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Sports Columns

February 17, 2013

Thoma: Twins have plenty of camp competition to fill out rotation

— In my last column of 2012 — back in October — I predicted that the Twins would follow this approach to rebuilding their awful starting rotation around Scott Diamond:

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

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

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

I erred only in being specific about Scott Baker as the pitcher for the rehab project. But I called the basic approach accurately.

So how did they do?

The Twins traded for Vance Worley, a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher with two partial seasons in the Philadelphia rotation: 18-13, 3.50 in 46 starts.

He had a “minor” elbow surgery late last season to clear out some bone chips — fairly routine stuff for a major league pitcher. Reports early this spring have the “Vanimal” healthy and ready to go.

Worley isn’t likely to draw Cy Young votes at any point in his career, but he can be a useful starter in a postseason rotation.

The Twins signed Kevin Correia as a free agent. This move was almost universally panned outside the organization, and it deserved all the disdain it received.

Correia is 32, he has a bad strikeout rate, he has a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio, and he doesn’t pitch deep into games. He’s been mediocre at best despite pitching exclusively in the National League with pitchers’ parks for his home fields.

This is the Jason Marquis mistake of 2012 revisited, only worse. Marquis was a one-year deal for $3 million. Correia is twice as long for more than three times the money.

This signing, as I said on the blog during the winter, suggests that, despite Terry Ryan’s insistence that the Twins do use statistical analysis, they either have incompetent analysts or don’t take their work seriously.

The Twins’ rehab signing was Mike Pelfrey, former Mets workhorse who, like Baker, had Tommy John surgery early in the 2012 regular season. Unlike Baker, Pelfrey hit spring training claiming to be ready for a full season in the rotation.

We’ll see how that shakes out. Of their pre-injury histories, I’d rather have Baker, because he has superior strikeout rates. But Pelfrey had the better durability history, and there’s a reasonable case to be made for him.

Pelfrey is on a one-year deal, and given that Scott Boras is his agent, the odds are that if he does indeed thrive in this first season back from major surgery that he’s going to go hunting for a big contract elsewhere. If the Twins had to give somebody a two-year deal, I would have preferred it be Pelfrey.

A fourth veteran import, Rich Harden, was signed to a minor-league contract. Harden’s formidable talents of a decade ago have been shattered by repeated injury, and he didn’t pitch at all in 2012. He’s a lottery ticket.

There are plenty of other candidates to fill out the rotation. Nine of last season’s dismal dozen are back, plus there’s Kyle Gibson, the long-awaited prospect who spent 2012 rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery.

The Twins have, by my estimation, 19 potential rotation candidates in camp. But the bulk of the rotation is going to be Diamond and the newcomers. Worley should help, and Pelfrey might. I don’t hold out much optimism for Correia or Harden.

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

 

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