luxury item.
To that end, the Royals will largely look inward to fill out their bullpen next season. Kelvin Herrera is entering his final season of arbitration before hitting free agency. Scott Alexander is slated to return after a breakout season. Both could also profile as potential trade chips at some point.
Joakim Soria is in the final season of a three-year, $25 million deal. For now, the club will also enter spring training with Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, Mike Morin and Brian Flynn competing for bullpen roles.