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Friday, April 13, 2012

I Can Fix the Pitching Rotation . . . for 2014

This season, the Twins are shelling out $28.25 million on their intended starting pitching staff. Here's the breakdown:
Twins fans are wondering when, and if, Kyle Gibson
will become part of the Twins' rotation
Scott Baker (will not pitch an inning this season): $6.5 million
Nick Blackburn: $4.75 million
Francisco Liriano: $5.5 million
Carl Pavano: $8.5 million
Jason Marquis: $3 million

As you can see, it adds up pretty fast, and no one player is making close to league minimum. Also, a few of these contracts aren't particularly good. Pavano is overpaid for what he produces (aside from the fact that he will probably pitch 200 innings this season), and I believe that the Twins could have done better for $3 million than Marquis, or could, at this point, just give the spot to a young guy.

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.


  1. I wouldn't completely discount David Bromberg either.

  2. Or Anthony Swarzak, for that matter.

    I just cannot (and don't want to)see the Twins' commit $18M a season in a long term contract to a P. They will (and should) never do it. They can give a 2-3 year contract max but no "Ace" will accept that.

    I do not like Greinke either. He had to go to the NL and be on Prozak to be effective. Plus he is a former enemy :)

    I can see them sign a veteran on the quasi cheap (like $8-10 for 2-3y after this season - think Pavano's contact) and have him eat innings while the kids develop in the majors.

    Hendriks, Swarzak, Gibson, Whimmers/Salcedo/Deduno/other-current-AAA-starter or even someone like Maloney and a veteran might make a serviceable rotation. Of course this depends on how Gibson will come back from surgery. I saw him toss (soft) at Fort Myers a couple weeks ago so he is ahead of the schedule.

    1. Good to hear that Gibson is ahead of schedule.

      On Greinke's "issues" . . . I suspect that there is fairly long list of professional athletes that are on mood stabilizing drugs like Prozac. We just only know about Greinke. Admittedly, though, he's a bit of a head case and can come off bad in the press. He had a rough start this season, so if he's going to get big money from anyone he'll have to rebound.

  3. My only issue with going for an $8-10 million veteran is that you usually get what you pay for. I don't want another Carl Pavano. That's great that he pitches 200 innings, but I would rather find a couple of young arms pay the minimum like you said and go "all in" on an elite talent. Greinke may be available or it may be someone else. The Twins need a stopper like they had with Johan. If he costs $18 million a season he is worth it. Go with an "ace" and fill the rest with high-upside youthful arms. I love how the Braves, Rangers and the Rays develop arms in the minors. They each have lots of home-grown talent and they continue to draft it each year. Draft and develop, draft and develop...repeat year over year.

    On a separate note, why does it appear that the Twins wait until their is an OBVIOUS hole on the MLB team before addressing it in the draft? I am not going to just blame Bill Smith, but isn't there a 5 year projection/plan? Drafting Levi Michael last year when he may be ready at the beginning of 2014, which isn't too long after Brian Dozier will probably earn the job.

    1. Caleb, thanks for the comment. I think, as Twins fans, we're generally put off by these middle-of-the-road starters -- like Pavano, as you mentioned. Edwin Jackson (not great, but bigger upside than Pavano) signed for 1 year and $11 million this season, so there are better prospects available. Plus, people are saying that next season's free agent market will be richer in starting pitchers than it has been in recent seasons.

      As to your second point, the Twins have been unable to develop a decent shortstop prospect (until Dozier) in the past decade. And we all know about the pitching. I'm hoping, really hoping, that the 2012 draft is a once-in-a-decade draft for them.