The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 28, 2012

Thoma column: With pitching staffed pruned, Twins must now graft arms

By Edward Thoma
Free Press Staff Writer

— Last week the Twins began their offseason project of remodeling the starting rotation with some addition by subtraction. Soon it will be time to add by addition.

The 2012 Twins used 12 different starting pitchers, each of whom got at least five starts. Of those 12, just seven remained on the 40-man roster Sunday and one of those, Carl Pavano, is only there as a technicality — he’ll be a free agent now that the World Series is completed.

Of the seven who remain, only Scott Diamond is a certainty to be in the 2012 rotation.

A vague guess at where Terry Ryan and Co. will go from here:

1) Import two established starters, one via trade and one via free agency.

2) Re-sign Scott Baker and target a rotation spots for a rehab project.

3) Let the other candidates sort themselves out for the fifth spot.

A few thoughts about that framework:

First: Established starters don’t come easy or cheap in the trade market.

Last offseason, by my count, 10 pitchers who had made it through at least one full year in a major league rotation were traded, and six of them were traded for one of the others. Two of the other four brought back prospects who themselves wound up in major league rotations during the season.

Which means that only two established starters went in trades that didn’t involve either another established starter or a major-league-ready prospect.

The Twins lack those kinds of pitching chips. They do have some trade chips to use in this pursuit: They have two major-league center fielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere, and they have two first basemen in Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee. They have a raft of good outfield prospects in their system.

But those are the rare pitching trades these days.

I suspect that whatever trade the Twins do make, that my reaction will be that they gave up too much.

Second: The Twins are said to be near an agreement with Baker, who is rehabbing from ligament replacement surgery, for his return. If he does, it’s quite likely that he won’t be ready to pitch in the majors in April, and his innings will be limited.

Prospect Kyle Gibson is about nine months ahead of Baker chronologically in his rehab process. He too will have his innings limited, but unlike Baker should be able to pitch at the start of the season.

I can see the Twins essentially splitting a rotation spot between the two. I think they’d be pleased to get 200 innings out of the combination — say 120 from Gibson and 80 from Baker.

They are unlikely to neatly divide one rotation spot that way, with Gibson pitching into August and Baker then taking his place. Expect some overlap in which both are in the rotation.

Third: Naming a front-runner for the fifth spot in this scenario is an exercise in futility. Candidates include (alphabetically) Nick Blackburn, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing and probably Anthony Swarzak.

The only real reason to include Blackburn (who is not on the 40) is that he has a $5.5 million contract. Swarzak and Duensing have been much better as relievers than as starters.

If I had to pick between Deduno and De Vries, I’d pick De Vries. But there’s a whole offseason between now and April.

 

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.