With all the excitement regarding free agency, we all seem to have forgotten that the Twins attempted to reload their starting pitching last summer by making trades. When the Twins unloaded their two centerfielders for starting pitching, they took a calculated risk. They hoped that the pitchers they traded for would pan out while also hoping that their outfield depth would help them overcome the talented players they parted with. Here we are nearly one year later, and the Twins still need starting pitching and still have organizational depth in the outfield.
The Twins have recently been linked to Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo and Ricky Nolasco. Any of those three would immediately become the Twins' best starting pitcher. Sign two and the Twins start to look like an interesting team entering 2014. What happens if these attractive free agent targets choose different homes? The difficulty in persuading a good player to play for a bad team is painfully obvious: why play for the Twins when better teams have just as much money?
The nice thing about trades is that you don't have to persuade the player, just the other team. All the Twins have to do is offer something fair and enticing. Baseball Prospectus recently declared the Twins' farm system the best in baseball, so clearly the Twins have attractive trade chips.
If the Twins do strike out in free agency, I have identified ten starting pitching targets that I would hope the Twins would investigate. Each has at least one more year of team control and most have two. I put them in alphabetical order, as I don't have a strong preference because I have no idea who would need to be traded to acquire these players. My hope would that each player would be immediately signed to a long-term extension, but the lack of an extension would not necessarily be a deal-breaker.
Since I suck at being succinct, I'll post five today and five tomorrow. Let's dance.
Homer Bailey - Age 28 in 2014, arbitration eligible until 2015
Had I ranked these players, Bailey would be near the top of my list. In fact, my secret hope is that he doesn't sign an extension before next off-season and the Twins can just grab him as a free agent next year. That being said, the Twins would be competing against 29 other teams and if they trade for him now, they can reap the benefits of his age 28 season, in addition to his age 29-35(?) seasons.
Why do I like Bailey? Bailey is a post-prospect. The seventh-overall pick back in 2004, Bailey looked like a bit of a bust as recently as 2011. His 2012 and 2013 seasons demonstrate the promise he has fulfilled as a former first-round pick. He saw an uptick in his velocity in 2013, sitting 93-94 and touching 98. This likely contributed to his career best 23.4% strikeout rate. His walk rate has hovered around 6% the past three seasons and has also induced ground balls at an above-average rate in 2012 and 2013. His 2013 season was no fluke, and he ended with 209 innings pitched, 199 strikeouts, just 54 walks and an xFIP of 3.34.
As you'll see later in this list, the Reds have two more pitchers featured. The Reds aren't going to be able to sign all three, so trading one or two might be their reality. If the Twins want to make a deal, the Reds seem like a reasonable trade partner.
Johnny Cueto - Age 28 in 2014, $10 million in 2014, $10 million team option in 2015
I'm not as high on Cueto as I would have been at this time last year. His 2013 season was disappointing, as he only threw 60.2 innings due to multiple trips to the DL for a shoulder strain. When he did pitch, he was just as impressive as ever, walking few, inducing ground balls, holding runners and getting just enough strikeouts. However, shoulder injuries scare me. I'd like to see a healthy season from him, but if the Twins wait until after 2014, he'll be a year from free agency and a riskier trade target. He might be a phenomenal buy-low candidate, but there's huge risk. He's under contract for two more seasons at $10 million per (team option in 2015, but it's a slam dunk if he's healthy). That figure is a bargain for a pitcher as talented as Cueto. Remember, the Reds still have one more guy on this list.
Doug Fister - Age 30 in 2014, arbitration eligible until 2016
The oldest pitcher on my list, I like Fister because I think his skill set should age well. He doesn't rely heavily on a hard fastball, but he misses enough bats to be effective. His strikeout rate hovers around league-average, but his walk and ground ball rates are superb. Since he'll be 32 when he hits free agency, he won't require a massive extension to keep him past 2015. However, that also works against the Twins as he would be an equally attractive trade chip to other teams looking for good pitching. The Tigers have already indicated that they are willing to move Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer (both coming tomorrow; suspense!), so why not Fister as well?
Yovani Gallardo - Age 28 in 2014, $11.25 million in 2014, $13 million team option in 2015
I'm not super excited about Gallardo. His strikeout rate fell significantly and his average fastball velocity dipped from 92.6 in 2011 to 90.7 in 2013. In addition, his walk rate is above league-average and he's always given up his share of home runs. He does induce ground balls and his strikeout rate is still acceptable, but there are enough signs to make Gallardo a risky acquisition. If he could be acquired cheaply, he would slot in as a nice, safe number 3/4 starter. He has a $13 million team option for 2015 but I'm not sure he'll be worth it at that point. Then again, he's young and talented, and 2013 could be just a blip on the radar. I'm wary.
Mat Latos - Age 26 in 2014, arbitration eligible until 2016
I really want to like Mat Latos. He has a cat named Cat Latos, which is funny. However, that cat has a blog and a twitter account, which I do not approve of. I actually think it would be funnier if Mat spelled his name correctly and had a cat named Catt Latos. I can't really fault him for any of this.
As a pitcher, I like Mat Latos. Since 2010, Latos has thrown just a hair under 800 innings and hasn't had an xFIP higher than 3.79 in any of those seasons. His strikeout rate has been slowly dropping, from 25.3% in 2010 down to 21.2% in 2013. His walk and ground ball rates have remained stable, both hovering right around league-average. His fastball is about a mile per hour slower than it was in 2010, but he still sits 92-93 and has an extremely effective slider. Latos is just 26 and is under contract for $7.25 million in 2014. After that, he has one more year of arbitration. Once more, he is the third Reds pitcher on this list, and that doesn't even consider Aroldis Chapman. I don't see any way they can keep all four, so I hope the Twins are calling to see who they can get their slimy fingers on.
Five down and five to go. Will your favorite soon-to-be-free agent starting pitcher make my list? Probably. You all go to MLB Trade Rumors too. See you tomorrow!