I've been writing so much about free agency lately, it's sick! Last week, I addressed the position players the Twins should target. This week, I've been counting down my top 30 starting pitching targets for the Twins. If you missed any of this mini-dynasty, I'll provide you some links. Since I wrote these, things have changed, but most of my ideas aren't super player-specific, more of an overall philosophy.
Translation: please click these links so I can feel cool.
Now that all the shameless self-promotion is clear, we can get back to the starting pitcher countdown. Here are the top ten starting pitching targets for the Twins, in my opinion (which should be obvious because I am writing this):
10. Scott Feldman
Nothing sexy about Scott Feldman. This is not an indictment on his looks either, he just doesn't excite me as a pitcher. His walk rates are generally good, his strikeout rates are in the Twins Zone and he's reasonably young. His ground ball rate was great in 2013 and with the Twins' good infield defense, he could be a decent fit. If Feldman is the second or third best starting pitcher the Twins sign, the off-season could be categorized as a success. If he's the crown jewel of the 2013 off-season? Yawn.
HOT RUMOR!! If news reports are to be believed, Bronson Arroyo is somewhere in the Twin Cities area, lurking, waiting to sign a contract with our beloved Twins. Be on the lookout for a man in his late 30s with long hair and likely carrying an acoustic guitar and silly-walking like in Monty Python. Do not approach Arroyo, as he could recede back to Cincinnati if spooked.
I've already started to talk myself into Arroyo on the Twins, so that pretty much means he won't sign here. I was concerned about his age and lack of strikeouts, but overall, he looks like a pretty valuable pitcher. He's thrown over 2000 innings in the past 10 seasons and he's transformed from a control-enthusiast to a control-specialist. He'll be 37 next season and all pitchers are healthy until they aren't healthy any longer. If he does sign here, I'll be interested in the contract he receives. Anything more than two years or more than $10 million per season will elevate my levels. Stay below those thresholds and I'll be chill.
According to Baseball Reference, his nickname is Saturn Nuts. I'm sensing a love-hate relationship starting here. If he even sings once, I want his contract voided.
Not a huge fan. He throws hard but that doesn't translate to strikeouts, so what's the point? His career strikeout rate is lower than Scott Baker's. It's only slightly higher than Kevin Slowey's. Santana is also prone to wildness and home runs. He's averaged over 200 innings the past four seasons, so he certainly has value. He's a good pitcher, I'll say that. He's reportedly looking for 5 years and over $100 million. That's crazy. Fans can harp on the Twins for being cheap all they want, but signing Santana to a contract that averages over $20 million per year is irresponsible. I'd rather my team be cheap than crazy.
7. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir will be only 30 next year. That's insane. I remember being jealous of my friend Brad because he had Kazmir on his fantasy team. That was in 2005. I've been jealous for 9 years now. After completely falling apart in 2010-2011 and then missing all of 2012, Kazmir rebounded really nicely in 2013. He still throws basically as hard as he ever has and he still has great stuff. His 4.04 ERA in 2013 isn't special, but his 3.36 xFIP shows that he may be a huge upside signing. His 2013 could end up looking like a huge fluke, but I'm not sure that it will. He'd be a lot higher up my list if I could just get one more year to look at him. The Twins won't have that luxury, so if they want him, they need to be bold. I like him, I'd go 3-4 years if needed.
Is Jimenez consistent? Here are his last 5 xFIPs - 3.59, 3.60, 3.71, 4.98, 3.62. I can explain the 4.98! Strikeout rate dipped, walk rate spiked, strand rate dipped, ground ball rate plummeted, home run/fly ball rate spiked. There, it all makes sense now. Why did all of those rates change so dramatically in 2012? I'm not sure. His 2013 looks a lot like his 2009, 2010 and 2011. If his 2012 had matched, he'd be looking at a massive payday. Instead, he'll have to settle for a tremendous payday. It's a subtle difference, I agree. I'm not worried about him as a pitcher, but he's far too rich for the thrifty Twins, so he rates a bit lower than others.
5. A.J. Burnett
Burnett would probably be number 1 on my list if there was any chance that he would actually sign here. His combination of high ground ball rate and good strikeout rate is so enticing. He has also really gotten his control under control (ugh) as he has aged. Of course, none of this matters as Burnett is reportedly unwilling to pitch anywhere that isn't within walking distance of his home in Maryland (exaggeration). Now there are reports that he may retire. Regardless of what he chooses to do, he won't pitch for the Twins in 2014.
What if the Twins just went insane and offered him 2 years, $36 million? I bet he'd consider that. If things really fall apart and all their targets sign elsewhere, I'm not so sure that wouldn't be a smart offer to make. They have the money, right?
4. Dan Haren
We would feel a lot differently about Dan Haren if we called him "Dangerous" Danny Haren like I want us to. That would give him an edge. Instead, he's a fairly boring option. He doesn't throw hard, he's had some recent ups and downs and he isn't really a big name anymore. He is consistent though. His xFIP has been 4 or below since 2005. His ground ball rate has been diminishing and his strikeout rate is dipping (as a trend, it was up a bit last season), but his walk rate is strikingly consistent, and low. His 2012 and 2013 seasons were disappointing, likely as he learned to deal with that diminishing ground ball rate. He seemed to figure it out in the second half of 2013, posting an 3.40 xFIP as his strand rate and BABIPs stabilized. He averaged well over 200 innings from 2005-2011 and he's still just 33. He never really relied on power stuff, so his age is less of a factor. He signed a one year, $13 million dollar deal for last season and a similar deal would be very reasonable for the Twins.
You know how some pitchers outperform their peripheral stats? Nolasco consistently underperforms relative to his peripherals. His walk rates have always been excellent and his strikeout rates were consistently good until they weren't any more. His career 3.52 K/BB ratio is just fantastic! His career 4.37 ERA is not. His career xFIP of 3.75 is good! His dipping K rate is bad. He's a yoyo. He's averaged nearly 200 innings in his last three seasons and he is coming off his best season ever in 2013. He'll be 31 next year and should be looking to cash in. For a reasonable contract, I'd be interested. I worry his contract offers will exceed "reasonable." Oh, he's a slider enthusiast, and I'm not so sure we like that 'round these parts.
2. Josh Johnson
OH HOT DAMN A LOCAL BOY! Johnson was atrocious last season, his first with Toronto. Perhaps he didn't get used to drinking maple syrup every day? If you look closely, there are easy ways to explain away his poor performance. First, his strand rate was extremely low - 63.3% compared to his career rate of 74.2%. Second, his BABIP was .356, an astronomical number even if you don't believe in BABIP. Third, his home run to fly ball rate was 18.5%, over twice has high as his 8.2% career value. Add all those misfortunes together and you get a 6.20 ERA but a 3.58 xFIP. He'll be just 30 next season and won an ERA title only four short seasons ago.
"BUY LOW," shouted the man. The Twins should offer one year and $whateverittakes million to get Johnson. If it takes two years, go for it. Three years? Yeah, maybe. 18 years? Don't be stupid.
1. Matt Garza
I've written this before, but Garza's debut is one of my fondest memories of recent Twins past. He was just such a delightful spaz that evening. I enjoyed his competitive personality and while he may legitimately have a screw loose, he is a solid pitcher. His 2013 was rocky, but he was coming off of a couple legit injuries.
In 2011 and 2012, he looked like a budding ace. He had great strikeout rates, improved control and a suddenly solid ground ball rate. His ground ball rate plummeted last season, but his line drive rate jumped far beyond his career norm. I imagine those rates will even out. With a relatively stable strikeout rate, and ever-improving walk rate and no real noticeable loss of velocity, Garza would be an excellent target for his age 30-34 seasons. A five-year deal seems more than reasonable and I'd pay him big money.
Would the Twins do it? Would they bring back someone they once jettisoned for Delmon Young? I have no idea. I Googled "Matt Garza Twins hate" and found nothing. It seems the waters are clear. Garza isn't an "ace" but he's a very good pitcher and would anchor this rotation. Projections seem to fall in the 4 years, $60 million range for Garza. The Twins might need to exceed that. Personally, I'd go 5 and 80 and hope he wants to come back. That's a lot of money. Deep breath.
Special Note: Masahiro Tanaka. I learned long ago to stick to what I know and I know nothing of Japanese baseball. If he's as good as advertised, he'd be number 3 on this list. Since I can't speak of him with any authority or come up with any "jokes" about him, I'll just leave him here.
So there we are. Tons of free agents rated and reviewed for your reading pleasure. Who will the Twins actually sign? I have no clue. I hope they are shockingly active. I'd love to see Garza, Johnson and Arroyo on this team next year. How wild would that be? Terry Ryan shows up at Spring Training with an earring. He starts calling everyone "playa." Constant Finger Guns. It would be amazing. Make it happen, TR.