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Should the Twins Trade a Starter?

A lot people are set on the fact that Kevin Slowey is likely to be non-tendered or traded for whatever meager return he can fetch at this point. At the very least, that move would come as no surprise. However, there have been a couple of other starters floating about on the rumor mill of late, but do the Twins have the pitching depth to move names like Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano? My take and a poll after the jump.

Three years ago, if someone had told you that Pavano would be regarded as a steady innings eater who’s all but a lock for 200 innings, would you have done anything more than laugh in their face? Pavano was coming off a dreadful stretch with the Yankees where he pitched just 145.1 innings over a four-year contract in the Bronx. He signed an incentive-based deal with the Indians that guaranteed him $1.5M that offseason. How the times have changed.

In what can be politely described as a train wreck for the Twins’ 2011 rotation, Pavano was the Rock of Gibraltar, making 33 starts, completing three of them, and compiling 222 innings. He led the league in hits allowed (262), and regressed from his 3.75 ERA in 2010 to 4.30. Still, his durability, razor sharp command, and ground ball rate over 50% would make him appealing to teams despite his lack of strikeouts (4.14 K/9 in 2011).

One team that seems particularly interested is the Rockies, who have made no secret about their desire to find a starting pitcher this offseason. The obvious connection to make would be Huston Street, as the Rockies would like to move Rafael Betancourt into the closer’s role in Denver. Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote last week that he expects the Rockies to try to deal Street for a starter like Pavano or Baltimore’s Jeremy Guthrie. I agree with Tim Dierkes’ assessment at MLBTR that the Rockies could acquire better long-term assets than Pavano or Guthrie for Street, but they may want some more immediate help if Renck’s speculation is accurate.

I can see the argument for the Street-for-Pavano package (assuming any other parts are merely complementary pieces and the Twins don’t give up anything more of significant value). Street’s contract has him at $7.5M this year with a $9M club option for 2013. That saves the Twins $1M in 2012 ($1.5M if Pavano hits his $500K innings pitched incentives again in 2012), and all but guarantees that Matt Capps signs elsewhere, netting a supplemental pick. Pavano's rotation spot could be filled by a free agent like Aaron Harang, although his durability hasn’t been as strong as Pavano’s.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo named Liriano as a starter that should interest the Red Sox, despite his Hindenberg-esque 2011. Parker Hageman told his followers on Twitter yesterday to play GM, asking whether or not they’d move Liriano. I replied by saying that Liriano shouldn’t be off limits, but I wouldn’t merely dump him because he’s still affordable (projected $5.7M salary) and his upside for that price is huge.

As I said in my next two tweets, if you were to trade Liriano, where do you spend the $5.7M? There’s no clear-cut better upgrade available on free agency. That money might buy you an arm like Harang or Paul Maholm, but neither has Liriano’s upside, and I doubt the return would justify that drop in the Twins’ rotation ceiling. Liriano didn’t have a good enough 2011 campaign for that. The Red Sox would likely be attempting to buy low on a high-upside arm. There’s no real way for Terry Ryan to justify asking for equal value to that upside, and no real way for Ben Cherington to justify actually meeting those theoretical demands. I hope and expect that the Twins will hang onto Liriano for next season and gamble on receiving something closer to 2010 than 2011.

From a purely speculative basis, I could see a good amount of interest in Scott Baker if the Twins decided to make him available with the line of thinking that he pitched terrifically in 2011 but can never stay healthy. Still, at just $6.5M this year with a $9.25M option in 2013, he’s a pretty big bargain even if he only delivers 130 innings. But, for the purposes of this post, I imagine he’d draw interest. His injuries, however, would prevent a high impact return.

The question with all of this though, is whether or not the Twins have the depth available to trade a starting pitcher. The "fast track" college arms they drafted in 2009 and 2010 (Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers) have experienced major setbacks. Anthony Swarzak is, at his very best, a fifth starter (and likely worse than that). Liam Hendriks has barely pitched at the Triple-A level. Slowey is probably gone, one way or another.

My preference is still the high-upside pairing that I mentioned a few weeks back. I wouldn’t be furious with the Pavano-for-Street swap, assuming the club filled Pavano’s role with a potentially effective pitcher. However, I’d rather just see them preserve the already limited rotation depth and fill the closer's role externally with a reasonable free agent or a more shrewd acquisition by Terry Ryan.

Steve Adams also writes for and contributes to Fantasy Baseball and You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve