Minnesota is in an interesting position over the next year in regards to its pitching staff. With 3 (projected) starters set for free agency at the end of the 2012 season, one with an additional 9 million dollar option, and the last one with a buyout after 2013, the Twins could see a wholesale change in the rotation over the course of two years. So what do we make of it?
To begin, let's look at what we have...
Free Agent 2013
Pay 2012: 8.5 million
Free Agent 2013
Pay 2012: 5.5 million
Free Agent 2013
Pay 2012: 3 million
Free Agent: 2014, option 2013, free buyout
Pay 2012: 6.5 million, 2013: 9.25 million
Free Agent: 2015, option 2014, free buyout
Pay 2012: 4.75 million, 2013: 5.5 million, 2014: 8 million
What we have here is only 1 starter (and its the worst one) guaranteed a contract for 2013. Going down the line, Pavano will in all likelihood be on one or two year deals from now to the end of his career. While I'd like to see the Twins get a good return out of him year after year, the fact is that somebody else should take their risks on him unless he comes cheap. Thus, I can't really see him staying much beyond a year or two longer now if at all. I'll put my money down now and say that Liriano is done in a Twins uniform. Either he's going to come out and pitch his tail off then exit when somebody overpays or the Twins are going to give up on him. He doesn't have a middle road where the Twins wind up paying for him. Marquis is as we all know a gap pitcher. This is nothing but a pitstop (thank all that is holy). Thus, I really think that the Twins will have 3 open spots next year. Heck, all of these 3 are prime selections for deadline day trades for a few desperate teams.
Baker is an interesting thought. Personally, I can see him going lights out with the Twins picking up the option. Out of everybody in this rotation, he's my ace (given, that's not saying much). I rate him high and, if he can pitch up to his potential, he's absolutely worth the 10 million dollars. Essentially, that's just putting Marquis' pay in Baker's pot at the end of the season. If he underperforms, I'd still like to see the Twins try to work something out on the cheap. Out of everybody, he seems the most likely to be in the rotation 2 years from now.
Blackburn is the odd one out in that he stays regardless. The man can ride a hotstreak to the top of the Twins rotation (Late April and May) and then fall off the face of the earth (June and July) only to return to meh at the end of the season so it all works out. However, I sincerely doubt that at the end of 2013 that the Twins are gonna pick up that option. Maybe they go back to the table after the season, but I'm doubtful he'll be in the starting rotation in 2014.
Finally, everybody knows that Brian Duensing is the go to guy should somebody flop out of the rotation. He's still got 4 years of major league contract. Personally, I'd prefer to see him in the bullpen; he reminds me of a left handed Matt Guerrier. You guys can argue for or against if you so choose.
In total, I'd say 4.5/5 of the Twins starters will be gone 2 years from now with either Pavano, Baker, or Blackburn being possibilities. That means the Twins need to find good young pitching. Earlier this offseason I proposed Gio Gonzalez, but sadly that ship has sailed. So, let's look at the Twins minor league pitching. Sadly, this isn't a happy story. The Twins have no pitchers in Keith Law's 100 and of their top 10 by the same source, only 2 are starters. Here are the names that could be up and ready in 2 years.
Kyle Gibson: Age 24, #8 in system per Law
Draft: 1st Rd #22 2009
Projected time of arrival: September 2013
Gibson fell into the Twins lap despite being a highly rated arm because of injury scares in college. Unfortunately, he has lived up to that reputation. Struggling with strains and now surgery, his potential productivity for the Twins will always be limited by concerns about his arm. The fact that he's going to sit out the entirety of 2012 (I really want to blame the medical staff for delaying surgery as it relates to this) means that by the time 2013 rolls around, he's going to be a complete questionmark. When he rocketed through the minors in 2010, I thought we'd be seeing him at the end of last season. When he has pitched, he's been very good. He struck out 8.6 batters per 9 innings last year against 2.5 walks. Hopefully, he regains this form but he's no sure bet.
Liam Hendriks: Age 23
Projected time of arrival: Fall 2012
Hendriks is exactly what you'd expect of the Twins only this time with an Australian accent. His control has been well above average at every level, but his arm isn't going to blow you away. He struggled to get strike outs down the stretch last year at AAA and the majors. Part of this is due to his overwhelming reliance upon his fastball which is his only + pitch due to his great control. His longterm potential will be almost entirely based upon his ability to develop a secondary pitch which, with any luck, will give him Radkesque upside. Personally, I'm not sold on him at this level (given that I'm biased from only watching a few of his major league games). Until he really develops an out pitch which I didn't see, he should be in the minors.
Anthony Swarzak: Age 26
Projected time of arrival: Now/never
Swarzak burst on to the scene a few years ago throwing a couple of absolute gems especially through interleague play. However, as was expected, he then regressed to the mean. Appearing to lose his confidence, he then struggled throughout 2010 before finally regaining some of his form and joining the Twins in mid 2011. At this point he's hardly the high upside youth he once appeared to be. He doesn't strike anyone out at all: 4.9/9 last season which he compliments with meh control for a grand total of 2.12K/BB last season. Personally, I see him as Boof Bonser all over again.
Alex Wimmers: Age 23
Projected time of arrival: Fall 2013 hopefully
Wimmers is another starter drafted by the Twins out of college in the 1st round. With a low-mid 90's fastball and some decent junk, Wimmers dominated A level pitching when his control didn't get in the way. In 56.1 innings over 2 years at Fort Myers, he's averaging over 10 Ks per 9 innings. However, this was partially done in relief. While the Twins hope he can run through AA & AAA over the next year or so, he struggled greatly with walks last year which is slightly disconcerting (even more so for the Twins than most other organizations).
After this, it really becomes scraps if we're looking for quick fixes. Scott Diamond, Luke French, Jeff Manship and so on all will take up large chunks of the minor league roster but have no real longterm potential. Steve Hirschfield and Bobby Lanigan both had solid years at AA in 2011 but nobody seems to be talking about them so neither will I.
The Twins are really short on pitching at the minor league level. With possibly 4 open spots over the next 2 years, the Twins are really relying on this small group of top level prospects to step up or they're going to have to turn to a bunch of people I don't really want to even think about. I was arguing earlier this winter for the Twins to capitalize on this glut of outfield prospects and get a young ace. However, almost all those ships have now sailed and the Twins will have to wait a year to see who's available.If you find the problem of the rotation terrifying, I can assure you that you aren't alone. I'm personally arguing that the apocalypse predicted by the Mayans was actually warning about the future of the Twins rotation come December 2012.
I forget anybody? Disagree with a player report? Think the Twins will go in a different direction? Leave a comment so it doesn't look like I'm just pissing into the wind!