Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Juicy rumors are flying everywhere. First there are “serious” talks with Bronson Arroyo, then there are reports about their aggressive push for Ricky Nolasco, and now it’s reported that Matt Garza is open to returning to the Twins and the Twins like him more than Nolasco. Knowing which rumors to believe and put faith in is very hard, especially since it costs nothing for the front office to “talk” with available starters. We can all debate on the best fits for the Twins but until somebody actually signs, we will be holding our breaths for the best. And even after we’re introduced to a new Twin, there might still be debate about whether or not they will help our team win.
Does the signing of 37 year old Bronson Arroyo versus 30 year old Ricky Nolasco, or vice versa, really guarantee future success for the Minnesota Twins? Does signing Matt Garza over another free agent immediately turn around the Twins fortunes? Although it varies from report to report and blog to blog, each pitcher on the market has been assigned some sort of potential ceiling or ranking compared to the other free agents. There’s the top of the rotation guys, middle rotation guys, etc. Certainly for a team that is trying to build their rotation almost from scratch (a stark difference from adding a piece or solidifying), the goal would be to sign as many of the top end guys as you could afford and use up any remaining money to fill in with middle guys.
With these reports about higher-end free agent targets, fans might start to believe the Twins will buck thrifty spending trends and pull out their checkbook to sign a couple of top starters. I would be enthralled if the Twins go all in like this, but with the inherent risks of free agency combined with Terry Ryan’s reluctance to pay for that risk, the Twins free agency signings could likely fall far short of many fans’ expectations.
I’m here to say that just might be ok. That is, as long as they still bring in at least two new starting pitchers. They could even be clones of 2013 Kevin Correia or at least his numbers and I would still see promise. I hope it doesn’t play out like that but since the rotation seriously has nowhere to go but up, we don’t need career years from aces to make 2014 a strong rebuilding year.
2013’s best starter was freshly signed Correia, who essentially gave the Twins 185.1 innings of average MLB starting pitching (97 ERA+ versus the league average of 100). Correia’s signing brought on fan grumbling of “more of the same,” just another Twins pitcher who was bought low because of his low ceiling. But against some odds, Correia actually provided value to the Twins, albeit low value, by taking the ball every fifth day and posting a 4.18 ERA. That is nowhere close to a good ERA but imagine the Twins record last year if the starting rotation could have posted a combined 4.18 ERA instead of the horrendous 5.26 dud they did put up. It probably wouldn’t amount to a winning record but it would at least put the team within striking distance of respectability. It might seemingly not matter what the 2013 team looked like at this point but check out this Terry Ryan quote which strongly suggests otherwise.
"“[Free Agents] look at us on paper and say, ‘Well, I have a lot of interest in playing for a contender,’” Ryan said Tuesday… “Now, do they consider us a contender? I suspect not.” – Phil Miller, Star Tribune, 11/13/13"
Top free agents want to pitch for a team that gives them the best chance to win and that sentiment is working against the Minnesota Twins as they try to fix their rotation. The Twins need to turn this around quickly and free agency is the quickest, although riskiest, way to go. Luckily the Twins won’t fail if they don’t reinvent the wheel this offseason by signing the best stat guys available. They’ll make big strides forward even with just average years from a couple of new free agents and expected progression from their current roster. If they are going to rebuild, they need solid arms to make the Twins better in 2014 than they were in 2013. That way the best free agent arms for 2015 see a budding winner, not a black hole to finish off a career in and might actually seek out the Twins. It’s hard to imagine a situation where the 2015 rotation doesn’t need another arm so the impression of respectable starting pitching, combined with a strong offense and defense bolstered by can’t miss prospects will do wonders for the Twins future shopping.
Don’t get me wrong, I want the best and brightest available in a Minnesota Twins uniform, but I’m ready to support just about any starting pitcher the Twins sign.