I'm not sure what's gotten into me lately. Maybe it's the pressure of the upcoming move, or maybe it's just the way the Twins have looked for most of 2011, but I feel like I'm being pessimistic. And I'm not a pessimist. But let's jog, very quickly, through our options for the Minnesota rotation in 2012.
Scott Baker - The guy we all thought would be the one sure thing in the '12 rotation. Or at least, that's what he was to me. Baker has been outstanding this season, and being healthy was a big part of that success. His fastball has been one of the better ones in Major League baseball, and he was seemingly putting his tools together to showcase the best possible version of himself. And he was fun to watch. But with the recent news that another stint on the disabled list might be upcoming, and let's be honest that definitely means it's upcoming, I'm nervous about his elbow. He's still having issues with it, and it's the same elbow that was cleaned up last winter. I'd be lying if I said Baker's right elbow wasn't a big concern for me right now.
Francisco Liriano - What makes it harder to bear Liriano is that he's so much better than every other pitcher on this list. Potentially. But he runs hot and cold. If he puts it together again in '12, like he did in '06 or '10, then he's more than capable of being a staff ace and Cy Young contender. But if he's enigmatic again next season, even if he's healthy all year he's a number three starter.
Carl Pavano - He's certainly capable of soaking up innings and working deep into games, provided he doesn't succumb to an avalanche of hits and runs in the process. Definitely on the down swing of his career, and if he's not claimed by another club this month I doubt the Twins will be able to shift him this winter. At least, not without picking up a good chunk of his salary, and I'd have doubts about moving him even then.
Nick Blackburn - Nick is another good innings eater at the bottom of the rotation. While he's still making the kind of money he's scheduled to make over the next year or two there's certainly value in that. Reliability is good from the back of the rotation, even if there isn't any upside. If he could find a way to miss more bats he'd be a good number three, but ultimately he's going to profile as a number four or number five.
Brian Duensing - Like Blackburn, Duensing profiles as a guy who has value at the back end of the rotation. Duensing is still under team control as well, which helps in terms of cost-to-value ratios. But he still gets pounded by right-handed hitters which means that, just maybe, he's a guy who should be situated in a long relief or left specialist role. It's not necessary right now, but it's definitely worth thinking about for 2012.
Kevin Slowey - At some point this season the Twins will need to give Kevin another shot at The Bigs, and it will, essentially, be an audition for him for next year. Whether that audition is for the Twins, or for the Twins on the trade market, is up for debate. But one thing is for sure: he's not a sure shot, and just like everyone else on this list he has question marks attached to him.
Anthony Swarzak - He's pitched brilliantly in long relief so far this year, but just like Blackburn and Duensing and Pavano he doesn't have good stuff. He relies on guile, location, command and his defense, and when offenses get a lock on him he does get blown up. We've seen it before, and there's a reason we didn't see him in Minnesota at all last season. He's been the benefactor or some luck this season. Does he deserve a shot at the rotation next year? Probably. But again, he won't be more than a back-end guy. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that the Twins have a lot of those.
Kyle Gibson - With Tommy John in his future, potentially, we're still in wait-and-see mode with Kyle. Here's hoping for the best, but if I'm honest I'm hoping they put him under the knife asap if that's what it will take. A prescription of rest hasn't worked for guys in the past, and if we want him to be ready as early as possible, then the earlier he does in for surgery the better. I know it's better to be safe than sorry, but the track record of the Minnesota training staff has left me a little trigger happy.
Liam Hendriks - Hendriks strikes me as a potential rotation candidate next spring. As far as I know he hasn't encountered any health issues this season, and he's posting another effective and successful season in the minor leagues. I'd go so far as to say that, of all the Twins starters in the minors, Hendriks has the best chance to make it into the rotation first.
Jeff Manship - Manship has posted decent numbers in Rochester over the last couple seasons, but he doesn't have the ceiling of Gibson or Hendriks. Manship strikes me as a guy who, in some respects, is like Swarzak. He's capable of being effective in small doses, and he could potentially fill in short-term in the rotation, but his upside is likely as a long or middle reliever. Prolonged exposure to Major League hitters is likely to expose his vulnerabilities.