I think that there is a dark horse in the race who currently plays with an organization that has been a trading partner for the Twins. As most dark horses, there are some apparent problems on the surface, but there are potential slices of hope. Who is he?
He is a former Cy Young award winner who was offered a very large free agent contract and the last two seasons prior to the current, his performance has been that much sub-par that he practically defines the term "free agent bust" in the baseball world:
Before you place a call to the nice people with the white coats to come and rescue me, listen to my reasoning:
- The Giants might be willing to bite the bullet and eat most of his salary. There have been calls and indications that the Giants might release him before the season is over. His contract looks like this:09:$18.5M, 10:$18.5M, 11:$18.5M, 12:$19M, 13:$20M, 14:$18M club option ($7M buyout); option vests with 200 IP in 2013 or 400 IP in 2012-13 or 600 IP 2011-13. If you assume that the option will vest, he will be owned $84.5 million until 2014. If a team is assuming to pay $5 million of this over the next 4.5 seasons plus add a couple of so-so players with no future in their organization (think Humber/Macri) , it will be a win for the Giants over giving him his outright release.
- OK, he will really come cheap, but how could he be better than say a Ramon Ortiz or a Sidney Ponson or, more importantly, the current pitchers the Twins have in their rotation? Here is why: This season, Zito seems to have overcome his nagging injuries and pitching at least as effectively as in his last (All Star) season with the A's (2006):
- His peripherals are 1.406 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 1.82 K/BB (.293 BABIP); his 2006 All Star season numbers: 1.403 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 1.53 K/BB(.285 BABIP)
- His fastball velocity is the highest that have been since 2005 and it has been more effective in getting batters out since 2005
- His newly developed (and frequently thrown this season) slider and his signature curve ball are very effective out pitches. His curveball is more effective this season than has ever been, including his Cy Young 2002 season, as measured by curveball runs above average per 100 pitches thrown (see previous link)
- This season he has been throwing 3.90 pitches per batter he faced. This is the second best of his career, behind his 2006 season when he threw a close 3.88 pitches per batter
- Both with the A's and the Giants he has been among the leaders in Pitching abuse points (2009 data on the link; change the years to see the other season rankings). Moving into an organization that does not let pitchers' arms fall off, might help him.
Will he ever return to his previous glory? Who knows? He is 31 and under contract until his age 36 season (assuming the option vests). Based on these numbers and the trending, I am convinced that in the right organization he would be at least a decent number three starter with a contact that would burden his next team a little more than a million a season. That is not bad and it is something that the Twins should look into