The Twins need more pitchers who can do what Joe Nathan can do: strike batters out.
We went into this in some depth last winter. Mister_S talked about buy-low bullpen options We had endless discussions in comment threads; pitching as a whole was brought up in numerous front page posts. And in my off-season blueprint, I said this:
Strikeout/Power Pitching: The Twins need some. I'm not necessarily talking about bringing in a staff Ace to pair with Francisco Liriano, but the goal should be to bring in as many strikeout arms as payroll allows you to. Southpaws are prefferable, but the bottom line is that pitching to contact equates to playing with fire against teams with stacked lineups like New York's. If a hitter swings and misses, he can't do damage.
There were a great deal of free agent bullpen arms available, many of them ultimatley had on affordable contracts. The Minnesota front office understood they needed to address the bullpen, but instead of doing themselves a favor they brought in Jim Hoey, Chuck James, Phil Dumatrait, Scott Diamond, Eric Hacker, and Dusty Hughes. Those decisions had predictable results.
The Minnesota front office found a staff full of contact pitchers, jettisoned two very good (if not solid) defenders in the middle infield, and allowed a trio of plodding corner outfielders to stay on the roster. It didn't make any sense then, and in hindsight makes even less sense. But we don't need to revisit that severe lack of vision here. This is a solution-based blog. It's on our resume.
Back to the philosophy of needing more strikeout pitchers - you could argue that the Minnesota outfield will be more dynamic next season and that, depending on who's playing right field, we could boast one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. You could also argue that the Twins will look for improvements in the infield, especially since that's a topic that's surfaced from Bill Smith so early. Having made those improvements, you could also argue that finding strikeout pitchers becomes more of a luxury than a necessity.
To which I say you'd simply be enabling a broken philosophy.
The problem isn't that the Twins have a philosophy of pitching to contact (which isn't just "throw the ball over the plate", by the way), it's that they seem averse to even trying to sign or trade for a player who can make batters swing and miss. A team can be successful without those players, but being able to strike hitters out is a part of the game, too. Being able to mix in a few more swing-and-miss pitchers will not just help keep runners off the bases, it could help some of the other pitchers by providing a change of pace.
Years ago, bringing in LaTroy Hawkins after Tony Fjore wasn't fair on opposing batters. That's change of pace. Lining up Juan Rincon in front of Joe Nathan (or Pat Neshek in front of Joe Nathan) helped this team to shorten the game. There's a reason that Johan Santana was one of the best pitchers in baseball for half a decade. Those four players could strike out more than a batter per inning.
And again, I'm not expecting an ace, or All-Star caliber relievers. But there are quality players to be had.
This winter, Bill Smith and the Minnesota front office have a unique opportunity to save this team from itself. Last year was an unmitigated disaster, and part of that is their fault, but unless they do a really good job this winter we might be looking at a window of three or four years before the next division title. And part of doing that good job will be recognizing what kind of things need to change. Going after and bringing in players who can get swings and misses is a part that.
We'll be talking more about the 2011-2012 off-season blueprint and philosophy this week and weekend.