This offseason, the Twins have an opportunity to remedy this via free agency and be competitive in 2014. In order to do so, the Twins need to sign at least three pitchers better than Kevin Correia, who is in his last contract year and who can be a place holder for Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson.
Who should those three new pitchers be? What would it take to sign them? Remember, we are looking not only for 2014, but we are looking beyond. And we are looking for numbers one, two and three in the Twins' rotation, allowing Gibson to be number four and Correia number five. This would result in a competitive rotation. Potentially one of these positions could come internally: Alex Meyer might be one out of spring training; I have not given up on Vance Worley because of an awful injury-, out-of-shapeness and (BABIP-induced) bad luck, age 25 season. And nobody knows whether Samuel Deduno will take the next step.
What characteristics should those free agents should have?
If you look at the measurable characteristics the top pitchers have, two jump out right away, and these 2 happen to be the exact ones the Twins' rotation has been lacking:
a. Hard throwing. The average Fastball velocity in MLB is 92 mph, including relievers.
b. Missing bats. Average K/9 is around 7 in the majors, so we are looking for top of the rotation players with K/9 above 8.
Since PitchF/X was introduced allowing the measurement of pitch velocities, only two Minnesota Twins starting pitchers,, both left-handed, satisfied both these criteria: Johan Santana (2004, 2005, 2006) and Fransisco Liriano (2005, 2006, 2010).
And because of the long-term vision (we are looking for players who can get 3+1 or 4+1 contacts and would be with the team for the biggest part of the decade after Sano and Buxton come of age) the Twins need to look at pitchers who would at most be 31 years old in 2014, so they do not pay for a pitcher's declining seasons. One can argue that an older pitcher could be signed to a one or two-year contract as a place holder for someone like Kohl Stewart. This is a valid argument but at this point it does not guarantee competitiveness, since Stewart is not a sure bet now.
Here are the 3 criteria (all measurable) the Twins should look for in a free agent:
a. Average FB velocity >= 92 mph
b. K/9 >= 8
c. Age in 2014 season =< 31
Here is a list of all 2014 free agent starting pitchers, from MLB trade rumors, alphabetically and with 2014 season ages in parenthesis:
Alfredo Aceves (31)
Bronson Arroyo (37)
Scott Baker (32)
Erik Bedard (35)
Travis Blackley (31)
A.J. Burnett (37)
Chris Capuano (35)
Chris Carpenter (39)
Bruce Chen (37)
Bartolo Colon (41)
Scott Feldman (30)
Gavin Floyd (31)
Jeff Francis (33)
Freddy Garcia (37)
Jon Garland (34)
Matt Garza (30)
Chad Gaudin (31)
Roy Halladay (37)
Jason Hammel (31)
Aaron Harang (36)
Dan Haren (33)
Roberto Hernandez (33)
Tim Hudson (38)
Phil Hughes (28)
Ubaldo Jimenez (30)
Josh Johnson (30)
Jair Jurrjens (28)
Jeff Karstens (31)
Scott Kazmir (30)
Hiroki Kuroda (39)
John Lannan (29)
Wade LeBlanc (29)
Jon Lester (30)
Colby Lewis (34)
Ted Lilly (38)
Paul Maholm (32)
Shaun Marcum (32)
Jason Marquis (35)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (33)
James McDonald (29)
Randy Messenger (32)
Ricky Nolasco (31)
Sean O'Sullivan (26)
Roy Oswalt (35)
Mike Pelfrey (30)
Greg Reynolds (28)
Clayton Richard (30)
Ervin Santana (31)
Johan Santana (34)
Joe Saunders (33)
Kevin Slowey (30)
Masahiro Tanaka (25)
Jason Vargas (31)
Ryan Vogelsong (36)
We trim the list by age and list K/9 and average FB velocity for both 2012 and 2013. Then we disqualify pitchers who (because we are looking mostly for "sure bets") are projects and bargains and who might be a fit for one of these positions, but are out of the scope of this exercise. These pitchers:
a. pitched less than 50 innings due to injury in 2013
b. pitched mostly in the pen in 2013
c. pitched mostly in minor or foreign leagues in 2013
We have this list, with K/9 and FB velocity fitting the criteria indicated in green, in yellow if it fitting when rounded up):
Matt Garza, RHP, 30. Difficult to see a Garza reunion with Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson still on the Twins' staff. Documented personality conflicts when with the Twins
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 30. Received a qualifying offer, which means the Twins would have to surrender their second round pick to sign him. Price will be high because of monster second half.
Josh Johnson, RHP, 30. No qualifying offers. Health and performance consideration (if one looks at W-L and ERA, but solid xFIP and peripherals) will drop the price
Scott Kazmir, LHP, 30. The only lefty in the list. No qualifying offer. Great year suggests that recovered from injury nicely
Edinson Volquez, RHP, 30 . No qualifying offer. Very quietly made it to the list. A sleeper, potentially low cost signing
The "B" list (potentially one pitcher should be from this list, but there are questions) :
Phil Hughes (28) He is intriguing; close with the K/9. Still in early prime. Can be the one from this group to target
Jon Lester (30) Will likely stay with the Red Sox. Expensive. Lots of people think of him as an "A list" pitcher but is not.
Mike Pelfrey (30) Interesting to see him in the list, but his K/9 is not in the ball park. Can he get his K/9 up? Great fit in the Twins' club house. Should the Twins take another flier with Pelfrey another year away from TJ surgery?
Ervin Santana (31) Expensive. Lots of people think of him as an "A list" pitcher but is not. Received a qualifying offer. Stay away for the money. More expensive that all the pitchers in the A list, other than Jimenez.
Gaudin was a reliever in 2012 when he met the criteria. Nolasco and Vargas are thought to belong in the "A list" potentially. They do not.
Who are the three starting pitchers the Minnesota Twins should target in 2013 in order to be competitive in 2014 and beyond? They are:
Can they sign all three? The short answer is "yes", but I will examine the Twins' budget in another post...