Terry Ryan's offseason might not be over just yet. He told reporters at TwinsFest this weekend that there are still a few free agents out there by whom he's intrigued. Darren Wolfson reported over the weekend that the team is basically waiting on Joe Saunders to decide whether or not to accept their one-year offer. Saunders, despite having minimal leverage at this point in the offseason, is still hoping for a three-year deal. Wolfson noted that the Twins might be willing to expand their offer to two years.
I don't think the Twins have done well in terms of free agency this offseason, but this seems to be the right strategy. Holding out and making Saunders come down to their price is a good move, given his limited leverage. The team is looking toward 2014, and adding Saunders on a two-year deal doesn't do a ton to further that line of thinking. In a year when the team's top prospects will be knocking on the door of the Major League level, the Twins needn't have two rotation spots locked up by Saunders and Kevin Correia in 2014. That would leave just one spot (assuming Vance Worley and Scott Diamond are both still in the picture) for one of Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer and Trevor May to contribute in some capacity.
Saunders would be a reasonable, albeit unspectacular addition to the 2013 team. He'd increase the respectability of the rotation, but this isn't someone who really merits a multi-year deal from an American League team. Saunders was basically a league-average pitcher in 2012 (103 ERA+), and posted the best K/9 (5.8) and K/BB (2.87) of his career.
While moving to the National League in past years didn't help Saunders' meager strikeout rate, it did in 2012. Of his 112 strikeouts, 18 came against pitchers. Saunders whiffed a whopping 45% of the pitchers he faced. In fact, he oddly enough was one of the most dominant arms in the game against opposing pitchers. He allowed just three hits in 36 at-bats and held pitchers to a .083/.083/.083 batting line. Even Clayton Kershaw allowed a .373 OPS to pitchers.
Take out the opposing pitchers, and Saunders allowed a .292/.332/.454 batting line to opposing hitters, striking out just 13.3% of those players. That K% would've ranked as the 11th-lowest on the list of pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2012 (Diamond and Correia also make appearances below him). And unlike the other arms the Twins have brought in, Saunders isn't a ground-ball fiend. He's below 44% for the past three seasons.
All in all, Saunders probably makes the team better in 2013 on a one-year deal. An ERA around 4.50 over the course of 175-200 innings is probably a reasonable expectation, and he'd probably end up kicking in somewhere around 1-1.5 wins above replacement, if you're inclined to such stats.
I like that the Twins appear to be holding their ground. While Saunders certainly wasn't my ideal choice for a final free agent pursuit, it's tough to argue that he'd make the team any worse in 2013. I'm on board for a one-year deal, but given his lack of leverage and stats against non-pitchers, I'd be pretty disappointed if the Twins caved and gave him multiple years.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com, RotoAuthority.com and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve.