Welcome back to my top 30 Free Agent Starting Pitchers countdown! Earlier today, we looked at 30-21 and if you missed it, click here to be brought to a field of lackluster options. The names get a little better today. You'll find as you read my list that I place a fair amount of emphasis on innings pitched. The last thing I want is to watch another 11th or 12th starter thrust into a game when that person should be pitching for Rochester (or New Britain [or the Saints]). This happened all too often over the past few seasons, so I'm willing to sacrifice some ability for durability.
Since time is money, let's get back to the countdown.
20. Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas is the King of Unexciting Options. He's 30, he's thrown over 550 innings the past three seasons and he doesn't walk too many batters. He does not throw hard and he does not strike out a lot of batters. He isn't terrible. That's not much to say about a pitcher. If the Twins signed him, I'd shrug and say, "yeah, sounds about right." If he's cheap, then he could be as good/valuable as Kevin Correia was in 2013. Yay?
19. Paul Maholm
Maholm is basically a left-handed Vargas. He strikes out slightly more batters, but he throws a bit softer. He's 31 and isn't as durable as Vargas. I rank him ever so slightly higher because he is left-handed. He's a less precise, but better version of Scott Diamond. He also falls into the "yeah, that makes sense" category of potential Twins free agent targets. Aim higher, Terry Ryan!
18. Chris Capuano
We've officially reached the "I'm intrigued" portion of the countdown. The top 18 pitchers are all players I would be interested in watching as Twins next season. Since returning to the Majors in 2010, Capuano has had good control, good strikeout rates and mixed success. Capuano's 2013 doesn't look pretty - ERA of 4.26, WHIP of 1.41, but his peripheral stats look pretty nice. He had a solid walk rate and decent strikeout rate. He was undone by a .334 BABIP and some injuries. He's 35, so a one- or two-year deal would be appropriate. At the right cost, he could be a good pickup.
17. Hiroki Kuroda
It ain't happenin' part 1. It seems he's staying with the Yankees. Kuroda is an excellent, consistent pitcher. He's averaged 200 innings with an ERA around 3.30 for the past four seasons. His peripheral stats are very consistent as well. He's also 38 and declined a qualifying offer, meaning the Twins would have to give up their second-round pick to sign him. He's a fine pitcher, but this isn't the right fit for the player or the team.
16. Scott Baker
Baker only threw 15 innings in 2013, but 15 more innings than he threw in 2012. He's 32 and it is very uncertain if he will be an effective pitcher after the injuries he's had. When last healthy, Baker was outstanding in 2011, posting a 3.14 ERA and a nearly 4:1 K:BB ratio. He also threw just 134.2 innings that season. If the Twins can get Baker for a year and $5-6 million, he could exceed all expectations and the Twins would have a 32-year-old effective starter with trade value. On the other hand, he could be a complete waste of time and money. Baker is risky, and I'm not sure the reward is as high as I'd like. I still like the idea, even though I know it could go kaboom in a hurry. If his value is diminished even more than I think and he can be signed for $2-3 million, then I think it's a no-brainer.
15. Colby Lewis
Lewis missed all of 2013 with an injury, so his stock might be low enough to take advantage of. He has been very effective since returning from Japan in 2010. In just over 500 innings, he has a 3.93 ERA, 458 strikeouts and only 135 walks. He fits the Twins' profile in a lot ways. He limits walks, doesn't throw super hard and he's probably going to be cheap. His strikeout rate may dip after the injury, but he's an attractive buy low candidate with upside.
14. Johan Santana
This is such a sentimental ranking. Santana missed all of 2013 and he is older than Lewis and Baker. He also missed all of 2011 and half of 2012, so his health track-record is not cool lately. His most recent surgery initially looked like a career-ender, but that does not seem to be the case. All logic would lead the Twins to pass and look elsewhere, but it's too hard to remember how awesome Santana was in the 2000s. No pitcher would be more exciting to me, simply because of my history as a fan of his. I want him to come back healthy, make dudes look silly on change-ups and ride a renaissance to the Hall of Fame. If only because there is a slight possibility that this could happen, I want it to happen in Minnesota. I think the Twins should do whatever it takes to get Santana and give our jaded fans a thrill, even if it is a fleeting thrill.
13. Bartolo Colon
Colon will be 41 next season, but he was very effective in 2012 and then better in 2013. His transformation to a late-career control specialist is quite impressive. He apparently already has a one-year deal from the A's, so the Twins would need to trump their offer with more money and/or more years. I'm not sure I want a 42-year-old under contract, so more money would be the way to go. According to FanGraphs, he was worth almost $20 million last season. The Twins have money to spend, and if they offered an extravagant number, they could probably get him for a year. He'd probably be pretty good, but where does that really get the franchise in the long-term? He's a good pitcher, but not a good fit.
12. Tim Hudson
It ain't happenin' part 2. Hudson is a great pitcher and he's had a great career. He's 38 and he always seems to outperform his peripheral stats. I can't imagine a pitcher of Hudson's caliber signing with a terrible team just to be a mentor to young players. He's likely staying with Atlanta or heading for a different good team. He's got just a few more seasons left to chase a Championship. He'll probably be great for whatever non-Twins team he signs with.
11. Phil Hughes
Youth! Most of Hughes' value seems to come from his age. At 27, he's a baby compared with some of the players I've written about so far. However, he comes with extremely varied success and more bad seasons than good. He's never thrown 200 innings, he's never had a season as a starter with an ERA under 4.19 and he's very home run prone. His strikeout and walk rates are solid and his 4.39 xFIP in 2013 is far better than his 5.19 ERA. The move from new Yankee Stadium to Target Field should help with the home run problem, but is a ballpark change enough to eliminate the problems Hughes has had for almost seven seasons?
I'm skeptical. He may have upside, but his age also plays against the Twins. He could easily command a 3 or 4 year deal based on the good factors addressed above and his youth. It would be a shame to be tethered to a player for 3 or 4 years and watch him perform as he had his entire career, especially when all the reasons to sign Hughes are based on the hope that a "change of scenery" is all he needs. If I'm investing in a long-term deal for a lot of money, I'd like more tangible reasons to make that deal. Also, while Hughes strikes out more batters than the average Twins pitcher, his career 19.7% strikeout rate is just a hair higher than Scott Baker's career 19.1%. Something to think about.
I see a lot of Twins fans penciling Hughes into the Twins' rotation for the next couple seasons. I'm not sure that's what we really want. Tomorrow, I'll address the top ten pitchers on my list. That list includes some very expensive players who likely have no shot of landing here. That said, my list is my list and I get to make my list and deliver my list.