I've seen the idea of the Twins trading for an ace one too many times already, and the offseason hasn't even started yet. So I thought I'd look at who the aces out there are, and whether any of them might be available, and what the cost would be. I used 7 fWAR over 2010-11 as my borderline because that gets guys like Chris Carpenter and John Danks onto the list, who I'd be quite happy to have. I may add a couple of other guys at my whim, feel free to suggest more in the comments too.
- Roy Halladay, Phillies. 14.0 WAR. Status: 2yrs/$40m, $20m vesting option. Available: I can't imagine.
- Justin Verlander, Tigers. 12.7 WAR. Status: 3yrs/$60m. Available: You kidding?
- Cliff Lee, Phillies. 12.6 WAR. Status: 4yrs/$109m, $15m option. Available: Not right now, and that contract scares me.
- CC Sabathia, Yankees. 11.8 WAR. Status: 4yrs/$92m, can opt out. Available: If he decides to opt out, but you'd have to pay him even more. And he probably wouldn't come here.
- Felix Hernandez, Mariners. 11.3 WAR. Status: 3yrs/$58m. Available: Has a 10-team no trade clause we might be on after this year. However, I suspect he could be had for the right huge prospect package.
- Jered Weaver, Angels. 11.3 WAR. Status: 5yrs/$85m. Available: Very unlikely.
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 11 WAR. Status: Arb 1. Available: It would be insane to move him. The Dodgers are kind of insane, though, and we don't know who will own them next month. I feel safe not considering him available, though I suppose if I were a GM I'd be keeping my eye out.
- Dan Haren, Angels. 10.1 WAR. Status: 1yr/$16.25m, $12m option. Available: You know, maybe. Haren's W/L underrates him so he might not even be terribly expensive. The first guy I'd be willing to give a long look at. Of course, the Angels expect to be competitive next year and probably want to hold on to him, but I don't consider it the no-brainer that the guys higher on the list are.
- Tim Lincecum, Giants. 9.2 WAR. Status: Arb 3 (was a Super2). Available: No chance.
- Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians. 9.1 WAR. Status: 1yr/$5.2m, $4.75m option, $8m option. Available: I can't imagine, and would you want to give the Indians a bunch of prospects anyway?
- Matt Cain, Giants. 9.1 WAR. Status: 1yr/$15m. Available: Probably not. Maybe midseason if the Giants fall out of it, but I expect they think they're competitive and need him.
- David Price, Rays. 9 WAR. Status: 1yr/$1.5m (Arb 1). Available: No way.
- C.J. Wilson, Rangers. 8.9 WAR. Status: Free agent. Available: For the right price.
- Cole Hamels, Phillies. 8.9 WAR. Status: Arb 4. Available: I can't see the Phillies not hanging on to that rotation for one more year.
- John Lester, Red Sox. 8.7 WAR. Status: 2yrs/$19.5m, $12.75m option. Available: Should have traded Santana for him.
- Zack Greinke, Brewers. 8.6 WAR. Status: 1yr/$13.5m. Available: Maybe midseason.
- Josh Johnson, Marlins. 8 WAR. Status: 2yrs/$27.5m. Available: People love to talk about the guy, but I'm not convinced he was ever available. With the Marlins moving into a new stadium next year, they're not about to have a fire sale.
- Justin Masterson, Indians. 7.9 WAR. Status: Arb 1. Available: Hah!
- Chris Carpenter, Cardinals. 7.7 WAR. Status: $15m option. Available: Can't really see the Cardinals not picking that option up, especially if they can't keep Pujols. Also, do you want to hand a 37-year-old a big free agent contract? What I could see happening is the Cards picking up the option and then trading him.
- Gavin Floyd, White Sox. 7.5 WAR. Status: 1yr/$7m, $9.5m option. Available: I wouldn't think so, but hey, Kenny Williams. Probably not available to the Twins though.
- Anibal Sanchez, Marlins. 7.5 WAR. Status: Arb 3. Available: Possibly late winter/early spring. Basically looking for extension talks to fall apart.
- Yovani Gallardo, Brewers. 7.2 WAR. Status: 3yrs/$25.1m, $12.4m option. Available: I wouldn't think so.
- Mark Buehrle, White Sox. 7.2 WAR. Status: Free agent. Available: You've heard what he has to say about the Twins, right?
- Doug Fister, Tigers. 7.1 WAR. Status: Serf 3. Available: This might have been the steal trade of the decade. Dombrowski's not going to give him away.
- Edwin Jackson, White Sox. 7 WAR. Status: Free agent. Available: $$$.
- Francisco Liriano, Twins. 7 WAR, but only 1 this year. Status: Arb 3, probably $5-6m, lots of calls to nontender him. Available: Just offer him a contract.
- John Danks, White Sox. 7 WAR. Status: Arb 3. Available: Maybe, but probably not to the Twins. I'd be willing to kick the tires though.
Guys who seem worth mentioning though they haven't put up 7 WAR:
- James Shields, Rays. 6.7 WAR. Status: $7m option, $9m '13 option, $12m '14 option. Available: These options seem likely to be picked up, but stranger things have happened. The Rays also might consider trading him.
Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers. 6.7 WAR. Status: Free agent. Available: $$$, but might not want to leave the coast.
- Ryan Dempster, Cubs. 6.3 WAR. Status: $14m player option. Available: Maybe.
- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. 6.1 WAR, all in 2010. Out in 2011 with Tommy John surgery. Status: 2yr/$21m option. Available: Cardinals expect to pick up the option, but with the Pujols soap opera, who knows.
- Carl Pavano, Twins. 5.5 WAR. Status: 1yr/$8.5m. Available: Just don't dump his contract. I don't think anyone sees Pavano as an ace, just wanted him here for perspective.
- Scott Baker, Twins. 5.2 WAR. Status: 1yr/$6.5m, $9.25m option. Available: Ditto.
- Johan Santana, Mets. 3.5 WAR. Status: 2yrs/$55m, $19.5m option. Available: The Mets would pay us to take him back. Not sure if that would be enough.
- Brandon Webb, Rangers. 0 WAR. Status: Free agent. Available: Webb is the project du jour, having missed the last three seasons due to multiple shoulder surgeries. He was really, really good before, racking up 33.1 WAR in his first six years, so is intriguing, but he should also be very very cheap at this point.
So it looks like we have a fairly short list of guys to think about: Free agents CJ Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and maybe Ryan Dempster. One-year rentals Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter, and Anibal Sanchez. Longer-term trade targets Felix Hernandez and James Shields. Recycling projects Santana and Webb. Longshots Floyd, Danks, and Wainwright.
Let's look at Hernandez first. Everybody wants him, and so far Jack Zduriencik has told everyone to go suck an egg. Getting him would involve not only blowing Jack Z away, but outbidding the Yankees in doing so. Without Kyle Gibson to move, that's going to be difficult, and we're probably looking at a package that starts with Miguel Angel Sano, includes another top prospect like Revere, Hicks, Arcia, or Hendriks, and more at the bottom. If it were the one thing to put a well-built team over the top for the next three years, I might consider that, but the Twins are full of holes and it's just not remotely worthwhile.
Shields is more interesting. His contract is reasonable, and he's coming off a very good year. He's less than elite, but has thrown 200 innings for five years in a row, and will be just 30 next season. A bad 2010 might keep his price somewhere near reasonable, plus the Yankees and Red Sox are unlikely to get in on the bidding. I really have no idea how to figure what might bring him in a trade; there was a lot of talk around trading him at the deadline but nothing firm enough to establish a market. He's likely to be the big pitching storyline on the hot stove, and it may very well be worthwhile for the Twins to get in on it. Hicks would probably appeal to the Rays, who will need someone to replace BJ Upton in 2013, so that might be a reasonable place to start.
Haren is obviously a stretch to even be moved - in fact there haven't even been any rumors, I'm just judging the possibility myself - so it figures it will take a significant chunk to make the Angels listen. Much like Hernandez, it seems like the price, if it even happens, would be reasonable for a last piece on a strong team, but not for somebody with swiss cheese all over the roster.
Carpenter depends a lot on whether or not the Cardinals can put a deal together with Albert Pujols; if they can, it certainly makes sense to trade him. At 37, he might not draw a whole lot of interest even on a one-year deal. Unfortunately the Cardinals' most pressing need is middle infielders and catchers, so they match up better with just about everyone else.
Sanchez would have to reach an impasse with the Marlins, and I don't have a sense of how likely that is; if it does happen, it will probably happen late, so there may be a chance at an opportunistic move, but it's not something to plan on. I suspect that if it does happen Miami will hold out for major-league talent in return. They also need help in center field, as 2009 ROY Chris Coghlan has totally failed, so might be interested in Revere or Benson.
The Mets are playing things pretty close to the vest on Santana, but you have to think they're looking for a way out of the rest of that contract. If they were willing to eat thirty or thirty-five million, and take a C-level prospect or two in return, somebody like Holbrooks or Stuifbergen, you'd have to think about it. Obviously it's a hell of a gamble.
Of course there are options that could be had for just money, too, CJ Wilson being the top guy. Unfortunately, with the sparse market this offseason, it seems likely the 31-year-old Wilson will get paid like an elite pitcher despite only posting two seasons with a WAR above 2. Wilson's intriguing because he only moved to the rotation in 2010 and so only has 677 innings on his arm, despite throwing 204 last year and almost certainly over 200 this year. I still think I'd pass on paying him nine figures.
Edwin Jackson is pretty far from an ace, though he's put together three quite good years for an innings-eater. He's also only 28, so might be the best bet on the free agent market just because of his age. On the other hand, his career K/9 is below 7, and his career BB/9 is 3.67. He's gotten a lot of negative press based on perceived overpays in his last two trades. Those things might manage to keep his price down. Jackson seems worth watching, because there might end up being a worthwhile deal in there, especially if handing him to Rick Anderson lowers that walk rate.
Hiroki Kuroda didn't want to go to the East Coast at the trade deadline. (He didn't mention the Midwest, but I expect it was implied.) He might return to Japan. Last year he didn't bother taking offers from anyone but the Dodgers. He turns 37 in February. His WAR total this year is lower than Carl Pavano's, and he pitches in the NL. None of this makes me think he's a good fit.
Ryan Dempster would have to decline $14m for next year, but with a thin market now, a potential glut next year, and what looks like another solid 3 WAR season with a high strikeout rate, I think there's a very good chance it will happen. He'll be 35 next year and looking for one last long-term deal. His career walk rate is over 4, so I doubt he's a target for the Twins, but it has improved in the last few years. Better by FIP and xFIP than ERA and W/L this year, so again not screaming "Twins" at me. Still, he gets a lot of ground balls, and I would consider him if the price were right - maybe something like 3 and $30, though that would almost require him to have made a mistake declining the option. I think he'll get more than that, but worth watching.
Would you take a flier on Brandon Webb for $1m and incentives? I guess it depends on if you have $1m to spare. I'd rather have Webb than Jason Repko or Matt Tolbert, both of whom will probably make that if the Twins tender them contracts. I'd probably rather have Webb than Jose Mijares. Obviously he's not the answer to "what's your plan for making the rotation better?" But he very well might be worth a shot anyway.
So those are the possible good options I'm seeing: trade for Shields. Sign Jackson, Dempster, or Webb. Look to pick up Sanchez if the Marlins can't extend him. Keep an eye on the Cardinals and White Sox, just in case. None of those are really world-beating moves, and none of them are for guys that are really high-end "aces." But the rotation could be bolstered somewhat, if there's a willingness to spend money and prospects. However, it's also worth nothing that next trade deadline/offseason should be a busy time, with Cain, Hamels, Greinke, Carpenter, Sanchez, Liriano, and Danks all on contracts that expire in 2012. So maybe saving bullets is an idea worth considering as well.