Sunday, November 6, 2011

Minnesota Twins Offseason: Part 4 of 4 (SP/RP)

By Matt Tschida


CURRENT (How 2011 Started and Ended)
1. Francisco Liriano
2. Carl Pavano
3. Nick Blackburn
4. Brian Duensing
5. Scott Baker

1. Carl Pavano
2. Brian Duensing
3. Anthony Swarzak
4. Scott Diamond
5. Liam Hendricks

1. James Sheilds/ErikBedard/Other FA/Trade?
2: Scott Baker
3: Carl Pavano
4: Francisco Liriano
5: Nick Blackburn

The Twins' starting rotation was realatively healthy for the majority of the 2011 season, but as the Twins were eliminated from any kind of playoff push in August and September, they shut down every starter who had any sign of injury (which was probably the smart thing to do). The Twins thought that Francisco Liriano was ready to be a consistent force in their rotation, and at least duplicate his 2010, but other than his no-hitter his season was miserable. Brian Duensing could not repeat the success he had in the 2nd halves of 2009 and 2010. Nick Blackburn was his typical inconsistent self, putting together a great month or two and having two or three awful months. Carl Pavano was respectable, but didn’t have quite the success he had in 2010, mostly due to a major decline in the defense behind him. Scott Baker was having a career year until injuries once again plagued him. To make matters worse, top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson had a less-than-stellar first half of the season, and ended up needing Tommy John Surgery.

On October 4th, Bil
l Smith said that the starting pitching is one of the many priorities the team has to address, as they plan to move one or two starters into the bullpen. The obvious person to move into the bullpen is Brian Duensing. He showed great flexibility in 2009-2010 out of the pen, and would help solidify the left handed relief options. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Kevin Slowey will get traded, and a good fit for him would be trading him to the Colorado Rockies for RP Rafael Betancourt. The Rockies already have 2-3 other set-up relief pitchers and only have 2 pitchers who started more than 17 games for them last season, so it would be a good fix for both teams. The Twins may have to throw in a minor league player to make the deal work.

With the Twins moving a starter to the bullpen and likely trading Kevin Slowey they will need to pursue a free agent starter and/or trade for a starting pitcher. Obviously, the Twins would like to get an “ace” pitcher, but it will be difficult to do without breaking the bank. C.J. Wilson will likely get $18M/year or more, and while Mark Buehrle will probably be more affordable, he's said he would like to re-sign with the White Sox. Here’s a few other options that might be more realistic for the Twins this offseason:

James Shields (Tampa Bay) Shields had a breakout season this year, going 16-12 and striking out 225 in just under 250 IP. He also notched 11 complete games (imagine how much Bert would like this addition), and his 2.82 ERA was a career-best. It’s hard to determine what the Rays would want in return for Shields, but this is definitely a good time for them to sell considering he had a 5.18 ERA in 2010. He signed a team-friendly contract that pays him (team options for each year) $7M in 2012, $9M in 2013 and $12M in 2014. I’m guessing the Twins would need to package centered around Denard Span to land Shields. The main reasons his name has been floating around the trading block are that the Rays generally trade their players before they start making a lot of money, and they already have a 1A starting pitcher (David Price) and 1B starting pitcher (Jeremy Hellickson) with a 3rd ace-quality pitcher (who many scouts believe he has the best stuff out of all three) ready to start next season in the rotation in Matt Moore.

Wandy Rodriguez (Houston) – Houston is definitely in rebuilding mode, and they've put Wandy on the trading block before. It’s not surprising that multiple teams claimed him when he was put on waivers in August, but the Rockies and Astros couldn’t come to an agreement.  He has thrown at least 191 innings in the last three seasons, and his highest ERA was 3.60, with K/9 at 7.82, 8.22, and 8.45. Houston probably won’t need major league-ready talent, but would likely demand a couple top 10-15 prospects from any team wanting him.

Erik Bedard (Red Sox) – Bedard proved this season that if he can stay healthy he can be effective. He struck out 125 batters in 129 1/3 IP with an ERA of 3.62. The last time Bedard had an ERA over 4.00 was in 2004. The biggest issue with Bedard in the past five season has been his health. If the Twins could get a bargain for Bedard like the Mariners did (one year at $1M), it would be a no-brainer. I would actually be fine with the Twins signing Bedard to a one year deal at a base of $3-$4M with incentives based on innings pitched. I’m guessing someone like the Red Sox or Yankees will be in the running for Bedard as well.

Edwin Jackson (St. Louis) – Jackson is a little like Liriano in that he has all of the pitches to be successful, and even a potential ace, but has yet to put it all together and become a consistent pitcher. One year he’ll post a 3.62 ERA and the next he’ll put up an ERA of 4.47. I have a hard time justifying signing a pitcher who is as inconsistent as Jackson to a multi-year contract for big money when a team is trying to be budget conscious.

Javier Vazquez (Florida) – Vazquez can be dominant at times, but for the most part he is a league-average pitcher. If the Twins were to move a second starter to the bullpen (likely Blackburn) and they could get Vazquez at a reasonable price to be a 4th or 5th starter, that would be a quality signing. Possibly in the one-year, $5M range. Vazquez helped his stock out a little bit by only giving up two earned runs and 24 hits in his last six starts of 2011.


Closer: Joe Nathan
Set-up RH: Matt Capps
Set-up LH: Glen Perkins                                                     
RHRP: Alex Burnett/Lester Oliveros/Jim Hoey/Kyle Waldrup
LHRP: Jose Mijares/Phil Dumatrait
Long Relief/Spot Starter: Anthony Swarzak

Closer: Drew Storen
Set-up RH: Rafael Betencourt
Set-up LH: Glen Perkins
RHRP: Kyle Waldrup/Alex Burnett/Lester Oliveros/Carlos Gutierrez
LHRP: Brian Duensing/Jose Mijares
Long Relief: Anthony Swarzak/Jeff Manship

As noted in the starting pitching section above, I would trade Kevin Slowey to a team in exchange for a quality relief pitcher—note to Bill Smith: quality relief pitcher, not a hard-throwing project, but a quality relief pitcher. Kevin Slowey still has upside, and starting pitchers are generally more valuable than relief pitching. With that said, the Twins may need to throw in a minor league prospect (not a top prospect but a B-C prospect), because Slowey’s value really is about as low as it has ever been. 

As you can see I have Drew Storen listed as the team’s closer next year. I am a huge fan of Storen and was all for trading Denard Span at the trade deadline in order to get him. I would revisit that offer at the winter meetings and aggressively pursue this trade. Many Twins fans were upset that we were considering this trade because Bill Smith made a huge mistake in 2010 by trading a top catching prospect (Wilson Ramos) for a below average closer/average set-up pitcher (Matt Capps). Twins fans need to understand Drew Storen is NOT Matt Capps.  Storen is actually an elite closer who is still only 24 years old. Another reason I would go for this trade is it saves the Twins a lot of money. Instead of spending $7-8 million on a closer, they would be spending just over $400,000. Think of it this way: Would you rather have an outfield of Tosoni/Revere/Cuddyer and have Storen as the Twins' closer (who, I remind you, would hopefully be the team’s closer for the next 5-10 years—he’s under team control through 2016) or Revere/Span/Tosoni with Nathan as the Twins' closer. To me it’s virtually a no-brainer.

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