The Twins need to bring in at least two competent veteran starting pitchers if they plan to contend in 2013. We arrived at this conclusion Friday, after a thorough review of all of the in-house rotation options.
Twins GM Terry Ryan recently said he is “not banking on free agency” to improve the team this offseason. Puckett’s Pond is going to go ahead and take the optimistic viewpoint on this comment and assume Ryan simply isn’t ruling out signing any better-than-Jason-Marquis-level free agents; he simply means that he won’t expect free agents to fix all the team’s problems.
Keeping with the bank metaphor, the Twins might need to tap into Chase Manhattan, Wells Fargo and US Bank if their pitching is to hold its own in 2013. The good news is their bank account should be full of cash; according to Baseball Reference, the team has only $68 million committed in salaries next season, compared to almost $100 million spent on payrolls in 2012. Subtract a few bucks for likely arbitration raises, and the team should still have $25 to $30 million free, enough to sign a couple of quality starters.
Puckett’s Pond is nothing if not a kindly, helpful website, always willing to offer useful suggestions to a certain GM in need. With that in mind, I would like to make the following free agent pitcher suggestions for the Twins, ranked in descending order with the best option first:
Anibal Sanchez. Now that Matt Cain and Cole Hamels have signed fat contract extensions, Zack Greinke is going to draw the lion’s share of attention from baseball observers this offseason. He’ll get huge dollar offers from the big market teams. Fine. Let them have Greinke. The Twins need more than one ace, they need at least a pair of quality arms. Sanchez could be one of those arms, and his payday will be a lot smaller than Greinke’s, too. Since being traded to Detroit, Sanchez has been knocked around a little bit, but we shouldn’t let that prejudice us against him. He has a long track record of success, and he should be good for a sub-4.00 ERA and 180 strikeouts in any given season. Also, he’ll be just 29 by Opening Day next year.
Shaun Marcum. He’s not a high-velocity guy, but he does know how to strike a batter out, recording over 150 Ks each in 2010 and 2011. He has playoff experience with the Brewers, and he proved he can set down hitters in the tough AL East by pitching well for Toronto. The only negative about Marcum is that he has missed a couple months with an elbow injury. But he’s on the way back to the Majors now, and as long as he doesn’t have any further issues this season, the Twins should make the 31 year old an offer.
Edwin Jackson. I was highly in favor of the Twins signing Jackson last offseason, mostly because he was the best of a very thin free agent class. Instead, he went to the Nationals on a one year deal, then proceeded to have one of his best seasons yet: 3.56 ERA so far in 21 starts with a 7.1 K/9 rate. He’ll turn 29 this September, so he’s still young enough that we can expect four or five good seasons out of him. And yes, he’s a Scott Boras client, but the Twins are eventually going to just have to bite the bullet and shell out some cash for a quality pitcher. They could do much worse than Jackson.
Colby Lewis. Lewis looked like a great free agent option until he tore his flexor tendon, an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season. Before that, though, he was durable, pitching 200 or more innings in both 2010 and 2011, and effective. Over the last three seasons he has posted a 8.14 K/9 rate and a 3.93 ERA that looks better when you remember that his home stadium is hitter-friendly Ranger Ballpark. With the injury and his age (33 on Opening Day), the Twins should be cautious, but Lewis is a potential high-upside addition.
Erik Bedard. Thanks to copious injuries, Bedard has not made more than 24 starts since 2007, but he’s on the verge of an injury-free campaign this year. His 4.53 ERA for the Pirates isn’t too pretty, but he has a 3.80 FIP, which indicates that he could be just suffering from a little bad luck. Bedard also owns a 3.79 career ERA and 8.7 career strikeouts per nine innings, which are pretty good numbers. Back to the negative side, Bedard will be 34 next season. If the Twins only sign Bedard and don’t add any better pitchers, that will be a bad thing. But if it comes down to a choice between Bedard and another Jason Marquis/Ramon Ortiz/Sidney Ponson style pitcher, Bedard doesn’t look so bad.
Jonathan Sanchez. As with Bedard, Sanchez would be a big disappointment if he were the only free agent the Twins signed. His performance in Kansas City this year was horrid. In a best case scenario, though, this year’s awfulness could drive down his signing price to the bare minimum, which means a team like the Twins would have very little to lose by signing him. And it wasn’t that long ago (2010) when Sanchez had an ERA hovering near the 3.00 mark and 200+ strikeouts. Like Bedard, Sanchez should be a last resort after the good pitchers are gone, but before the Twins go after their usual assortment of bad free agent pitchers.
As I stated before, the Twins will need two starting pitchers next year. Ideally, they would be able to pick up two of the following: (Anibal) Sanchez, Marcum, Lewis, and Jackson. If they were able to sign one of those four and also pick up Bedard, though, it would still be a free agency win. Obviously, a lot depends on which other teams make these players offers and whether they want to pitch in Minnesota in the first place. But if it’s a question of money, the Twins should be able to afford two solid starters.