With a lack of pitching prospects in the pipeline, Minnesota has committed most of its resources this offseason to make its rotation less-bad. They gave journeyman Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million contract, invested three years and $24 million in former Yankee Phil Hughes, and brought Mike Pelfrey back for two years and $11 million.
The Twins might not be done yet as they've been linked to free agent Matt Garza. Even if they don't hand out another big contract, they'll likely look at the free agent leftovers come January or February to see if they can add additional depth.
How far have the Twins come so far? Here's last year's top five starters by games started and their ERAs, and the projected top five for 2014, with their ages and career ERAs:
|Kevin Correia (32)||4.18 (31 GS)||Correia (33)||(4.49 career)|
|Pelfrey (29)||5.19 (29 GS)||Nolasco (31)||3.70 (4.37 career)|
|Scott Diamond (26)||5.43 (24 GS)||Hughes (28)||5.19 (4.54 career)|
|Sam Deduno (29)||3.38 (18 GS)||Pelfrey (30)||(4.48 career)|
|Pedro Hernandez (24)||6.83 (14 GS)||Deduno (30)||(4.06 career)|
Andrew Albers, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley each made 10 starts for Minnesota last year with collectively awful results.
Even with $84 million invested, the Twins look like they have to cross their fingers here.
It's conceivable that Nolasco figured something out last year. It's also possible that he and Hughes, who is coming off a rough season by his standards, will both be helped by Target Field, which dampens the bats of left-handed hitters. Both have had a harder time against lefties in their careers. Hughes in particular may have been hurt by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.
It's also possible that Pelfrey, another year removed from the elbow surgery he had in 2012, will get closer to his career ERA than the mark he posted last year. And the offseason is still young, so maybe they'll find a better option for the fifth spot than Deduno and the others.
That's a lot of stuff that has to break right for the Twins. That's a lot of wish-casting on pitchers who have never been considered above-average, much less elite, and are entering the age at which players exit the prime of their careers.
Give Minnesota credit for attempting to be more competitive. They went out and invested in guys who fit their philosophy of throwing strikes, who might be a good fit in their park, and acquired them the most expedient way possible by dipping into the free agent pool.
I'm still skeptical that this set of gambles will work out in a way that is a net positive for the Twins. Not when they could have done some more bargain shopping. Jake Westbrook and Bronson Arroyo are two guys who also could have been helped by Target Field. Because they are older, and in Westbrook's case coming off an injury, they would have commanded much less money than Nolasco.
Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Garza -- all still free agents -- might not command much more than $50 million, despite having much more impressive resumes, which makes me wonder why the Twins felt the need to strike so early on Nolasco.
With Nolasco, Pelfry, Hughes and Correia locked into four rotation spots, the Twins have less room to take a flier on other rehab, change-of-scenery, journeyman-filler or last-hurrah projects like Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Clayton Richard or Chris Capuano.
A veteran on a shorter deal might also be easier to flip for younger talent at the trade deadline if that's the position the Twins find themselves come July. The current pitching additions won't prevent that.
They will make Minnesota marginally better, and with MLB teams flush with money, none of these contracts will hamstring the team going forward, even if all of them are colossal failures.
Still, I can't help but think the Twins could set themselves up for more long-term value by taking a more creative approach to fixing their pitching.