|Twins fans are wondering when, and if, Kyle Gibson|
will become part of the Twins' rotation
It's no surprise that there will be massive turnover in this rotation over the next couple seasons. In fact, none of these guys is under contract for 2014. It seems as if Baker's time in Minnesota is likely over, unless he wants to come back to the Twins at a lower amount than the $9.5 million 2013 team option that will most certainly be declined. I guess that's a possibility. For right now, though, let's just assume, for what I'm about to propose, that Baker is out of the scenario. Additionally, the Twins hold an $8 million option on Nick Blackburn for 2014. For right now, I'll assume that they decline that option. Unless Blackburn can extended his perennial April and May success into the hot summer months, it's a lot of money to spend on a pitcher that can't consistently deliver quality starts.
The entire landscape of the Twins -- or at least many aspects of it -- could be very different in 2014. Justin Morneau might not be with the team, although I hope that's not the case. Denard Span could be traded as early as this season, especially if he remains healthy and it appears that Joe Benson is ready to take over in center field as part of a rebuild. Danny Valencia's job could have been usurped by Miguel Sano. And it's almost a foregone conclusion that Brian Dozier will be playing shortstop for the foreseeable future. In all, that sounds to me like the potential for a lot of contracts in 2014 that are close to league minimum, which is good news for the budget conscious Twins.
In my mind, some of that extra money saved in position player salaries would be well spend on pitching. Here's what I propose to get this team's pitching back on track for 2014. And I can do it for roughly the same amount:
1) Major Free Agent Signing. I'm targeting Zack Greinke, specifically. I wrote last week for Through the Fence Baseball on why we should try to get him. The common refrain is that the Twins need a pitcher that can miss bats, and Greinke might be our most attainable shot. Is he an ace? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends on your definition. But if he signed in Minnesota, he would instantly become our best starting pitcher since Johan Santana. With pitching payroll coming off the books, and with Greinke becoming a free agent after this season, I say the Twins go after him. $18 million/season.
2) Kyle Gibson. Admittedly there is no longer certainty as to whether we will ever see the pitcher that he once was on the path to becoming. He's out until late this summer recovering from Tommy John surgery. But he was so close beforehand. Aaron Gleeman still has Gibson as the #7 Twins prospect, incidentally. Perhaps he will not become the #2 starter that we dreamed about, but there is still a good chance that Gibson will be a solid starter for years to come in Minnesota. And, importantly, he'll be making close to league minimum. $500,000 (I'm ballparking a little here. Depending on when any of these rookies come up, they will get raises, so it could be a little more than that.).
3) Alex Wimmers. He's on the fast track. Yes, he's not nearly as close to The Show as Gibson is, but by promoting him to AA this season after only 40 innings in Ft. Myers, the Twins have indicated in no uncertain terms that Wimmers, if productive, will quickly climb the ladder. If he's successful this season, there's a chance that he could crack the Twins rotation at some point in 2013. $500,000.
4) Liam Hendriks. It sounds like Hendriks will get a lot of experience in 2012 now that Baker is shelved. He's making $480,000 this season. Let's assume that he's successful and put him, for the sake of argument, at $1.5 million in 2014.
These four pitchers put us at roughly $20.5 million. Let's round up just for budgeting purposes, and call it $22 million. We have some money left over for the 5th pitcher, so let's use it!
5) Solid veteran free agent signing, or Francisco Liriano. Don't laugh. I still hold out hope that Liriano can get his head under control. Don't get me wrong -- these first two starts were pretty awful -- but he looked so good just two weeks ago. Can the Twins get him for $8 million a season in a deal before he hits free agency? Do they even want to? Would they be crazy to? Or, are they looking for him to throw well so they can trade him? Yes, the signs point to Liriano not being with the Twins next season, but it's an option.
If the Twins don't go that route, that leaves them about $8 million to sign a pitcher. That money should get you a solid, middle of the rotation guy.
So, for around $30 million, we're set for 2014, in my mind, anyway. These young pitchers salaries' will escalate, so it will not be a $30 million rotation for the long-term (although they would be under team control for a few more years, so the raises would be reasonable). And don't forget that the Twins hopefully will draft a pitcher with the second overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft. Maybe this guy will be MLB ready by 2015? And, I'm sure I have forgotten about another prospect or two, such as Adrian Salcedo, that could crack the rotation in another few years.
I recognize that writing a list like this is speculative in nature. There's a chance that neither Wimmers nor Gibson ever throws a pitch at Target Field. But there's also a good chance that they realize their potential. For all the rotten luck the Twins have had (Baker's injury, Liriano's Tommy John surgery and subsequent inconsistent performance, and Blackburn not living up to his contract), it's about time that a few things go in the Twins favor.
So there you have it. 2012 doesn't look like Minnesota's season to win it all, and there are still some contracts on the book in 2013 (Jamey Carroll, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, even Morneau because his future is so tentative) that may prevent the Twins from making a big move, but they should definitely court Greinke and try to build a young rotation around him.
Finally, if you have time, check out my post today at Through the Fence Baseball, romanticizing, #34, Kirby Puckett.