So, Cliff Lee (probably) isn’t going to be a Twin after all (UPDATE: It’s official, Lee is spoken for). That’s disappointing, because a Lee-Liriano 1-2 punch would have been fun to watch, even if it were only for half of the season. As an analyst, I think it’s a terrible idea to give up even middling prospects for a rental. These players typically provide more benefit in terms of cheap, reliable, roster-filler than any gained in a post-season run (especially since the teams who make these deals tend to flame out in the postseason). As a fan, however, I want to win a pennant. Or at least enjoy watching the best left-hander in baseball pitch for my team, even if it is just for half of the season. Anyway, while we wait to find out where it is exactly Lee will be headed, here’s a rundown of the Twins’ possible options:
- Roy Oswalt: While there hasn’t been much in the way of trade rumors regarding Oswalt lately, there is little doubt the 33-year old is going to be moved. The Astros are in a rebuilding phase whether they like it or not, and would love to get out from under his albatross of a contract. Oswalt, for his part, would love to go to a contender. And while he’s far-removed from his days as a 5+ win pitcher, Oswalt is in the midst of another fine season, posting a 3.08 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, and 3.39 K/BB ratio in innings. Oswalt would provide a nice boost to the rotation, but whether the Twins acquire him depends upon how much salary the Astros are willing to eat. Oswalt is owed $39.5 million over the next two years, and though the Twins have more money to spend than ever before, they’ve also got an estimated $155.75 million in payroll commitments through 2012, and that isn’t including all of the arbitration-eligible players.
- Dan Haren: Haren is likely the best choice of the three. Like Oswalt, he’s in the midst of another fine season, though unlike Oswalt, he actually has some experience pitching in the American League. I doubt very much he would post the 6+ WAR seasons in Minnesota that he has with the Diamondbacks, but 3-WAR isn’t an unreasonable expectation. His skill set is a particularly good fit for the Twins. His (career) 7.69 K/9 rate would be second to Francisco Liriano as the best in the rotation. He also induces a lot of ground balls, which fits well with the team’s defensive capabilities (the infield defense is very good, while the outfield defense stinks). The 27 year-old is also locked up relatively cheaply through 2013, with an estimated $45.13 million left on his contract. Unfortunately,this means the Diamondbacks will probably be asking for the moon (and they should), so it’s unlikely he will end up a Twin.
- Nobody: Of course, the Twins could always choose to stand pat at the deadline, which would obviously be a huge disappointment to the fans. If they can’t find a suitable option to upgrade the rotation, this isn’t a bad idea. It seems unbelievable given how terribly they have pitched as of late, but the starting rotation really isn’t that bad. While their 4.43 ERA isn’t all that impressive, their peripherals suggest they are pitching better than that. Their 4.02 xFIP leads the American League, while their 3.96 FIP is behind only the Red Sox and White Sox. They don’t miss a ton of bats, with just a 6.53 K/9 rate, but not surprisingly, they don’t issue many free passes, either, with a league-leading 1.88 BB/9 rate. They’ve been stung by the long ball a little bit, with a 10.1 HR/FB percentage, but not much more than league-average and it’s likely the result of having such a fly-ball heavy staff. For what it’s worth, their .317 batting average on balls in play is right around league-average, though their 20.3 line drive percentage is awfully high, suggesting mediocre defense isn’t entirely to blame for their recent struggles. Still, if the front office wants to gamble that things will eventually turn around on their own, it wouldn’t be a bad bet.
If you think I missed someone, or if there is another starter you feel the Twins should target, please feel free to discuss it in the comments.