About a month ago, I offered the contrarian opinion that the Twins' starting rotation can be an asset for 2012 without the addition of any external pitchers, if the Twins decided to start their best pitchers, place Blackburn in the pen and give Swarzak and Hendricks an opportunity to claim the last rotation spot. In the same post, I showed that 5 Twins' starters were either much above (Slowey, Baker) or above (Hendricks, Swarzak, Duensing) than league average last season, while Pavano and Liriano were below and Blackburn was much below average. I argued that with Liriano's health improving, a top trio of Slowey, Baker, Liriano, with Pavano at the fourth spot and Swarzak or Hendricks at the fifth, has the makings of a solid rotation.
It is not so any more, because of the ill-advised trade of Kevin Slowey to the Rockies for Daniel Turpen who projects to be a reliever in Rochester for 2012. What are the Twins' options to fill the rotation in 2012? There are indications that Terry Ryan wants to bring in at least one "experienced" starter. Let's look at the free agents who are still available. Here is a list, indicating a few of their performance metrics in 2011: the ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB), their average fastball mph, the total innings pitched, the percent of their pitches that were swings and misses (%SwStr), their expected pitching efficiency (xPE) and their expected fielding-independent pitching (xFIP). I sorted the list with decreasing xPE, and also indicated the AL average xPE for starters.
Kevin Millwood 1.20 GB/FB, 89.2 mph FB, 54.1 IP, 6.8% SwStr%, 22.17 xPE, 3.55 xFIP (NL)
Rich Harden 0.68 GB/FB, 91.7 mph FB, 82.2 IP, 12.0% SwStr, 22.13 xPE, 3.68 xFIP (AL)
Bartolo Colon 1.22 GB/FB, 91.7 mph FB, 164.1 IP, 5.3 SwStr%, 20.43xPE, 3.57xFIP (AL)
Javier Vazquez 0.74 GB/FB, 90.4 mph FB, 192.2 IP, 8.9% SwStr%, 20.00 xPE, 3.87 xFIP (NL, might retire)
Hiroki Kuroda 1.24 GB/FB, 92 mph FB, 202 IP, 10.3% SwStr%, 19.30 xPE, 3.56 xFIP (NL)
Roy Oswalt 1.27 GB/FB, 91.4 mph FB, 8.0% SwStr%, 13.81 xPE, 131 IP, 3.95 xFIP (NL)
Edwin Jackson 1.40 GB/FB, 94.5 mph FB, 199.2 IP, 9.2% SwStr, 12.60 xPE, 3.73xFIP (AL/NL)
------------MLB AVERAGE xPE (around 11 for starters)--------------
Aaron Cook 2.36 GB/FB, 88.2 mph FB, 97 IP, 5.6% SwStr%, 10.74 xPE, 4.37xFIP (NL)
Chris Young 0.28 GB/FB, 84.7 mph FB, 24 IP, 8.1% SwStr%, 9.19 xPE 4.73 xFIP (NL, injured most of the season)
Micah Owings 0.84 GB/FB, 87.1 mph FB, 63 IP, 8.55xPE, 4.51 xFIP (NL, spent time in the minors)
Livan Hernandez 1.18 GB/FB, 83.9 mph FB, 175.1 IP, 6.4% SwStr%, 8.42 xPR, 4.28 xFIP (NL)
Jeff Francis 1.36 GB/FB, 84.7 mph FB, 183 IP, 7.0% SwStr%, 7.9 xPE, 4.29 xFIP (AL)
Jo-Jo Reyes 1.09 GB/FB, 89.9 mph FB, 140 IP, 6.6% SwStr%, 7.08 xPE, 4.58 xFIP (AL)
Tim Wakefield 0.84 FB/GB, 72.9 mph FB (65.8 mph KB), 8.9% SwStr%, 7.45 xPE, 154.2 IP, 4.81 xFIP (AL)
Rodrigo Lopez 1.11 GB/FB, 88 mph FB, 97.2 IP, 6.2% SwStr, 7.25 xPE, 4.48 xFIP (NL, spent half season in minors)
Joe Saunders 1.29 GB/FB, 89.6 mph FB, 212 IP, 6.2% SwStr%, 5.26 xPE, 4.38 xFIP (NL)
Jon Garland 0.96 GB/FB, 88.3 mph FB, 54 IP, 5.6% SwStr%, 4.57 xPE, 4.86 xFIP (NL) (injured and had shoulder surgery)
Paul Maholm 1.77 GB/FB, 87.4 mph FB, 162.1 IP, 5.7% SwStr%, 4.12 xPE, 4.03 xFIP (NL)
Joel Pineiro 1.58 GB/FB, 87.1 mph FB, 145.2 IP, 5.2% SwStr%, 3.96 xPE, 4.38 xFIP (AL)
Jason Marquis 2.23 GB/FB, 89.3 mph FB, 132 IP, 6.5% SwStr%, 3.43 xPE, 4.02 xFIP (NL)
Hisashi Iwakuma (Japanese Free Agent) 90-92 peak 94mph FB, 119 IP, 30.70 PE (In Japan, was injured part of the season)
Brandon Webb (Did not play in 2011)
I think that the Twins should not look at anyone under the line (unfortunately, they are reports that they are looking at Francis, Pineiro, Garland and Saunders, all of whom will be lesser than in-house options.) At this point, Swarzak and Hedricks were above the line last season and they can complement Baker, Liriano and Pavano. Doyle, who was picked up in the Rule 5 draft, and Cole DeVries will give them 4 arms to compete for 2 spots in the rotation. I would add Blackburn to the competition mix, because of his contract mainly. However, he does not belong in a major league rotation and hopefully he can resurrect his career in the pen, like Glen Perkins.
From the free agents above the line, Milwood, Colon and Vazquez are close to retirement. Oswalt and Jackson are too expensive for their production and Kuroda likely is priced above what the Twins can afford. Signing Rich Harden to an incentive-laden contract, might make a lot of sense for the Twins. It could be a low (monetary) risk/high reward proposition. Another possibility would be signing Hisashi Iwakuma who is a Japanese free agent represented by the same agency as Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham. Iwakuma's risk is higher and the investment whould be higher than Harden.
What do you think?