December 21, 2007

A Look At Our 2008 Rotation

On Thursday, Carlos Silva officially signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners worth $48 million over 4 years. Check out my post from yesterday to see my thoughts and opinions on Seattle's addition of Silva.

So with Silva gone to the Mariners, Matt Garza gone to the Rays, and the possibility of Johan Santana soon joining the trend of departure, what does the Twins rotation in '08 look like?

Nothing is set-in-stone just yet. Talk this off-season makes it sound as if the Twins don't have any pitcher penciled in as a sure starter, and obviously that includes Santana with all the rumor's swirling around.

So Spring Training will be a big time for the Twins pitching staff as what looks like a possibility of 8 or more pitchers will be competing for spots in the rotation. Right now, the Twins have not added a pitcher to compete in the rotation, but smart money says that they likely will bring in someone to give some "veteran leadership" with a potentially very young pitching staff.

Who could that be?

Kris Benson who missed all of the 2007 season recovering from a torn labrum was recently noted to be an interest of the Twins. He could also be a low-risk/high reward guy, except his overall career numbers show that he's been over hyped as he was the first overall pick of the 1997 draft. He likely wouldn't give the Twins a consistent inning-eater as he has not pitched in over a year, and I think that if they decide that they need someone to come in here to help mentor our youth, then he should be able to eat up a bunch of innings as he does it.

Another option that would interest me is Freddy Garcia. He's a type-B free agent and is also coming off of an injury last season. He had surgery on his right shoulder which ended his season in June. He too is a potential low-risk/high reward, but again may not be the consistent inning-eater that the Twins should look for. Although his overall career numbers are pretty good.

Other guys that interest me are Jason Jennings, Bartolo Colon, Josh Towers and Livan Hernandez. Colon was injured in '07, although was the AL Cy Young winner in '05 and has been a very good starting pitcher over the course of his career. Jennings isn't a consistent pitcher, although does have the "stuff" to make him a good pitcher. Towers has also had a very inconsistent career, although his "stuff" is there as well. And Hernandez is the definition of an inning eater and in my mind would be a good pitcher to sign for a one or two year deal, although he's probably going to be getting the most money out of all the players I've mentioned.

I should mention though that with the exception of Benson, the Twins have not been linked to any of these pitchers and it's unlikely that they sign any of them. A more "Twins-like" signing would be Russ Ortiz.

With that said, I don't really think the Twins necessarily need to add a starting pitcher via free agency. I can somewhat justify it if we trade Santana, except we'll likely be getting a good pitcher (or hopefully two) in return and again probably won't need to add a starter. Although, we probably will just because that's what the Twins have done in the past (Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz in 2007).

Here is a look at the current "in-house" options the Twins have to compete for the 5-man rotation.

Johan Santana - I'm not going to comment on him as everyone knows about him already. If he's on the team, he'll start game 1 of the season and likely follow up a "sub-par" (to Santana's expectations) season with a solid year.

Francisco Liriano - He's a guy the Twins wish they knew what they were getting in as he returns from Tommy John Surgery that he underwent last fall. If he was healthy, it'd make the Twins decision to trade Johan Santana a lot more easier as he's a potential ace, but his injury brings concern to the Twins front office of whether if he'll ever come back the same. All the reports of his progress through rehab have been very promising and Twins fans should feel optimistic about his return, but they shouldn't be naive as well. There are a lot of things working against Liriano in his return to greatness and they have to understand that it may take a year or two for him to regain his full form, if he ever does at all. Of course another thing to be optimistic about his return is the fact that his rubber ligament that he had implanted in his left elbow should allow him to pitcher pain-free and may even give him more velocity on his fastball which before his injury topped out at about 98 MPH.

Kevin Slowey - Slowey has had a great career in the minor leagues posting a career 1.93 ERA in 354.1 innings. He also has compiled a very good 8.7 K/9 ratio, which is good considering he's considered more of a control pitcher. He struggled in the majors in 66+ innings this season, although he showed a lot of potential and I think the Twins have something special in Slowey. He's been compared to the likes of Greg Maddux for his great control and at the age of 23, that's a very high praise. I hope that he continues to progress as I see him being a potential top-of-the-order starter at some point in his career.

Scott Baker - He's also a "probable" starter right now as the Twins got some great numbers from him in just 143.2 innings last season. He started out strong for the Twins, nearly pitching a complete game shutout in his first start of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers. After that, he hit a big road block after giving up 20 runs over his next 4 starts or 18.2 innings. He regained his true form in August (although had a few good streaks in between) and was great the rest of the season. 2008 will also probably be a make or break year for Baker as well and I am optimistic that he too will have a good season for the Twins, however I also think that if he fails again, he'll be gone by the trading deadline in July.

Boof Bonser - He had a disappointing 2007 season after a promising '06 season. The Twins stuck with him for most of the season in the rotation, but after his demotion to the bullpen late in the season, the Twins management determined what may be the problem. The 6 foot 4, 260 pitcher may have lost his "second wind" during the 5th and 6th innings in which he was shelled by apposing batters. In fact, he started looking a lot like the David Wells, and that's not meant to be a good thing. The problem was his weight, and the Twins set up an off-season goal for him to lose 25 pounds. Well yesterday La Velle E. Neal III updated us with some very encouraging news from his workouts. With 6 weeks still left to go before the start of Spring Training, Bonser has already lost 20 pounds or 80% of the Twins overall goal. Hopefully he doesn't just stop at 25 pounds and continues to be a "workout warrior" as I think the better shape he's in, the better he'll pitch. The season could potentially be make or break year for the 26-year-old Bonser as the Twins have some great, young arms close to reaching the majors. I am excited to see what he has this season and hopefully he'll put up some good numbers and eat up some innings. It's unclear whether he'll start in the Twins rotation, the Twins bullpen, or in Rochester's rotation. A lot will depend on how strong his arm is in Spring Training.

Nick Blackburn - He exploded in 2007 to be one of the best pitchers in the Twins organization. After a sub-par career, he won 10 games and compiled a 2.54 ERA in 148.2 innings between New Britain and Rochester. He struggled with the Twins, however in 11.2 innings, he really was shelled in 3 of the innings which made his ERA look horrid. But he did show a bit of promise, however I think he'll need a great Spring Training to crack the rotation. But the Twins may keep him on the roster to help with long-reliever duties and spot-starts.

Glen Perkins - Perkins is a hometown favorite, with solid numbers throughout the last 5 seasons, going back all the way to his days at the University of Minnesota. Primarily a starter, he's been used as a middle reliever for the Twins in limited time the past 2 seasons. His major league numbers are great, however the Twins would like to work his arm into the rotation as he possesses middle-of-the-rotation potential. He may open the season in the Twins bullpen, but I hope they start him in Rochester's rotation and work him into the Twins rotation at some point during the season.

Brian Duensing - He's the only pitcher on the list that's not on the 40-man roster, which means he's never made a major league appearance. He's a solid pitcher, although he doesn't project more than a back-end starter in a rotation. Of course, I do want to see him pitch before I make a proper assessment on him, as I'm just going off of written reports of him (although I did see him on FSN this season when they had the "Red Wings Rewind" although it was just clips of him pitching). He's got the lowest chance of making the rotation as far as "in-house" options go.

So the Twins obviously have options, even if they trade Santana, they'll still have plenty of options to start. The problem is though that the "in-house" options all have very limited experience in the majors and Liriano is the only one who's had any sort of significant Major League success. So this raises the pressure for the Twins to acquire a Major League ready pitcher in a trade that involves Johan Santana.

A few pitchers who have been kicked around are the Yankees' Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. The Red Sox's Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. And others such as Brandon Morrow of the Mariners, Jered Weaver of the Angels, and Mike Pelfrey of the Mets.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with the Santana situation. But right now, I see our rotation as follows:
  1. Johan Santana
  2. Scott Baker
  3. Boof Bonser
  4. Francisco Liriano
  5. Kevin Slowey
This obviously leaves Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing to compete for a spot in the bullpen, or all could be starting for the Rochester Red Wings.

But if I could have my wish (I know, STOP WITH THE SPECULATION), I'd probably lean towards a deal with the Yankees for Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and a 2nd-tier prospect. Would they do it? Maybe since they wouldn't be including Melky Cabrera in the deal, but they may be reluctant to include two of their future starters for Santana.

But this could give the Twins an extremely strong young starting rotation, with many trading pieces to land the center fielder that we desire. It could look like:
  1. Phil Hughes
  2. Scott Baker
  3. Ian Kennedy
  4. Boof Bonser
  5. Francisco Liriano
With Kevin Slowey potentially taking over for whoever struggles.

I'm sorry about the speculation, as it probably seems like "each day, something different" but I'm really antsy with the Santana situation and can't help but look at many different options. And each time I do that, I find something else I like...

Hopefully something will happen soon, for my readers sake. :)

Have a great day. And in case I don't get to post beforehand, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.