The Twins are at it again. They’re targeting a trio of past-their-prime starting pitchers who get knocked around and cannot buy a strikeout. It seems the Twins have learned nothing from their experiments with Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez, and Ramon Ortiz. Instead of targeting a respectable #2 or #3 starter, the Twins are chasing after a parade of #5s. I know this isn’t exactly breaking news – the rumors came out last week, and the Twins have been looking at Francis since before the Winter Meetings – but I feel the need to address it before the Twins do something stupid (not that I can stop them, but at least I can shake my head and say “I told you so”).
The 33 year old Piniero had a 5.13 ERA last year in 27 starts with the Angels. His strikeout rate was 3.8 per nine innings. That number was very low even for Piniero, but not totally out of character; he hasn’t struck out more than 5.5 per nine since 2004. In 2011, Piniero gave up 181 hits in just 145 innings, helping pad a Blackburnesque WHIP of 1.51.
Francis, 30, beat Piniero in pretty much every statistical category last year, but that is not saying much, of course. He had a still-ugly 4.82 ERA in 2011 to go with 4.5 K/9 and 1.44 WHIP and 224 hits allowed in 183 IP.
It may be a little unfair to lump Garland in with Francis and Piniero. The 32 year old actually managed a 3.36 ERA and an respectable (though still below average) 6.1 K/9 in 2010 with the Padres. But he missed most of 2011 due to shoulder surgery. In the nine starts he did make, he went 1-5 with a 4.33 ERA. At best, he is a very risky #4 starter.
To be fair, I would have no problem with the Twins bringing in one of these veterans on a minor league contract. There’s no harm in letting one of them compete for a back-of-the-rotation job in Spring Training, as long as there’s no real money involved. But I don’t think that’s what the Twins are doing. I think they are actually planning to offer $3 or $4 million to one of these players, and that sets off a big alarm for me, especially when Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing are at least as capable of eating innings and giving up a bunch of runs as Piniero, Francis or Garland are.
Remember Hernandez? His agent made Bernie Madoff jealous when Hernandez heisted $5 million from the Twins in 2008. The result was predictable: a 5.48 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and just 3.5 K/9. Halfway through the season, Hernandez was designated for assignment and picked up by the Rockies. The year before, Ortiz managed a $3.1 million payday from the Twins and rewarded them with a 5.14 ERA. Like Hernandez, Ortiz failed to last the entire season in Minnesota; he was traded to Colorado for the great Matt Macri (is it just me, or is Colorado a dumping ground for horrible Twins pitchers? Remember, Kevin Slowey just got traded there, too). Ortiz had Ponson as a teammate in 2007. The bulky Aruban (a man of such high moral character that he once punched a judge) lasted all of six weeks with the Twins, racking up a 2-5 record and a 6.93 ERA.
Enough, already! Stop paying MLB salaries to terrible pitchers!
There is an alternative on the market this year. Edwin Jackson is still looking for a team, and I’m not the only one who thinks he was the best pitcher available on the free agent market. At 28, Jackson is younger than the Three Stooges I described above, and unlike them he would actually be useful as more than a #4 starter. Jackson has had at least 6.7 K/9 for the last three seasons, and he’s pitched close to 200 innings in all three. He is exactly the type of pitcher the Twins need to breathe some life into their stagnant pitching staff and take some pressure off the team’s pathetic defense.
I understand that Edwin Jackson may prove too expensive for the Twins, though if they were willing to pay Michael Cuddyer $8 million a year, $10 to $12 million for Jackson shouldn’t be too big of a budget-buster. I understand that, with several teams likely to be interested, Jackson has his pick of destinations. He may well have absolutely no desire to play in Minnesota. If the Twins make a legitimate attempt to sign Jackson and he still decides to go with another team, I will not hold that against the Twins. If they have to take a guy like Garland or Piniero as a consolation prize, so be it.
But if Garland and Francis are their first choices, that demonstrates a severe lack of baseball common sense among Twins decision-makers, not to mention the severe memory problems they must have if they forgot about all the times this strategy has failed in the past.
Sure, Edwin Jackson has problems, but he’s not another Ramon Ortiz. I cannot say the same for Garland, Francis, or Piniero.