Over the past two weeks, I've profiled five different high-end starting pitchers that the Twins may be inclined to pursue on the free agent market. Of course, those who have followed this organization could be excused for expressing skepticism over the likelihood of one of these big names actually landing in Minnesota, even with signals
that the club plans to be "uber-aggressive" in its search for arms. Simply put, Terry Ryan has never acquired an expensive big-name pitcher through free agency. Ever.
When it comes to signing highly sought pitchers in a competitive market, the Twins don't have much of an advantage. They're unlikely to offer an overwhelming sum of money and they certainly can't tout an immediately competitive environment. But one area where they may have an edge on opponents is the realm of risk/reward arms, with major question marks but significant upside. Think Rich Harden.
Now, obviously last year's Harden signing was an extreme long shot that paid no dividends, but the underlying reasoning was sound. It was a no-risk move that added a talented arm to the mix at virtually no cost, and for his part, Harden was likely compelled to come here because of the wide-open opportunity in the rotation.
The Twins will face a similar scenario this offseason. Ryan has stated that only Kevin Correia and (if healthy) Sam Deduno are assured spots in the 2014 starting corps, with the remaining group of contenders looking even weaker than it did at this time a year ago. Any pitchers with depressed value looking to reestablish themselves with an incentive-laden one-year MLB contract or a minor-league deal could see Minnesota as an attractive destination.
So, which pitchers in this year's free agent crop fall into that category? Let's take a look at some:
Edinson Volquez, RHP, Age 30
In 2008, the year after the Reds acquired him in exchange for Josh Hamilton, Volquez looked like quite the get. At age 24, the right-hander went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA, earning an All-Star appearance and finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Unfortunately, it's pretty much been all downhill for the Dominican hurler ever since. While he's flashed glimpses of potential, Volquez's career has largely been marred by injuries and erratic performance. He hasn't posted an above-average ERA since that rookie campaign. In 2012 he led the league in walks issued. In 2013 he led the league in earned runs allowed, despite totaling only 170 innings.
Volquez was released by the Padres in mid-August with a 6.01 ERA. He latched on with the Dodgers and pitched reasonably well in the final month (4.18 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 28 innings) but nonetheless it seems unlikely that any contending team will want to guarantee him anything. The Twins, meanwhile, could afford to gamble on his mid-90s fastball and hope that their pitching staff can coax more strikes.
Roy Halladay, RHP, Age 36
Halladay's drop-off has been rather precipitous. Just two years ago he was continuing his reign as the most effective workhorse in the game, winning 19 games with a 2.35 ERA over 233 innings to finish second in the Cy Young voting. In nine seasons from 2003 to 2011, Halladay led his league in complete games seven times.
Doc's right arm is a modern marvel, but it's looking like the extremely taxing workload has finally caught up with him in his mid-30s. In 2012 he posted an uncharacteristically mediocre 4.49 ERA while being limited to 156 innings, his lowest total since 2005. His 2013 season was almost completely wiped out by shoulder problems, as he managed to get through just 62 innings with a brutal 6.82 ERA while his average fastball velocity dropped to 88 MPH.
Halladay was shut down in September due to dead arm and it sure does look like he's completely drained at this point, but this is a likely Hall of Famer who is young enough yet that a rebound can't be ruled out.
Johan Santana, LHP, Age 34
This is the guy that everyone wants to talk about. The idea of a Twins/Santana reunion is highly appealing to those who wish to relive the glory days, when Minnesota ruled over the AL Central in large part thanks to their premier ace and his unhittable changeup.
Those glory days are a distant memory at this point, however, for both Santana and the Twins. While the club has futilely searched for a successor at the top of the rotation, the lefty has seen his career unravel along with his left shoulder. Santana has pitched only 117 innings over the past three years, with all of those coming in 2012 when he went 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA. In September of 2010 he underwent surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder, and he was forced to undergo the same surgery again in April of this year after re-tearing the shoulder capsule. His prognosis at this point is not good, but the two-time Cy Young winner is still only 34 and at least looked decent after returning from his first surgery, putting up a 4.02 xFIP and averaging 8.5K/9 (his highest number since leaving the Twins) in 2012. He even threw a no-hitter.
It would be a pretty cool story if he was able to revive his career back in MN.
Shaun Marcum, RHP, Age 31
Despite his outstanding recent performance, including three straight seasons with a below average ERA, Marcum drew little interest on the free agent market last year due to health concerns, and wound up settling for a one-year deal worth $4 million. It turned out that the league-wide caution regarding Marcum was well warranted, as the righty ended up making just 14 appearances (12 starts) and posting a 5.29 ERA before his season ended in July due to thoracic outlet syndrome. He underwent surgery and will likely be seeking a minor-league deal this offseason.
His health is an even greater point of an uncertainty than it was last year, but hopefully his procedure can clear up the arm problems that have bothered him in back-to-back seasons. He still has his relative youth and a steady track record to fall back on.
Colby Lewis, RHP, Age 34
Lewis missed the entire 2013 season due to surgeries on his elbow and hip, but had established himself as a quality pitcher prior to the health woes. In his three seasons with the Rangers following a return from Japan in 2010, he registered a 3.93 ERA along with a 458/135 K/BB ratio in 506 innings. As a guy who has demonstrated the ability to throw strikes, miss bats and limit hits -- with his issues largely stemming from a high home run rate in Arlington -- Lewis looks like a very strong fit for Target Field and the Twins.
Gavin Floyd, RHP, Age 30
Another example of a homer-prone hurler who may benefit from Target Field's spacious confines, Floyd has been a steadily solid yet unspectacular pitcher in Chicago for many years. From 2008 through 2012, he never posted an ERA lower than 3.84 nor one higher than 4.37. He'd be an appealing target for the Twins if not for his enormous health concerns, which overshadow anyone else on this list. Floyd underwent two surgeries on his right elbow in May of this year, repairing both his UCL and flexor muscle. The recovery timeline for such a procedure is 14-19 months, meaning it will be tough to count on the righty to provide anything in 2014.