Should the Twins Target C.J. Wilson?

There haven’t been any concrete rumors linking the Twins to Rangers ace and free-agent-to-be C.J. Wilson, save for some speculation by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, but that’s not the point of this post. Part of the fun of the offseason is speculating about wild scenarios; blockbuster trades and impact signings can be dreamed up, and debates about what should or shouldn’t be done can carry us through a cold, Twins-baseball-less winter.

If that’s not the sort of thing you’re into, then maybe this one’s not for you. If it is, stick around after the jump and some for some pros and cons regarding the concept of going after Wilson, and be sure to weigh in on the poll.

First off, let’s just start by saying that yes, this would be a highly uncharacteristic move for the Twins. Big free agent signings aren’t their forte; they typically barely dip their toe into the free agent starting pitching pool. Carl Pavano, Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson weren’t exactly marquee signings (though Pavano was treated like one, and realistically was one of the better options on the market).

But the Twins have over $40M in commitments from their 2011 Opening Day payroll that aren't on the books. Michael Cuddyer ($10.5M), Joe Nathan ($11.25M), Matt Capps ($7.15M), Jason Kubel ($5.25M), and Delmon Young ($5.375M) total $39.525M, and there’s also the possibility of non-tendering or trading Kevin Slowey, who cost $2.7M this season and will cost somewhere in that ballpark again in 2012.

The Twins can afford Wilson. Should they try to sign him though?

Pros

The numbers: Over the past two seasons, Wilson has gone from setup man to innings eating machine, racking up 427.1 innings and posting a 3.14 ERA. His K/9 and BB/9 in his first full season were at 7.5 and 4.1, respectively, but improved to 8.3 and 3.0 in 2011. He’s kept the ball on the ground over 49% of the time, which has helped him keep the ball in the park, even in Arlington’s launching pad. Over the past two seasons, only Chad Billingsley has a lower HR/9 than Wilson. A move to Target Field would undoubtedly help that even further.

The innings: Dave Cameron pointed out (ESPN Insider required) a few weeks back that Wilson is hitting free agency with the mileage on his arm of a guy entering his third or fourth season of starting. For comparison, Clayton Kershaw has totaled 716.1 innings. Wilson has 708. His role as a reliever from 2005-2009 has greatly limited wear and tear on his arm. Granted, there’s still something to be said for natural aging. The rigors of living an extra seven years over Kershaw don’t make it an even matchup, but the risk of a breakdown based on volume of pitches is severely less than that of a standard free agent-to-be. CC Sabathia had thrown 1659.1 innings when he first hit free agency.

The injuries: Wilson had Tommy John surgery in August of 2003, and had some bone spurs cleaned up in his left elbow in 2008, but that’s the extent of his surgical history. Since that surgery, he’s had to miss exactly 12 days of action – one for food poisoning and 11 for a blister on his pitching hand (hat tip: Baseball Prospectus). His "straight edge" lifestyle (abstaining from any drug or alcohol use) speaks to how serious he is about staying healthy.

Cons

The money: Wilson is going to get paid. There’s no way around it. He’s the second-best free agent pitcher on the market (assuming Sabathia opts out so he can re-sign with the Yankees for more). He’s been durable and effective in a hitters’ park, and could earn himself $100M+. I’d be surprised if he got anything less than five years, and I can see his contract ranging from 5/90 to 6/108 (and possibly more if one bidder goes nuts). He’ll have lots of suitors, and there will be competition. The Twins will have to play up a big stadium, weaker division, and really sell him on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to make their pitch.

The history: Detractors of Wilson will say that he’s only got two years as a starter under his belt, and they’ve got a point. He’s also pitched in a division that’s had two pretty terrible offenses in the Mariners and Athletics. He’s not performing like this in the AL East (though for what it’s worth, he’s pitched very well against them in a small sample).

The age: Wilson would be 35 at the end of a five-year deal and 36 at the end of a six-year deal. Regardless of the low mileage on his arm, very few pitchers in the game have been worth $18M+ in their ages 35-36 seasons.

The other contracts: The Twins currently have $37M per year invested in the combination of Mauer and Morneau through 2013 and don’t really know what they’re going to get for him. Adding another big money contract onto the pile could really handcuff this organization for a long time if everything goes south. That’s the risk, of course, for any mid-market team with big contracts. The upside is that you can afford to give them out, unlike the small market clubs, but recovering from them is still tougher than it is for the Yankees and Red Sox of the world.

I don’t know that there’s much of a chance that the Twins make a serious push for Wilson, but I can almost guarantee that with the amount of money coming off the books, Bill Smith and his crew will at least consider the idea. They’ve got the money and the need. That said, this team has countless other needs and devoting such a large chunk of resources to one player hampers the ability to patch other holes.

Let’s play GM with the poll.

Steve Adams writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball and contributes at 612Sports.net. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve
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