I’ve been mostly unimpressed with the pitching moves the Twins have made so far this offseason. But I really shouldn’t criticize the team so harshly, because the pitching market is pretty weak this year. C.C. Sabathia was never really an option for anyone but the Yankees, C.J. Wilson – despite having a name just one initial away from Sabathia – is not worthy of ace money he got from the Angels, and Mark Buehrle is an aging pitcher whose pitch to contact style may or may not play well away from Chicago. Sure, I’ve touted Edwin Jackson and begged the Twins to sign him, but in a good free agent year, Jackson would never be considered the cream of the crop.
Next year looks like it will be a good year. The 2013 free agent class has more powerful arms than the Cold War-era Soviet arsenal. Coincidentally, the Twins will have money to spend and at least two job openings for pitchers, as Jason Marquis, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano will be departing (which should free up at least $17 million in payroll). Scott Baker’s contract is also up, though his deal includes a club option for 2013. Next offseason may finally be the year the Twins splurge for a decent starting pitcher.
The Twins might be executing a brilliant plan by avoiding the big name free agents this year. Kicking the can down the road just saves more money for 2013.
Here are some of the starting pitchers they could sign with all that cash:
Matt Cain. Imagine how famous this guy would be if he hadn’t been stuck behind Tim Lincecum in the Giants’ ace pecking-order. Pencil him in your rotation, and you’re guaranteed 220 innings, an ERA near 3.00, and 170 Ks, all from a guy who won’t turn 28 until next year. Cain should be the premier pitcher on the market, which means the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs will all be fighting to see who can pay him more.
Jeremy Guthrie. Cain suffers from being on a good team, but Guthrie has the opposite problem as a pitcher for the also-ran Orioles. He’s not flashy, but he’s reliable – a competent #3 guy who can give you 200 innings and 120 strikeouts.
Cole Hamels. Another ace-level talent, Hamels will turn 29 next December. He has a career 3.39 ERA and 8.5 K/9, despite playing in a hitter’s park with the Phillies. He should be the second most sought-after pitcher next year.
Colby Lewis. Lewis might be a guy to look out for. He struck out 196 in 201 innings in 2010, and followed it up with another 200 IP performance for the Rangers last year. He’ll be 31 when he hits the market, but he has two World Series under his belt. He’s also a soft-tosser (averaged 88.9 mph on fastball in 2011), so I’m sure the Twins love him already.
Shaun Marcum. Like Lewis, Marcum would be a great pickup who should cost a lot less than Hamels or Cain. After being traded to the Brewers, he just finished his second consecutive 13 win season with a 3.54 ERA and 158 Ks. He’s another guy who succeeds despite a sub-90 fastball.
Brandon McCarthy. A converted reliever who spent time with the White Sox and Rangers, McCarthy made 25 starts for the A’s last year. He went 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA and 6.5 K/9. He’ll be just 29 years old on Opening Day, 2013.
Anibal Sanchez. Judging by his peripheral stats, Sanchez (age 29 in 2013) would make a good #2 starter. He struck out more than a batter per inning last year, and he had a FIP of 3.35. If the Marlins are still spending money like a drunk on EBay next year, I’m sure they’ll re-sign Sanchez. But if not, he’d make a good pickup.
Jonathan Sanchez. He’ll be the second best Sanchez on the market, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a great free agent addition for some lucky team. He’s one of those “effectively wild” pitchers who will either strike everyone out or walk them. Let’s watch how well he adjusts to the American League with the Royals this year.
Even the bargain-level players should be better next year. If the Twins want to find another cheap starter, they could look to former Twin Kyle Loshe or aging Cub hurler Ryan Dempster. Either one would be a big jump in quality from Marquis.
I’m sure we’ll all spend a good portion of next year speculating about what the Twins will do with their rotation. If 2012 is a decent year for the team, they might look to add another pitcher or two to put them over the top. It’s unlikely, but I could see them re-signing Liriano, picking up Baker’s option, and going after a pitcher like Marcum or Jonathan Sanchez. If 2012 is a bad year, we might see the Twins enter full rebuilding mode, which would mean jettisoning Baker and letting Liriano walk. Even in that scenario, the robust free agent class would affect the Twins, because it would limit the type of deal Baker or Liriano would get from another team. Even in rebuild mode, it would be a decent idea to pursue a younger starter like Anibal Sanchez for a longer deal, so that he could help the team after it is fully rebuilt.
The wild card might be Kyle Gibson, the top Twins prospect who underwent Tommy John surgery this summer. He should begin throwing again sometime late in 2012, and by that offseason the Twins should have some idea whether he’ll be able to contribute in 2013. Liam Hendriks should be MLB-ready by that time as well. In theory, if Gibson and Hendriks enter the rotation and the Twins sign a couple free agents, we could have 100% turnover in the Twins rotation between 2012 and 2013. Except for Nick Blackburn, that is. Blackburn is signed through 2013 with an option for 2014, and I think it would take an Act of God to remove him from the rotation.
All of that is complete and utter speculation on my part, of course, and I’m sure everyone has different opinions about pitchers. Please feel free to share them below.