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Twins 2012 Fifth Starter - Who Ya Got?

Regardless of your political persuasion, one could probably be forgiven if they felt like the remaining competitors among free agent starters mirror the Republican field for president in 2012. Not exactly awe-inspiring, but maybe a sleeper in there that could get the job done until a more viable contender comes along.

So grab a cup of joe and open up those peepers as we take an early-morning peek at some of those options, and handicap the fifth starter’s role a bit (percentages completely arbitrary and off the top of my head).

Joel Pineiro

Pineiro would appear to be the quintessential Twins pitcher. He doesn’t fan a ton of batters (5.4 K/9 career mark), rolls his fair share of wormburners (49.2 percent), and should come at a relatively low price.The problem with Pineiro likely stems from why he’s likely not to command too much money; he missed time early last season with shoulder issues, and didn’t really get on track when he was healthy. Pineiro’s K/9 rate tumbled to a sub-Pavanian 3.8 mark, and his 5.13 ERA was more than a full run worse than either of his previous two marks. It’s probably not unfair to ask if Pineiro, who is entering his age-33 season, will ever see better days. Still, on a one-year, relatively-cheap deal, he could be worth the risk. His BABIP was .324 last season (.298 career), and his 4.38 xFIP doesn’t look all that bad at the end of a rotation. Ideally, he could fill the role of Carl Pavano more cheaply, but even that seems too risky. (Chances: 35 percent)

Edwin Jackson

When it comes down to philosophy, there’s what Jackson does, what the Twins preach, and a gap the size of Springfield gorge in between. Jackson has alternated hot and cold more often than a female 40-something ever since making his debut as a fresh-faced 19-year-old in 2003. In that time, Jackson has posted the following seasonal whiff rates: 7.8 (2x), 7.2, 6.8, 6.7 (2x), 5.8, 5.3, and 4.1. Similarly, he’s posted the following walk rates: 6.2, 5.3, 4.9, 4.5, 4.0, 3.8, 3.4, 2.9, and 2.8. Those whiff rates are troubling for a hurler who AVERAGES 94.2 miles-per-hour on his heater -- and the walk rates are troubling for, well, anyone. Add to it a terrific power slider, a passable curveball, and a show-me changeup, and it’s hard to see how he isn’t much closer to fanning a guy an inning. Face it, the Twins have a left-handed version already in tow, so they’re not going to spend the going rate on a Liriano clone. (Chances: <5 percent)

Roy Oswalt

Oswalt is by far the most established starter left on the market, and if this conversation were taking place a year ago, he’d have set the market rather than waited for it. Unfortunately, Oswalt’s free agent foray takes place on the heels of a season in which he only tossed 139 innings, only fanned 6 batters per nine, and posted the second-worst xFIP of his storied 11-season career. Entering his age-34 season, is Oswalt the same pitcher he was just last year in Houston? Probably not. But he’s still likely to be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA -- at least if he stays in the National League -- and should be able to make good on a one-year deal, which recent reports suggest he’s willing to sign. Of course, this is probably with the notion of rebuilding value. This is definitely a wise move for Oswalt and agent Barry Meister, because Roy will still only be 35 at the end of next season, and could still effectively cash in on a moderately long deal to wind down his under-the-radar career. (Chances: 15 percent)

Jeff Francis

Predictably, some of the first interest that sprung up in Mr. Francis was by your local nine. Indeed, the Twins have shown some interest in the glacier-balling lefty, and it should come as no surprise. Francis, who at one time was a hot-shot Rockies prospect with an 88-mile-per-hour heater, has fallen on a bit of hard times. For one, he played for the Royals last season, and all he had to show for it was a 6-16 record, 4.82 ERA, and career-low 4.5 K/9. It’s probably fair to blame it on his heater cooler, as his fastball averaged a mere 84.7 last season. To Francis’ credit, he realized his shortcomings and threw the fastball far less than usual, instead relying on a decent curveball and average changeup, but there’s really no projection here. He could carve out a run of Bruce Chen-like success, but let’s face it: There’s just one Bruce Chen. Still, it seems likely that the Twins will want this left-handed version of Nick Blackbu
rn, or at least more likely than anyone else we’ll chat about today. (Chances: 65 percent)

Jon Garland

Ahh yes, the face that launched a thousand barbs. I had an infamous message board battle with another fellow over Mr. Garland. The opposing fellow argued with me over my choice of free agent rotation candidates, and simply stated that Garland would be better for the Twins than the guy I favored. To my opponent’s favor, Garland went on to superficially succeed in San Diego -- what starter doesn’t -- while my guy’s season was marred with injuries and inconsistency. Injuries and inconsistency only ‘dodged’ Garland for that season, however, as he missed much of 2011 with the Dodgers due to a rotator cuff injury that can be all sorts of debilitating to pitchers of any ilk, let alone a groundballer like Garland. Nonetheless Garland, when healthy, is your run-of-the-mill 45 percent groundballer who typically FIPs in the 4.50s and will win double-digits worth of games by virtue of his durability (nine-straight 190-plus IP campaigns before 2011). One, does this sound like someone else you know -- See: Blackburn, N -- and two, if he’s not guaranteed that glorious durability, is that really someone you want to have around? I’ll give Garland this: Target Field can play a lot like Petco, and that should mean that he could be sneaky good in such a ballpark. However, I just think there are plenty better options to consider. He may not even be ready for spring training, anyway. (Chances: 10 percent)

Rich Harden

Harden was the second guy in the Garland controversy. I’ve long been a Harden fan -- what can I say, I love me some strikeouts -- and I’ve always thought he could be had for a reasonable deal because his durability tends to scare away more suitors than it attracts. Sure, Harden has taken his lumps over the past three seasons (4.79 ERA, 1.46 WHIP), but he’s also fanned 9.6 per nine over that time frame, and would give the Twins a different look on the right-handed side. Let’s face it: He’s a much cheaper version of Jackson. On a one-year, incentive-based deal, he’d make a ton of sense as a guy whose contract wouldn’t be prohibitive if a move to the bullpen was necessitated. Again, I’ve debated at length that this is the best thing for him, because if he’s likely to only toss 90-100 innings, why not have them be the innings of your choosing rather than 20 five-inning starts? Nonetheless, I’m not holding out hope, but I still would think the Twins would do well to add a fireballer of Harden’s ilk. (Chances: 30 percent)

The rest of ‘em (ranked by IP in 2011): Javier Vazquez*, Brad Penny, Paul Maholm, Jason Marquis, and Zach Duke.

*Unofficially retired