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The Minnesota Twins and the best starting pitchers of the 2015-2016 free agent class

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If the Twins want to keep improving the rotation at a time when the team is on the verge of contention, next winter will offer a plethora of options on the free agent market.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Earlier today, I advocated the Minnesota Twins "going all-in" next winter. The reasoning goes: when the wave of prospects arrive, surround them with the best talent that you possibly can. There are the obvious caveats, such as those prospects developing as they're expected to develop this year and the team looking like it's actually poised to pounce in the way that they very well could be. If those things don't come to pass, well, then nevermind. But for now, let's roll with it.

In ten months' time, as we're watching the 2015 post-season unfold, we'll be looking forward to the moves that Terry Ryan and his front office will be making over the winter. As it turns out, the free agent class for starting pitchers next winter will be very, very strong.

How strong? Well, the list of pitchers who could legitimately step into a rotation and be a number one or number two is at least ten deep. There are various concerns about health or club options, but there will be an assortment of options on the market.

Gazing into that future, ten months away, I've picked out 11 pitchers whom I believe look like the best of a good crop.

Name 2016 Age 3-Year
ERA
3-Year
FIP
3-Year
Innings Pitched
3-Year
WHIP
3-Year
K%
3-Year
BB%
3-Year
GB%
3-Year
fWAR
Notes
Clay Buchholz 31 4.19 3.98 468.0 1.28 18.3 7.9 47.2 6.8 $13MM club option with $245K buyout
Johnny Cueto 30 2.54 3.35 521.1 1.06 22.1 6.3 48.0 9.3
Doug Fister 32 3.22 3.51 534.1 1.20 17.8 4.7 51.8 9.3
Yovani Gallardo 30 3.77 3.93 577.0 1.32 20.2 8.2 49.2 6.0
Jaime Garcia 29 3.87 3.33 220.2 1.29 19.4 5.6 56.4 3.6 $11.5MM club option with $550K buyout
Zack Greinke 32 2.96 3.10 592.1 1.16 23.1 5.9 47.9 11.6 Can opt out of remaining 3 years/$71MM
Scott Kazmir 32 3.77 3.42 348.1 1.23 22.5 6.7 42.5 5.9
Mat Latos 28 3.31 3.51 522.1 1.18 20.7 6.9 43.8 8.8
David Price 30 3.05 2.94 646.0 1.09 24.3 4.8 46.1 15.2
Jeff Samardzija 31 3.70 3.50 608.0 1.21 23.7 7.0 47.9 9.6
Jordan Zimmermann 30 2.96 3.18 608.2 1.11 20.1 4.5 43.9 12.3

* All numbers courtesy of FanGraphs. Three-year totals for all players consist of Major League numbers from 2012 through 2014.

A handful of these guys could get nine-digit contracts. I'm not going to debate at this point which pitchers are better or worse fits for the Twins; suffice it to say that it's enough that the abundance of choice exists. Maybe, just maybe, the market saturation brings prices down. Supply and demand, right?

At any rate, the question is this: if the Twins want to make their rotation better for 2016 by bringing in one of these pitchers, how do they make the necessary space in the rotation? As we mentioned earlier:

At this time next year, Alex Meyer and Trevor May should be ready to step into full-time Major League roles in the rotation. Kyle Gibson and Tommy Milone will still be under team control. Phil Hughes is under contract through 2019; Ervin Santana through 2018; Ricky Nolasco for two more years, through 2017. Jose Berrios might be knocking on the door.

If you think the team has questions to answer in two months' time for how they're going to deal with eight starters fighting for five spots, as things sit right now there are already seven guys in the running for those five spots in 2016. And by that time, the Twins won't have the luxury of just shunting May and Meyer back to Triple-A. They will require spots in the rotation.

Non-tendering Milone would be one way to trim the options, but you have to hope Milone is able to rebuild his value after coming to Minnesota last fall and pitching hurt. The other option, the more realistic and potentially unpopular option, would be to explore a series of trades.

While we've guessed that the Twins will send May and Meyer back to Triple-A to start 2015, the pressure is on for the club to find Major League innings for both players. Solving that issue will be hard enough this summer, and would probably require Mike Pelfrey bombing in the long relief role, something happening to Milone (shifting to the bullpen, perhaps, but certainly a trade could work) and, in a pure fit of optimism, could necessitate the Twins trading Ricky Nolasco.

As untenable as that seems right now, not only would it solve the issue of finding starter's innings for May and Meyer in 2015, but it would ease the pressure on the same decision that's looming in 2016. It would require Nolasco to come out this spring and pitch well, and Minnesota would probably need to eat some of that money, but it's not unreasonable to think it could happen.

There's also the option of trading Kyle Gibson. I don't think that's likely, and I'd rather he was retained for 2016 over Nolasco and Milone, but consider this: it's almost impossible to imagine the Twins trading Phil Hughes or Ervin Santana, we want innings for May and Meyer, and we're speculating about the club bringing in one of those very good pitchers in the chart above. The room needs to be made, and if we're entertaining these thoughts it's also worth entertaining the notion that Minnesota could part with Gibson and, say, Eduardo Escobar or Trevor Plouffe, in a year's time. If those players duplicate what they did in 2014, that package could fetch a sizeable return.

I'm going to end it here. We've gone pretty far down the rabbit hole today. It's all worth thinking about though, because the Twins are on the verge of being a good team again. That means there will be some very interesting (and potentially difficult) decisions ahead. And it's exciting. I like that Twins baseball is getting exciting again. Bring on pitchers and catchers.

Could the Twins chase any of the pitchers on that list above? Do you have confidence they'd be able to make the necessary space on the roster? Have I just completely overshot the moon in even exploring the scenario?