Risk vs. Reward: A Dozen Free Agent Pitching Options for the Twins
The Minnesota Twins came into this offseason with three major goals:
1) Sign Joe Mauer to an extension
2) Improve the infield
3) Add at least one veteran arm to the rotation
General manager Bill Smith got off to a quick start on his offseason “to do list” by acquiring shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Milwaukee Brewers last Friday.
Talks with Mauer don’t figure to go anywhere until after the Twins have addressed the two other goals in full, essentially proving the club is committed to winning.
As such, today I’m going to take a look at some of the high-risk, high-reward free agent pitchers who could help the Twins in 2010 and beyond.
All of the pitchers featured here have the ability to contribute in a major way when healthy, but all come with their fair share of health hazards.
Given their spotty health histories, many—if not all—of these pitchers will probably be forced to settle for short-term, incentive-laden deals this winter.
It is entirely possible that whoever signs first will set the market for the rest of the crew.
As such, it may be late in the offseason before we see anyone from this bunch sign a deal, but it’s officially hot stove season, so let’s get the speculation started.
The list contains many of the usual suspects whom you’ll be hearing rumors about all winter long and some other names that are currently flying under the radar.
Without any further ado, let’s take a look at some of the men who could be key members of the Twins’ 2010 starting rotation.
2009 Team(s): Cleveland Indians & Minnesota Twins
2009 Salary: $1.5 million plus incentives
2010 Age on Opening Day: 34 years old
Numbers That Matter: 8-4, 2.97 ERA, 1.022 WHIP—Pavano’s career numbers against AL Central rivals Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.
Injury History: Pavano has suffered a rash of small injuries through his career. He was maligned for enduring a malady of smaller injuries while with the Yankees, including a bruised buttocks and broken ribs. The biggest setback came when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007 and missed more than a year of playing time.
Why He Makes Sense: Pavano is already very familiar with the Twins and vice versa after he arrived in a late-season trade with Cleveland. Pavano went 5-4 with a 4.64 ERA in twelve starts down the stretch and helped propel the Twins into the playoffs.
Pavano has the ability to eat up innings, thus saving wear and tear on the bullpen. In his last three healthy seasons he pitched no less than 199 innings. The Twins would greatly benefit from having a pitcher who could essentially give the bullpen a night off once every five days.
In 2009, Pavano was a combined 6-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a .972 WHIP against the Twins’ two biggest competitors in the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, respectively.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Pavano—after pitching 199.1 innings—has seemingly shaken the injury-risk label that dogged him during his tenure in New York.
As a result, he figures to command a longer and more expensive deal this offseason.
2009 Team(s): San Francisco Giants
2009 Salary: $4.5 million
2010 Age on Opening Day: 29 years old
Numbers That Matter: 33 starts, 204.2 innings pitched, 13 wins, 3.78 ERA, and 172 strikeouts—Lowry’s numbers from 2005, his last full, healthy season.
Injury History: In 2006, Lowry suffered oblique strains and an elbow injury that he attested to bad mechanics. He missed part of 2007 and all of 2008 with a forearm injury that eventually required surgery. In 2009, he had a rib removed to relieve shoulder and neck pain after he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome.
Why He Makes Sense: Lowry is still a young, left-handed starter who fits in well with the Twins style of play. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but relies largely on his breaking pitches and his defense to get outs.
He may not be the front-line starter the Twins are searching for, but he would be an excellent third starter, and figures to come relatively cheap as he tries to re-establish his value after having not pitched in the big leagues since the 2007 season.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: There is a lot of uncertainty about how Lowry will pitch next season given that he has undergone two surgeries in the past two years and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues in over two years.
Lowry has a career 4.03 ERA and a 1.383 WHIP pitching his entire career in the National League West, a traditionally pitcher-friendly division and may struggle making the transition to the American League.
2009 Team(s): Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals
2009 Salary: $5.5 million plus incentives
2010 Age on Opening Day: 42 years old
Numbers That Matter: 213 wins, 154 saves, 3.33 ERA, 3,084 strikeouts, Cy Young Award in 1996, eight All-Star Game appearances—Smoltz’s career numbers.
Injury History: He has experienced a number of injuries to his pitching shoulder and elbow. Those injuries have resulted in him going under the knife for Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery.
Why He Makes Sense: Smoltz is a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and would serve as the ultimate mentor to the young pitching staff the Twins figure to send out to the mound next season.
Smoltz is renowned for being a great teammate and a gamer. He has an incredible postseason track record and could prove to be the missing link for the starting rotation in Minnesota.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: During his brief stint with Boston, Smoltz proved unable to handle pitching in the American League. Although it could have been an aberration while returning from injury, his immediate success with St. Louis seemed to signify that Smoltz is strictly a National League pitcher and would be best-served to stay on the senior circuit, rather than risk another blow-up in the AL.
2009 Team(s): Baltimore Orioles
2009 Salary: $445,000
2010 Age on Opening Day: 30-years-old
Numbers That Matter: 32 starts, 195 innings pitched, 11 wins, 3.92 ERA, 1.195 WHP, and 183 strikeouts—Hill’s numbers from 2007, his last full-season as a starter.
Injury History: Hill’s injury history is one of the tamest on this list. His only major injuries occurred in 2009 when he was shut down with shoulder inflammation in July and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in August.
Why He Makes Sense: Hill is still full of untapped potential. As a minor leaguer, Hill compiled high strikeout totals and initially carried that success over to the big leagues. The Twins could use a high strikeout, power pitcher at the front of the rotation.
He is expected to be fully healthy and healed by Spring Training after undergoing shoulder surgery in early August. It is entirely possible that the surgery may have done the trick to help Hill return to his previous success.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: It is widely-believed that Hill’s pitching issues were more mental than physical and it is much harder to fix mental injuries than physical ones.
Hill—injured or not—hasn’t shown much that makes him overly desirable to the Twins since 2007. Since his breakout season he’s gone just 4-3 with a 6.87 ERA and a 1.797 WHIP in 18 starts. In that same time he’s posted nearly identical totals in earned runs, strikeouts, and walks.
2009 Team(s): San Diego Padres
2009 Salary: Minor league deal worth $1 million if he pitched for the Padres
2010 Age on Opening Day: 29 years old
Numbers That Matter: 97 starts, 41-23, 3.24 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9—Prior’s career numbers from 2002-2005 prior to his injury-riddled 2006 season.
Injury History: Prior has suffered a veritable litany of injuries throughout his relatively brief career. The worst of those injuries involved his pitching shoulder. His 2006 campaign ended early as a result of shoulder tendinitis.
He eventually had shoulder surgery in the spring of 2007 and suffered numerous setbacks that kept him off the field until early 2008. He then suffered a tear in the capsule of his pitching shoulder and required another shoulder surgery to repair it. He hasn’t appeared in a big league game since August 2006, as a result of his injuries.
Why He Makes Sense: Prior could be had for a minimal investment if the Twins are willing to take a gamble on the former first-round pick.
Before his health woes, Prior was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and although he may never regain that status again, he could still prove to be a serviceable Major League starter if he is able to stay healthy.
He’s only going to be 29 on Opening Day. There is still enough time for him to get things back on track and resurrect his career.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2006 with the Cubs. Since then he’s been given up on by two different teams and has done nothing to prove that he will regain his form.
Sadly, it is entirely possible that Mark Prior is—at just 29 years old—a lost cause.
2009 Team(s): New York Yankees
2009 Salary: $5 million
2010 Age on Opening Day: 30 years old
Numbers That Matter: In 22 career starts against the rest of the AL Central, Wang is 15-3 with a career 3.69 ERA.
Injury History: In a fluke accident, Wang tore a tendon and ligament in his right foot while running the bases during an interleague game in 2008. He struggled in his return this season and eventually underwent shoulder surgery in July of 2009 after tearing a capsule in his throwing shoulder.
Why He Makes Sense: Well, technically, he doesn’t make sense because he isn’t yet available. He is still under team control for two more seasons, but as I’ve discussed previously the Yankees don’t figure to offer him a contract for 2010.
Wang has a proven track-record and has shown a knack for coming up big when his team needs him most. A pitcher of his caliber would be a perfect fit for the rotation and to mentor the younger members of the pitching staff.
Also, at just 30-years-old next season, he still figures to have plenty of productive years ahead of him in the big leagues.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Wang isn’t expected to throw a pitch in the big leagues until the middle of 2010 and in the historically tight AL Central, waiting until midseason to add a pitcher of Wang’s caliber could kill a club’s chances of winning the pennant.
Additionally, no one knows what to expect from Wang when he returns from this injury. It has been speculated that he hurt his shoulder by trying to compensate for his still-recovering foot injury from the year before.
Many pitchers struggle to bounce back from shoulder injuries and, despite his previous successes, Wang could prove to be just another name in a long line of great pitchers who saw their careers evaporate after an injury.
2009 Team(s): None
2009 Salary: $1.5 million—buyout from previous contract
2010 Age on Opening Day: 32 years old
Numbers That Matter: 103 wins in 203 career starts for an outstanding .632 career winning percentage.
Injury History: Mulder has suffered from numerous shoulder problems since the 2006 season. Those injuries have resulted in two different rotator cuff surgeries.
Why He Makes Sense: It is entirely possible that Mulder could actually be healthy and ready to contribute in a big way.
He was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball from 2000-2005 and could still serve a major role in the Twins’ 2010 defense of the AL Central crown, if he’s truly healthy.
Mulder has lots of experience, both in the regular season and the postseason, and would be a great mentor to the young members of the Twins’ starting rotation.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: He hasn’t had a good, healthy season since 2005. In that time he’s undergone two major surgeries on his rotator cuff and has yet to show anything resembling the amazing form he had from 2000-2005.
Mulder made $7 million in 2008 for pitching 1.2 innings with an ERA of 10.80. He also seemed legitimately miffed when the Cardinals declined his $11 million option for 2009. As such, it is entirely possible to think that Mulder may be looking for a base salary much higher than the Twins (or anyone in their right mind) will be willing to pay.
2009 Team(s): Oakland Athletics
2009 Salary: $3.9 million plus incentives
2010 Age on Opening Day: 32-years-old
Numbers That Matter: 3.14 ERA, 1.123 WHIP, and 3.02 K/BB ratio—Duchscherer’s impressive career averages.
Injury History: Much like former teammate Rich Harden, Duchscherer has a lengthy injury history that includes the following: back injuries, multiple hip injuries, two hip surgeries, inflamed biceps, right elbow surgery, and—most recently—a battle with depression that shut him down at the end of the 2009 campaign.
Why He Makes Sense: A healthy Duchscherer is an effective Duchscherer. He has been voted an All-Star twice, once as a starter and once as a reliever.
During his lone season as a full-time starter—2008—he had 22 starts and earned 10 wins with a 2.54 ERA, a 0.995 WHIP, and averaged better than six innings per start to prove he was one of the best starters in baseball.
The Twins could use a veteran like Duchscherer, who is incredibly effective on the mound without overpowering stuff. He relies on his defense and the Twins figure to field a solid defense in 2010.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since leaving his August 18, 2008 start against the Twins complaining of hip pain. That pain eventually led to his second hip surgery.
In 2009 alone, he underwent right elbow surgery and was diagnosed with clinical depression. His recent history doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence that he’ll be healthy or effective in 2010.
2009 Team(s): Philadelphia Phillies
2009 Salary: $12 million
2010 Age on Opening Day: 29 years old
Numbers That Matter: 12 wins and 159 strikeouts—Myers’ career averages per season. Those numbers would have led him to finish third and second, respectively, in those categories for the Twins in 2009.
Injury History: Myers missed time with a strained shoulder in 2007 and then missed most of 2009 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
Why He Makes Sense: Myers has proven to be very effective in any role. In his time with the Phillies he has served as the staff ace, a long relief man, a setup man, and the closer.
In each of his five full seasons as a starter, Myers never pitched less than 176 innings in a season and pitched more than 190 innings in four of those seasons. That level of durability would serve a major role for the Twins who required midseason acquisitions to bolster an otherwise depleted bullpen.
Myers has been a staff ace and pitched in many high-pressure situations in the past, that experience could serve well in Minnesota.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Myers made $12 million last season and although he is in line for a significant pay-cut, he still figures to command more than the Twins may be willing to offer up.
Additionally, his off-the-field track record isn’t exactly spotless. He has been known to get into dust-ups with teammates and the media during his time in Philadelphia.
Most disturbing, however, was a domestic abuse charge that came after witnesses saw Myers punch his wife on a downtown Boston street following a 2006 interleague matchup with the Red Sox.
It would seem that his personality—more than his price—wouldn’t fit in the Minnesota clubhouse.
2009 Team(s): Seattle Mariners
2009 Salary: $7.75 million plus incentives
2010 Age on Opening Day: 31 years old
Numbers That Matter: 196 innings pitched, 12 wins, 3.71 ERA, and 8.8K/9—Bedard’s averages based on a full, healthy season.
Injury History: Bedard has missed time with a myriad of injuries to his obliques, back, hips, and his pitching shoulder. He has suffered strains, cysts, and most recently a torn labrum that required surgery and may cause Bedard to miss the Opening Day next season.
Why He Makes Sense: A healthy Bedard can be downright filthy. The last season in which he was mostly healthy—2007—he went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, and an astonishing 10.9 K/9 to finish fifth in Cy Young balloting, despite getting shutdown with a month left of the season.
The lefty was once thought of so highly that the Seattle Mariners traded away Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and George Sherrill to acquire his services. He clearly has the raw stuff to be an ace and could provide the Twins with a much-needed lefty presence at the front of the rotation.
Despite being injured for much of the last two seasons, he’s still put up phenomenal numbers going a combined 11-7 with a 3.24 ERA and 8.9 K/9.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Coming off of shoulder surgery, there is some question as to how long it will be before Bedard will be able to contribute next season.
Bedard’s lingering health problems the last two years haven’t done much to instill confidence that he’ll bounce back quickly, if at all.
This may be more of a non-issue, but there have been many reports that Bedard doesn’t “fit in” with most players in the clubhouse. The Twins are known for having a very loose and tight-knit clubhouse, Bedard could have a negative effect on that.
2009 Team(s): None
2009 Salary: None
2010 Age on Opening Day: 31 years old
Numbers That Matter: 220 innings pitched, 13 wins, 3.72 ERA, and 1.201 WHIP—Sheet’s averages based on a full, healthy season.
Injury History: Sheets has endured many injuries throughout his career including: bulging discs in his back, a series of inner ear infections, shoulder tendinitis, strained hamstring, and—most recently—torn flexor tendon in right elbow.
Why He Makes Sense: Sheets is the big game pitcher the Twins need. Since arriving in the big leagues, Sheets has done nothing but pitch and pitch well—when healthy.
He has the ability to mow down hitters in bunches and when he is locked in, he’s nearly untouchable. The Twins currently don’t have a big strikeout, power pitcher. Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano—when he’s right—are close, but no substitute for the presence of a power pitcher like Sheets.
Sheets wants the ball. Despite his lengthy injury history, he is a gamer and wants to be in the lineup. That type of gutsy, veteran leadership would bode very well for a young Twins’ rotation.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Sheets has never pitched in the American League and could struggle to make the adjustment.
Additionally, he hasn’t pitched in more than a year and could prove to be very rusty following such a long layoff coupled with his recovery from elbow surgery.
Finally, it is widely-rumored that Sheets is looking to sign with a team closer to his home in Highland Park, Texas.
2009 Team(s): Chicago Cubs
2009 Salary: $7 million plus incentives
2010 Age on Opening Day: 28 years old
Numbers That Matter: 9-5, 3.14 ERA and 8.25 K/9—Harden’s numbers against the rest of the American League Central in 22 career starts and one relief appearance.
Injury History: Wow, this could take a few minutes. Harden has hit the DL seven times since 2005, so rather than get into specifics, I’ll just make a general list: oblique strain, strained right shoulder, back strain, sprained elbow, rotator cuff issues, and—most recently—elbow fatigue.
Why He Makes Sense: It’s been written a thousand times and I’ll make it a thousand and one, but Harden is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball...when he’s healthy.
Additionally, the Twins showed plenty of interest in Harden at this year’s trade deadline. Some rumors even had the deal completed before the Cubs backed out at the last minute, so the interest is definitely already in place.
Beyond that, it seems that Harden may finally be healthy. After making a combined 31 starts from 2005 to 2007, Harden started 25 games in 2008 and 26 last season. The Cubs seemingly have no intention of offering Harden arbitration, so he figures to be available and—seemingly—healthy.
Why He Doesn’t Make Sense: Obviously his injury history is one of the least-inspiring of all the players listed. Many scouts believe that his pitching style will lead to further injuries and it has been whispered for years that he may someday require Tommy John surgery.
The fact that Harden finished up his stint with the Cubs by getting shut down for the final week of the season with “arm fatigue” leads one to wonder if there are any other undisclosed health issues.
Harden is the ultimate example of a high-risk, high reward player.