Seth Stohs over at Sethspeaks.net had a great column yesterday discussing "ace" pitchers and the Twins' perceived lack thereof. As always, the analysis was great, and the reader comments were interesting. In that piece, Seth listed 12 pitchers that he believed arguably qualified as "true aces," and here's that list: Justin Verlander; Clayton Kershaw; Tim Lincecum; CC Sabathia; Felix Hernandez; Cliff Lee; Roy Halladay; Jered Weaver; Dan Haren; Yovani Gallardo; Matt Cain; Chris Carpenter. Regardless of whether you agree with the assessment of these particular pitchers as aces, I think most would agree that this constitutes a solid list of most of the dominant pitchers in baseball right now. I'd personally be happy with any of them popping up in the Twins' starting rotation.
I'm going to piggyback off of Seth's post because it was interesting to me to think specifically about how these true aces were acquired by their present team, and where they were drafted. So I want to take a quick look individually at these pitchers to see if there are any trends, and to see what acquiring teams have given up in order to get a true ace. I didn't include the contract values -- Seth has them over in his piece (but here's a spoiler alert -- ace pitchers are pretty expensive!!).
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: 2nd overall pick of 2004 amateur draft; was drafted by the Tigers and is under contract with Tigers through 2015.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: 7th overall pick of 2006 amateur draft; was drafted by the Dodgers, and will become a free agent in 2015.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants: 10th overall pick of 2006 amateur draft; was drafted by the Giants, and will become a free agent in 2014.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees: 20th overall pick of 1998 amateur draft; was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and played with them until July, 2008, when he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers (along with Michael Brantley) for Rob Bryson (has yet to play in the major leagues), Zach Jackson and Matt LaPorta. For the record, LaPorta was the 7th pick overall in the 2007 draft; Jackson was the 32nd overall pick in the 2004 draft; Brantley was the 205th overall pick in the 2005 draft; Bryson was the 932nd pick (31st round) in the 2006 draft. Sabathia became a free agent after the 2008 season, and is signed through 2016 with the Yankees with a vesting option for 2017.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: Signed as an amateur free agent in 2002 by the Mariners, and is set to become a free agent in 2015.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies: 105th overall pick (4th round) of the 2000 amateur draft by the Montreal Expos. Lee has bounced around over his career. In his most recent trade before reaching free agency, Lee was traded by the Seattle Mariners to the Texas Rangers for Matthew Lawson (has yet to play in the major leagues), Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak. Lawson was a 14th round pick in 2007; Beaven was the 17th overall pick in 2007; Lueke was a 16th round pick in 2007; and Smoak was the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Mariners also sent Mark Lowe, a 5th round pick in 2004, and some cash, to the Rangers to complete the deal.
Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies: 17th overall pick of 1995 amateur draft. In December, 2009, Halladay was traded with cash to the Phillies for Travis d'Arnaud (has yet to play in majors), Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor. Drabek was the 18th overall pick in the 2006 draft; Taylor was the 173rd pick (5th round) of the 2007 draft; d'Arnaud was the 37th overall pick (1st round) in the 2007 draft.
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 12th overall pick of the 2004 amateur draft; under contract with the Angels through 2016.
Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 72nd overall pick (2nd round) of 2001 amateur draft. In July, 2010, Haren was traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Angels for a player to be named later, Patrick Corbin (has yet to play in majors), Rafael Rodriguez and Joe Saunders. Corbin was a 2nd round pick in 2009; Rodriguez signed as an amateur free agent in 2001; Saunders was the 12th overall pick of the 2002 amateur draft. The Angels sent Tyler Skaggs (has yet to play in majors), the 40th overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft, to the Diamondbacks, to complete the deal.
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers: 46th overall pick (2nd round) of 2004 amateur draft; under contract with Brewers through 2014 with a team option for 2015.
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants: 25th overall pick of 2002 amateur draft; under contract with the Giants through 2012.
Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals: 15th overall pick of 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays; released by the Blue Jays in October, 2002, and signed as a free agent by the Cardinals later that year. Under contract with Cardinals through 2013.
Just looking at this list, one thing becomes clear immediately: most of this talent was recognized by scouts, as 8 of the 11 players on this list that participated in the amateur draft were drafted in the first round; only Gallardo, Haren and Lee went after the first round; and King Felix was signed as an amateur free agent.
What about the players that teams have given up in order to acquire an ace? Not surprisingly, teams are giving up first round picks -- in some cases multiple first round picks -- to get an ace. Look at the Rangers' deal to get Cliff Lee: they gave up the 17th and 11th overall picks in the 2007 and 2008 draft to get Lee for half a season. Sure, Smoak hasn't exactly panned out yet, but many thought he would be a star.
One other pitcher that projects as a future ace -- or at least the Yankees think so -- is Michael Pineda. This 23 year-old, hard throwing righty was just traded from the Mariners to the Yankees, and the key piece of the exchange was Jesus Montero, undoubtedly the Yankees' top prospect. Pineda looked great the first half of 2011, but struggled in the second half. He ended up 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 171 innings. Though he projects as a future star, nothing is guaranteed. Montero looked good in a September call-up, posting a .328/.406/.590 line in 69 plate appearances. He projects to be a great hitter, and the Yankees gave him up (along with pitcher Hector Noesi), in exchange for Pineda and minor leaguer Jose Campos. Though Pineda doesn't yet belong on the list of ace pitchers, this move further demonstrates the hot commodity that is an ace -- or a potential ace.
So, Twins fans, would you give up one or more of Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, to get a "true ace?" How about our last couple 1st round picks, Levi Michael and Alex Wimmers? Would you give them up -- and everything that they might pan out to be -- for a "true ace" that could anchor the rotation for several years, but that would also command a $20 million salary? Because that, in the absence of good drafting, seems to be the going rate.
As always, I'm curious for your thoughts.