Friday, December 13, 2013

The final piece of the Minnesota Twins 2014 rotation puzzle

Yesterday, I outlined the current starting pitchers on the Twins 40-man roster.  If you missed it, here you go.  I argue that the Twins could still use one more reliable starter for 2014 and possibly beyond.  The fact that pitchers get injured frequently and often do not develop on schedule and/or as planned, means that there are still plenty of unreliable starters on the 40-man roster. 

Today, I want to revisit my top 30 free agent starting pitchers to see if anyone remaining on the list makes sense as a member of the Twins in 2014 and perhaps going forward.  This week, the Twins have been linked to Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, and Mike Pelfrey.  Each of those three fall in a different tier in my eyes.  Before we look at all the tiers to see who would be a good fit to fill out the current rotation, let's look at who has signed so far.

1 and 8
4 and 49
1 and 10
2 and 22
Scott Feldman
3 and 30
3 and 24
Tim Hudson
2 and 23
Bartolo Colon
2 and 20
Colby Lewis
MiLB deal
Hiroki Kuroda
1 and 16
Jason Vargas
4 and 32
Edinson Volquez
1 and 5
Roberto Hernandez
1 and 4.5
Randy Messenger
3 and money
Roy Halladay
Blue Jays
1 and Retire

So far, so good.  The Twins boosted their rotation for 2014 and for at least the following two seasons as well.  Hughes, Nolasco and Kevin Correia can be relied upon for innings next season.  In addition, the Twins have young, talented starters like Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Kyle Gibson who could contribute as early as 2014.  Sam Deduno has looked good in flashes.  Vance Worley should probably get one more chance.  Scott Diamond is alive.  The rotation depth is better, no doubt about it. 

However, there is still the chance that any and all of the following happen next season:  Correia implodes, Deduno implodes, the young guys don't develop, Worley is cooked, Hughes and/or Nolasco get hurt.  The Twins 2011 rotation looked pretty solid too, and now we're mired in year three of a rebuild.  I think that one more high-quality starter is worth pursuing.  Let's investigate who is still available and who is worthy of an investment.

No longer interested - Jair Jurrjens, Barry Zito, John Lannan, Kevin Slowey, and Mike Pelfrey

Each of these pitchers filled out the back-end of my top 30.  I viewed each as complete fall-back options and nothing more.  I wouldn't even call their agents at this point.  Unfortunately, we know that the Twins are not only interested in Pelfrey, but have reportedly offered him a two-year contract.  I hope beyond hope that he finds a better deal or the Twins pull that offer.  Pelfrey does not improve the rotation for 2014 and would be taking a spot away from a much more talented player like Gibson, Meyer or even Deduno.  If the Twins want a guy to walk around the mound, rubbing a baseball with both hands for a minute at a time, I am willing to fill that role for 80 bucks per appearance.  Odd number, but 80 is my lucky number.  Please other teams, offer Mike Pelfrey a stupid contract.  I beg you.

Status QO - Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez

Both of these guys are talented and could be great pitchers for the next few years.  However, both are set to make more money than the Twins gave Ricky Nolasco and would cost the Twins their second-round pick in 2014.  I don't think either guy will live up to the contract they receive, especially if it approaches 5 years and/or $100 million.  Santana throws hard but barely reaches league-average strikeout rates.  Jimenez is either awesome or awful.  I think that the Twins would be better off looking elsewhere and keeping that second-round pick. 

Some Dudes - Chris Capuano, Paul Maholm, Bronson Arroyo

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these three.  Each has flaws and each has strengths.  Arroyo is durable like the plague and has been effective with his wacky leg kick.  Maholm and Capuano are quality, back-end, lefty starters.  What does either of these pitchers do for the organization though?  Each of the three would make the 2014 Twins better.  Great.  The 2014 Twins could possibly reach .500 with one of these three.  That's nice. 

However, if you sign these guys for more than a season, then you're potentially keeping a rotation spot from a more talented player.  It's the basic Mike Pelfrey argument I made earlier.  If Alex Meyer develops as we hope, do we really want to be in a situation where he can't crack the rotation because Paul Maholm is making a very reasonable seven million dollars for the next two seasons?  These guys are likely to be decent values for the teams that sign them.  If the Twins had missed out on Nolasco and/or Hughes, I'd be completely in favor of either of these three. 

It is important to remember that there will be guys like these available next off-season.  In fact, one or two of these very pitchers could be available next off-season.  You don't need to lock up Chris Capuano.  Chris Capuano is the robin of the bird world.  He's nice, but he's easy to find. 

Since I've concentrated so hard on who I wouldn't target, let's look at who I would target.  Basically, the Twins can go one of two ways.

Option 1 - Play it cool, sign a guy with upside, hope for magic - Johan Santana, Scott Baker, Shaun Marcum

Colby Lewis received a minor league contract.  Is any of these three guys a safer bet than Lewis?  I'm not so sure.  If the Twins can't find a good long-term candidate for the rotation, I'd be very interested in taking a flyer on any of these three.  They combined for 93.1 innings in 2013, almost all from Marcum.  Marcum pitched, but not well, posting an ERA over 5 and losing 10 games with just 1 win. 

Santana is the most sentimental choice, but he'll also be 35 when the season starts and has missed two of the last three seasons due to injuries.  He's also the most naturally talented of the three.  Realistically, Santana belongs in the first category, but I can't separate my heart from my brain.  I can't put him in a group of cast-offs, even if Kevin Slowey is in that group.

Marcum and Baker will both be 32 next season.  Both have had some success in the past and both have major injury history.  Each could regain health and regain value.  If that happened, the Twins could trade them for another asset or look to extend a reasonably young and talented pitcher for a couple more years.  This keeps the Twins from assuming any long-term risk, while also looking for upside. 

It's not an ideal plan.  Even if it works and they pitch well, the trade market could be dry in July and August, or the player could choose leave for greener pastures instead of signing an extension.  Plus, a recent report indicated that the Twins are not interested in Baker, so we're really just talking about one guy.  Ultimately, I prefer...

Option 2 - As we learned in "Brink," go big or go home - Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett

Yeah, let's get it on.  I thought for sure that the Twins would stop at Nolasco.  Then, I was even more sure that they would stop at Nolasco and Hughes.  Now, I see reports that the Twins are still in on Garza, so I've decided to just get my hopes up like crazy.  Garza would become the best pitcher in a suddenly talented rotation.  His addition, added to the additions already made, could transform the Twins into a semi-contender in 2014, if a few more dominoes fall alongside him. 

Burnett is very unlikely, but would be an excellent consolation if the Twins miss out on Garza.  Burnett has been outstanding the past two seasons and he's only about a month older than Arroyo.  If the Twins are willing to shell out three years for Arroyo, they should be willing to do the same for Burnett.  Of course, Burnett wants to stay closer to his home in Maryland. 

What if the Twins offer to move the franchise to Maryland?  Or, more likely, what if they make Burnett a crazy offer like 3 years and $45 million?  It sounds stupid, but Burnett has been worth $32 million over the past two seasons, according to Fangraphs.  He could approach $45 mil over the next three seasons.  Plus, we would reunite him with Phil Hughes.  Fun all around. 

Completely unreasonable too.

Garza is the guy for me.  He's young, he's talented, he spits a lot, and he would be around for a lot of years.  He'd become the de facto Ace of the staff.  I imagine he would require a five-year deal, but he could remain productive through each of those five seasons.  Since 2007, Garza has never been worse than good, but has often been much better.  If the Twins land Garza, this will be the rotation in 2014:

Deduno (but secretly I hope it's Gibson)

I like that rotation an awful lot.  Again, it's not a playoff team's rotation, but getting we're closer.  Having those three veterans in the fold mean that if the young guys develop, the Twins could be sitting on another perennial playoff team.  Correia is gone after 2014 and the Twins could still have some money to sink into a more talented replacement.  Isn't it fun that we are even thinking like this? 

Of course, if Garza elects to go elsewhere, the Twins could always...

Hold for now, try again in 2014 - Max Scherzer, Homer Bailey, Josh Johnson, and who knows who else

The Twins are building something, so they can simply improve in 2014.  Maybe the rotation ends in shambles, but the long-term building blocks of Nolasco, Hughes, Meyer, Gibson and May don't have to go anywhere.  With that core in place for at least three more seasons, the Twins can look to get incrementally better as the next few seasons play out.  If they miss out on Garza, it would be completely reasonable to just hold for next year and see how things go.  Maybe Gibson, Meyer and May will all take huge steps forward.  Maybe Worley or Diamond will rebound.  Maybe Deduno will put it all together, stay healthy and pitch his way into my heart. 

I don't see an avenue for the 2014 Twins to make the playoffs.  The Garza scenario is enticing and could get them to the precipice.  I like the Garza scenario because it also plays out well for 2015 and beyond, even if the playoffs are a pipe dream in 2014.  The playoffs are definitely in play for the 2015 Twins.  Maybe not where we sit right now, but if they make one more big move to boost their rotation, it's not impossible.  Every move they make needs to have benefit in the short- and long-term.  That is why I support signing Garza and prefer not to sign Arroyo or Pelfrey.  For me, it's Garza or just chill.


  1. "Please (other) team(s), offer Mike Pelfrey a stupid contract. I beg you."

    Re-edit (other).(s)....Twins sign Pelfrey, 2 yrs/$11M, [execute]