If you've been following the Minnesota Twins at all this past offseason, you probably know that they must fix their pitching rotation if they want to get back to relevance in the American League Central. For the Twins to do that, they must take a look at every possible avenue (as they've done recently according to ESPN 1500 AM's Darren Wolfson) and decide which pitchers can help their team the most.
That process sounds like it's a case of playing fantasy baseball, but the Twins have to go deeper than that to fix what is arguably the worst starting rotation in Major League Baseball.
If the Twins aren't careful with who they select to fill their void of solid starting pitching, they could wind up signing another version of Jason Marquis or Ramon Ortiz. A failure like that could see the Twins rotation become even worse and subject their fans to more Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn in the process.
With all the names being thrown around this offseason, here's a look at who could once again turn the Twins rotation into a strength.
Webb fits the prototypical Terry Ryan free-agent pickup as he would follow in the footsteps of Sidney Ponson if he signed with the Twins.
In both stints as Twins general manager, Terry Ryan has gone shopping in the free-agent clearance rack to try and fix holes on his roster. With the Twins reaching out to Brandon Webb recently, Ryan has seemed to find a guy that could find his previous form as a Cy Young contender from 2006-2008.
In those three seasons, Webb was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the Arizona Diamondbacks. With a record of 56-25 and an earned run average of 3.13, Webb was the elite ace that the Twins have been lacking since dealing Johan Santana after the 2007 season.
However, the key word in that statement is was. Webb was a good pitcher in those three seasons, but has struggled with shoulder issues since then.
Over the past four seasons, Webb has made one major league start and finds himself in the mold of Ben Sheets as a player who is just past his prime due to several shoulder injuries.
With the Twins playing by an imaginary $100 million salary cap, it would not be shocking to see the Twins extend Webb an invitation to Spring Training hoping to catch lightining in a bottle.
Unfortunately, the end result could be similar to the way Joel Zumaya's career with the Twins ended. It's a low-risk, high-reward signing the Twins could ultimately do without.
Joe Blanton could wind up as this year's Jason Marquis if he signs with the Twins.
On the surface, Joe Blanton looks like he could be valuable to the Twins by eating innings and filling a back of the rotation void. But when you dig deeper at Blanton's stats, he could wind up being the second coming of Jason Marquis.
Blanton's positives include a resume of six seasons with over 190 innings pitched, but it's been a case of wanting quality over quantity.
There have been just two seasons in Blanton's career (2005 and 2007) where he didn't register an ERA that was over four. In Blanton's nine-year MLB career, he's spent six of them in the pitcher-friendly National League.
With a move to the American League, Blanton could be a clone of Marquis. Marquis was hailed as an innings eater prior to signing with the Twins last offseason, but struggled mightily with his adjustment to the AL and was released before the calendar hit June.
Despite five-plus seasons with the Oakland Athletics to begin his career, Blanton could have similar problems and would not cure what ails the Twins starting rotation.
Jackson has been largely effective on the mound, but his similarities to Francisco Liriano could mean he doesn't fit with the Twins.
One of the things the Twins' rotation needs is a guy that can strike people out. Too many times, the Twins have taken the "pitch-to-contact" philosophy of pitching coach Rick Anderson to an extreme as they've ranked toward the bottom of the American League in strikeouts over the last several seasons.
While pitch-to-contact works when you have solid pitchers, there are times when a pitcher needs to have the stuff to strike somebody out.
Looking at that alone it would seem like Edwin Jackson would be perfect for the Twins rotation. Jackson has the stuff to strike batters out (168 strikeouts for the Washington Nationals in 2012), but he can also eat innings as he's flirted with 200 innings pitched in each of the last four seasons.
However, Jackson also has similar problems to former Twin Francisco Liriano when it comes to harnessing his control.
When Jackson is at his best, he can be one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball. The only problem is that he can find rough stretches which has lead to a 1.43 career WHIP.
After dealing with Liriano's unfulfilled potential for the past six seasons, would manager Ron Gardenhire want to bring in a carbon copy to fix his rotation? Probably not.
Jackson could help the Twins, but he has too much baggage to make sense for the Twins.
Ryan Dempster is the kind of buyer beware free-agent that the Twins will take a look at, but it's in their best interest to run away from the 36-year old right-hander.
Dempster's stats were pretty good in 2012 as he went 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA between the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers. For a team that's as desperate for pitching as the Twins are, numbers like that should encourage the franchise to take a look.
But the Twins shouldn't give Dempster the time of day because of his recent history and his horrible second-half that came after a switch to the American League.
Dempster was magnificent for the Cubs up until the July trade deadline going 5-5 (due to poor run support) with a 2.25 ERA. After a drawn-out trade scenario with the Atlanta Braves fell through, Dempster went to Texas and got mauled.
In 12 starts for the Rangers, Dempster got the run support he was begging for in Chicago for a 7-3 record. Unfortunately, Dempster left his pitching ability on the North Side and was clobbered for a 5.09 ERA in his first taste of the American League.
With Dempster's second half collapse and the fact that his 4.33 career ERA has come in the National League, the Twins would be best suited to stay away.
Brandon McCarthy fits the mold of a power pitcher that the Twins could desperately use, but his durability could mean that the Twins could go to their non-existant pitching depth not long after his signing.
McCarthy has seemed to find himself on the mound after missing the entire 2010 season with a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder going 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA with the Oakland Athletics over the past two seasons.
However, McCarthy has gone over 111 innings pitched just twice in his major league career (the past two seasons), and is coming off a line drive to the head which resulted in a fractured skull.
McCarthy has been cleared to resume pitching activities but the wear and tear is certainly a risk for the 29-year old starter. Perhaps it's one that the Twins are willing to take.
Brett Myers wants to return to a starting rotation, does he have enough to help the Twins?
Brett Myers is another guy that doesn't exactly drive excitement into the hearts of Twins fans. Still, Myers has been healthy and effective as a starter as recently as 2010 when he went 14-8 (3.14 ERA) with the Houston Astros.
Myers has been shuffled back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen over the past couple seasons with the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, and is willing to do either or for a pending suitor which could mean the Twins could be looking at their next closer with Matt Capps out the door.
Myers is 32 years old and could be a cheaper alternative to Carl Pavano as a back of the rotation innings eater for the Twins. Remember, the Twins need back of the rotation starters as well as some front end starters to pair with Scott Diamond.
Myers isn't sexy, but he can help the Twins in a big way if he's effective.
The Twins looking at Anibal Sanchez is like going to a department store, seeing a really nice shirt, and then realizing that it costs about ten times what it's actually worth.
Sanchez has been a solid pitcher for the Miami Marlins and was in the early part of the franchise's most recent fire sale. The trade which sent him to Detroit for pitching prospect Jacob Turner didn't slow Sanchez down as he went 5-6 with a 3.74 ERA for the Tigers.
Over the last three seasons, Sanchez has been consistent as he's flirted with 200 innings pitched along with an ERA in the mid to high-3s. In terms of pure on-field performance, Sanchez would fit the bill with what the Twins wanted to do.
But I mentioned that price tag because it appears that Sanchez will go to the highest bidder with the preferred bid ranking in the six-year, $90 million range.
It seems asinine to give that kind of money to a pitcher with a 48-51 career record, but the pitching market is so weak this offseason that somebody will pay him. It's just not likely to be the Twins.
In a perfect world, the Twins would realize they needed a dominating, cold-blooded, true ace at the top of their rotation and started throwing around money until they found one. Unfortunately, the Twins do not live in a perfect world and they will not go after the best fit in the market, Zack Grineke.
When the lights weren't as bright, Grienke established a 15-0 record at Miller Park and could experience the same effect at the friendly confines of Target Field.
There may have been a slight ray of hope when Grienke initially struggled with the Angels (1-2, 6.19 ERA in his first 5 starts), but that was slammed shut when he dominated the rest of the AL West en route to cementing his status as the top free agent starting pitcher on the market.
It represents a problem for the Twins. Grienke is the type of pitcher that could be their stopper when they go on long losing streaks or get the elusive victory in a big playoff game. Instead, the Twins will hold onto their money to sign a player that resides toward the bottom of this list and reap the benefits of their shiny new stadium.
The Twins don't exactly need Grienke, but he would be the first signing in which the Twins could find value (despite his high price tag) and fill a major hole at the same time.