The Minnesota Twins and their ongoing Starting Pitching Saga
By Brad Swanson
Joe Saunders seems to be strongly considering the Twins’ offer. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Twins have improved their starting rotation. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Ok, calm down. SERIOUSLY, PUT THE CHAIR DOWN! Just give me a minute to explain. They signed veterans Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Rich Harden (minor league deal). We have discussed the merits of these starters many times before, but they are better pitchers than many who started for the Twins last season. These starters won’t transform the 2013 Twins into contenders, but they will contribute to an improved rotation next season.
In addition, the Twins traded for promising starters Vance Worley, Alex Meyer, and Trevor May. Worley is the only name of the three who is likely to contribute in 2013, but it is easy to see the long-term plan that is coming into place. Kyle Gibson, Liam Hendriks, and Scott Diamond join these new arms in that long-term plan.
Going back to 2013, replacing Samuel Deduno, Cole De Vries, P.J. Walters, and Nick Blackburn with Pelfrey, Correia, and Harden will make the team better. There should be about seven pitchers in line to start before it is time to call up the likes of Blackburn, Walters and Deduno. Not bad. If each of the new pitchers has healthy seasons, they will pitch better than the AAA options that spent the 2012 season in Minnesota. Well, maybe not Correia, but I can’t keep going down that road. The rotation isn’t a lot better and it isn’t really good either, but it’s better. Mission accomplished!
Not so fast! Terry Ryan recently stated that the Twins might not be done improving the starting rotation. Joe Saunders is the name being mentioned most frequently. I have seen many Twins fans and Twins bloggers discuss the merits of Joe Saunders. There seem to be two camps. People either want one year of Joe Saunders and nothing more, or they are willing to go 2 or even 3 years to make certain that Joe Saunders is a Twin. To me, these are two completely different camps. One simply tolerates Saunders for a year, and the other wants Saunders no matter what it takes. Saunders is another soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact type pitcher who has generally hovered around league average. His career 103 ERA+ pretty much proves that. However, with the relative dearth of starting pitching on the market and on the Twins roster, he is an attractive option to many. Should he be?
Check out the chart. If the Twins sign Joe Saunders for 2013, he would fit nicely. His signing would be insurance in case Mike Pelfrey or Rich Harden aren’t ready or aren’t effective. His signing would seemingly ensure that Liam Hendriks gets some additional time at AAA. He won’t make the team that much better, but he would help the rotation.
However, when we look beyond 2013, Saunders would start to clog the rotation. Correia, Diamond and Worley are under contract in 2014. Gibson should certainly be ready, and Meyer and May might not be far behind. Hendriks would still be lurking. Even farther down the line in 2015, Saunders would really only be useful if some large combination of Diamond, Worley, Gibson, Meyer, May and Hendriks fail to develop and the Twins make no other moves. A three-year deal doesn’t make a lot of sense, just to land a guy like Joe Saunders. Teams are willing to give extra years to land players like Zack Greinke, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but not Joe Saunders, as much as he might help the 2013 Twins.
On the other hand, a three-year Joe Saunders contract might be just what the front office desires. Terry Ryan recently stated that free agency is not how you build a successful team. However, fans view free agency with great importance. Coming away with Joe Saunders and Kevin Correia signed through 2014 could help the Twins avoid going into the 2013 off-season with another gaping hole in the starting rotation. These signings could give the Twins a free pass next off-season. They can ignore free agency but point to the most previous off-season as evidence that they haven’t ignored it in the recent past. It sounds like a vast conspiracy theory to me, but there could be some truth to it as well. And if the rotation is actually clogged, the team can always just trade or release either Correia or Saunders.
Ultimately, and it feels weird to write this, I am not sure the Twins need to sign another starting pitcher. They can get by this season with what they have and there isn’t a player available that will transform this team into a contender anyway. Signing Joe Saunders to a one-year contract makes sense, but isn’t necessary at the same time. It can’t hurt, but it likely won’t help much either. At this point, the only real reason to sign him would be to spend some money. Many fans would applaud that. Personally, I don’t like the idea of spending money just to spend it. I’m not convinced the Twins will invest unspent money into the future, but I would rather hope that they do, than beg them to sign a league-average pitcher just to use some of the budget. Besides, the rotation is already better, right?
Do you think the Twins should look to sign Joe Saunders for more than one season? Please respond in the comments below. Community!
Update! Since no one responded to my question, I decided to add a bonus link to reinforce this behavior. Every article I post without comments is going to include a link to a truly strange blog post. Here is today’s: My Top 10 Twins of All Time (with terrible Paint images) If you want to avoid being subjected to these Paint images in the future, well, you know what to do.