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Rejiggering the 2014 Twins: starting pitching

Posted by PSzalapski , 21 July 2013 · 565 views

All along this year, I have been holding out hope that the 2014 Twins could compete to win their division. Although things look a bit dimmer now than at the beginning of the year, I'd like to think that's still true. I've been mulling over what needs to be done to make that happen.

I was at Target Field for Saturday's game against the Indians. My first disappointment was that Kevin Correia was pitching--but I couldn't any Twins pitcher that I'd rather see. I settled into my seat and took in every Twins batter that came up. As the Twins went through the lineup, I realized that I had no confidence in any of them except Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Sure enough, they both went 2-for-3 with a walk, whereas the rest of the team was 2-for-25. This performance brought to memory all I already know about the Twins. I questioned my assumption that the Twins could win a lot next year, and I began to ponder what they should do. Here's what I came up with.

Some ground rules: I'm assuming twelve pitchers, as that seems to be more common for the Twins lately. I'm assuming only one backup outfielder (especially since the Twins have none right now), and that Ryan Doumit can continue as the second catcher without further backup. I'm figuring on six capable starting pitchers, as you always need at least that many, if not seven or eight. Obviously, this is only one example roster, and the real 2014 roster will fluctuate throughout the season.

First, here's the default roster--that is, if Terry Ryan does nothing, here's what we're stuck with. Surprisingly, there are very few differences from 2013; the only free agents leaving are Morneau, Jamey Carroll, and Mike Pelfrey. I'm assuming they will all be gone--even if any of them re-sign, that will be a free agent signing we should consider just like any other. Also, with Morneau's declining production, I can't see the Twins offering Morneau a $14M one-year qualifying offer, as Morneau would probably just take it and be happy, eating up too much payroll too fast.

I've also included the players' presumed 2014 salary and their service time (if bound to the Twins) or contract expiration. (There's a lot of nuance I'm not capturing here; suffice it to say that players with 3 years of experience are eligible for arbitration and those with 6 years experience can become free agents.)
2014 Minnesota Twins - Apathy edition
Pos Player    Salary  Service/Contract
=== ========= ======  =======
  C Mauer     $23.0M   2018
 1B Parmelee     .5M   1 yr       
 2B Dozier       .5M   1 yr
 SS Florimon     .5M   1 yr
 3B Plouffe     1.5M   3 yr
 LF Willingham  7.0M   2014
 CF Hicks        .5M   1 yr
 RF Arcia        .5M   1 yr
 DH Doumit      3.5M   2014
 UI Escobar      .5M   2 yr
 4O Thomas       .5M   1 yr
 1B Colabello    .5M   Rookie
 1P Gibson       .5M   Rookie 
 2P Worley       .5M   2 yr
 3P Correia     5.5M   2014
 4P Deduno       .5M   1 yr
 5P Diamond      .5M   2 yr
 6P Walters      .5M   2 yr
 RP Swarzak     2.0M   3 yr
 RP Thielbar     .5M   1 yr
 RP Fien         .5M   1 yr 
 RP Duensing    2.5M   4 yr    
 RP Burton      3.3M   2015
 CP Perkins     3.8M   2016
25-man roster 59.6M

Well, that's depressing. What can we do to improve this? The one bright spot is that we have a lot of money to work with. The 2013 payroll is at $85 million, and Twins President Dave St. Peter has stated that Ryan could have spent more had there been some good buys out there. I'm going to assume that the Twins, if they see an opportunity to be competitive, could easily spend $100 million on payroll in 2014; the chance is there for them to spend even more. MAke no mistake: the Twins will never spend money for the sake of it; they certainly could cut salary again in 2014 if there isn't a big improvement.

Let's start with the most obvious need: starting pitching. I'm going to stash Alex Meyer at Rochester with the assumption that he'll be called up mid-season. His time in New Britain this year is going well but not superb, and he isn't the youngest prospect pitcher in the Twins system, so they need to get him up as soon as he can possibly be successful.

First up in the real rotation, Correia has been pleasantly adequate as a starting pitcher, so I will be keeping him in the rotation. The bottom line is that it is always hard to get starting pitchers, and the Twins don't have the luxury of discarding a above-replacement-level starter already signed, so I've penciled him in.

The same thinking goes for Vance Worley. I'm going to assume he will eventually be called up to rejoin the Twins this year and being contributing. The Twins signed him to be a middle-of-the-rotation guy for years to come, and it would be foolish--especially at his pre-arbitration salary--to give up on him or stash him at Rochester. His absence just leaves too big a hole to fill.

Likewise, you can't give up on Kyle Gibson even if the rest of his rookie year ends up a bit stinky. Gibson needs to be better next year for the Twins to win, and there's no reason to think that impossible or even unlikely.

Ideally, those three would be the back of the rotation, not the front. Minor-league options like Andrew Albers, P.J. Walters, or Logan Darnell aren't going to cut it. The Twins need to go sign or trade for some starters.

I have no idea who the Twins could get, but whoever they are, they need to be very good if this team is to be competitive. Let's just start with someone like James Shields, who has a 3.83 career ERA, a 4.6 K/BB ratio, and high innings pitched every year. Assuming the Royals decline their $14M option, could he be had for 3 years, $45M? It would be one of the biggest contracts the Twins have ever given out, but that's what it takes to get a top starting pitcher.

The Twins wanted but couldn't get Phil Hughes from the Yankees in the talks for Johan Santana. Assuming the Yankees don't want him back, could the Twins make a big splash and sign Hughes to his first free agent deal? It might take a big number--I'll just randomly guess 5 years, $75M? I'm more likely to say the Twins would be nuts to commit that many years to a pitcher with a mixed record. Instead, the Twins could have a less risky move in signing a reclamation project; how about Scott Kazmir? His comeback year with the Indians is going well; maybe the Twins could snatch him up for 2 years/$12 million.

Also, after the Nishioka debacle, they are probably wary--but could the Twins could make another run internationally and try to acquire someone like Suk Min Yoon? The Korean phenom was rumored to be coming to America in 2012, but he never went on the market. After two more excellent years in Korea, maybe 2014 would be more to his liking?

If the Twins could get two of these players (or any other good starting pitching), a winning team for 2014 looks conceivable. If they can't, I might as well not finish this series, because their pitching won't allow them to compete regardless of any lineup overhauls.

Pos Player    Salary  Service/Contract
=== ========= ======  =======
 1P Shields    15.0M  ??? 
 2P Gibson       .5M  Rookie 
 3P Kazmir      6.0M  ???
 4P Worley       .5M  2 yr
 5P Correia     5.5M  2014
 6P Deduno       .5M  1 yr[FONT=courier new]
Payroll increased to $80.6M[/FONT]
Next up: the Twins need more hitting, too. In the meantime, what possible starting pitching moves do you think are ambitious but conceivable for the Twins?