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Starting Pitchers: Damaged Goods Available

The Twins now have approximately $62 million committed to eight players who are under contract for 2010, and with J.J. Hardy's estimated arbitration salary likely somewhere around $6 million Minnesota will have approximately $17 million to shell out to their arb-eligible players. Even with a payroll which would open the year at over $80 million for the first time in frachise history the organization is still in a position to add some payroll. How much? Probably not too much. But with third base, second base and two rotation spots up for grabs there's no doubt the front office will continue on their quest to improve the team.

Minnesota has picked up a bit of a stigma as an organization that likes to rely on bargain-bin veterans to flesh out their roster, and there hasn't been a shortage of that philosophy applied to the starting rotation over the last few years. Do your ears still flush red when you think of Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson? Or maybe Livan Hernandez still has you a bit baffled? Those moves, at the time, were railroaded for the quality of the player rather than the organization's decision to bring in veteran help, although there was also a strong belief that a rotation centered around Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker would be just fine.

The front office agreed with us last winter, and they stayed fully in-house when constructing their rotation.

Things can change a lot in the span of a year. An area of strength going coming out of 2008 is a bit of a weakness, or at the very least not nearly as deep as we thought it would be, coming out of 2009. For a team that will always look to get the most value for their dollar, if they do choose to supplement the rotation in the free agent market, their highest reward scenarios might center around these guys. Read all about them after the break.

Rich Harden

#40 / Pitcher / Chicago Cubs





Nov 30, 1981

2009 - Rich Harden 9-9 27 26 0 0 0 0 141.0 122 74 64 23 67 171 4.09 1.34

26 starts in 2009 and 25 starts in 2008--not bad. Then there were the 13 starts in '06 and '07 combined, with 19 starts made in '05. In fact, in Harden's six-plus star-crossed seasons in the majors he has had exactly one full season: 2004.

A couple of back injuries, a strained left oblique and a rap sheet full of right-arm issues, Harden's inability to keep himself on the mound isn't exactly a secret. Which is why he's even on this list. Anyone who can strike out more than a man per inning while allowing less than a hit per inning, with that kind of fastball and that kind of stuff, is a guy who's makeup has "Ace" dripping out of every pore.

This past season Harden missed 19 games in May and June due to issues with his back, before coming back and eventually being shut down at the end of September because of his pitching arm. Again.

Obviously he's a risk, but that's why I wanted to talk about these guys. The oblique strains don't bother me--it's the problems (plural) that Harden has had with his rotator cuff and his UCL. His mechanics aren't exactly smooth and without constant training to strengthen and stabalize his cuff I'm worried he could have to resort to Tommy John surgery at any time. But I'm not a doctor.

Harden is likely to garner a lot of guarded interest this off-season, and in spite of his injuries and high pitch count innings could still receive multi-year offers that would be worth double-digit millions easy. Naturally I'm not opposed to the Twins chasing him and signing him to a deal as long as it's done right. While the Twins may not be able to guarantee more money than most of the other clubs out there, offering him a low base with a number of achieveable incentives for games started and innings pitched could make a deal at least tempting.

My offer: Two years with team option for year a third. 2010: $4 million base ($500K for 12, 17, 22, 27 and 32 starts; $500 K for 100, 125, 150, 175, 200 innings pitched; $9 million possible; $1 million buyout option if less than 100 innings pitched). 2011: $6 million base, same incentives. 2012: $10 million base, same incentives, $1 million buyout.

Ben Sheets

#15 / Pitcher / Milwaukee Brewers





Jul 18, 1978

Sheets didn't pitch at all in 2009, and at two years older than Harden would be 32 in 2010. His rap sheet of injuries is even more varied than the Cubs ace, with long stretches of time missed for back injuries, finger injuries and, of course, right arm injuries. This last time around he's had flexor tendon surgery and, if you listen to his agent, would be ready for spring training.

He doesn't strike out quite as many guys as Harden but he still allows less than a hit per inning, has better control and is far more efficient with his pitches. Prior to this last surgery anyway. Like Harden his fastball is mid to upper-90's, and his breaking balls can break your knees. Prior to this last surgery anyway.

Sheets made 31 starts and pitched 198 innings in 2008 before missing all of '09, but from '05 to '07 he wasn't pitching full years either. From the ages of 23 to 25 though, which may be where some of these problems began for a guy who was at the time a younger pitcher, Sheets made 102 starts and threw more than 670 innings. You could argue he was over-worked, although by the time a guy hits his mid-20's he should be able to handle a full load. I tend to lean away from the over-worked arguement.

Where I see Harden landing with a more high-profile team who is willing to take a chance on him and spend a little more ching, Sheets is the option who already looks like he'll appeal to everybody. Second-tier teams (like the Twins) who still have a little wiggle room might run straight for the former Brewer to avoid getting drawn into a process with Harden.

My offer: One year with a team option for a second. 2010: $3 million base ($500 K for 11, 22 and 33 starts; $500 K for 100, 125, 150, 175 and 200 innings; $7 million possible). 2011: $5 million base, same incentives, $500K buyout.

Erik Bedard

#45 / Pitcher / Seattle Mariners





Mar 06, 1979

2009 - Erik Bedard 5-3 15 15 0 0 0 0 83.0 65 29 26 8 34 90 2.82 1.19

Bedard had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder back in August, repairing what had been a spot of general disrepair. A torn labrum was the main issue, but the area apparently needed a good clearing. Apparently he'll be ready for the beginning of the season, but it's the second time in as many years where he made just 15 starts.

His stuff, just like the stuff of Harden and Sheets, qualifies him as an ace. He can be a dominant strikeout pitcher at times, although a little streaky even when healthy and not as efficient with his pitches as Sheets. What had been very low fly-ball numbers increased slightly in Seattle, but his plus fastball and plus breaking ball continued to be his best pitches and were seemingly unaffected.

The biggest issues with the former Mariner and Oriole enigma are his consistency and, just like the other two guys on this list, his inability to stay healthy for a whole season. His control tends to stray at times as well.

My offer: Identical to Sheets' offer.


Clearly there are more guys on the market than these three who could qualify as damaged goods. Mark Prior is attempting a comeback, Bartolo Colon is still floating (or sinking) around out there somewhere and even a guy like Noah Lowry has some appeal. But these three guys are the creme of the crop, because they all have the ability to be that elusive Ace pitcher.

Is there a safer option between the three? Which guy would you prefer, if any?