How to fix the Twins, Part 2: Potential free agent and trade targets
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With MLB's free agency window now open for business, it's time to roll up our sleeves and discuss how to fix the Twins. Again. This three-part series will pinpoint the Twins' biggest problem, potential free agent and trade targets, and an examination of what the Twins are able to do financially.
The Minnesota Twins' primary goal this offseason should be to find quality starting pitching, and all indications are that's exactly what they plan to do. But "quality pitching" isn't a narrow enough description of what the Twins need.
As detailed in Part 1, strikeouts equate to wins. And the Twins don't have nearly enough of either. Beyond that, the Twins shouldn't just be looking to add for 2014 -- a year in which they aren't likely to contend -- but instead for 2015 and 2016, when Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will be part of the blueprint. That means targeting pitchers who aren't old.
So, to reiterate...
The Twins need pitchers who strike batters out and pitchers who aren't old.
That eliminates free agent starters like Hiroki Kuroda, who turns 39 in February, Bartolo Colon (40), Tim Hudson (38), Roy Halladay (36), Wandy Rodriguez (35), Bronson Arroyo (37), Dan Haren (33), A.J. Burnett (37), and yes... Bruce Chen (36).
Below are some possible targets - many of whom the Twins have already reached out to.
Potential trade candidates, based on previous reports
RHP Homer Bailey, 7.4 K/9 (age 27)... Bailey is set to become a free agent after next season, so the Reds must decide if he is part of their long-term plans. If not, it probably makes sense to deal him this offseason. Bailey earned $5.3 million in arbitration last year, and could make closer to $10 million in 2014. After a slow start to his career, Bailey has become one of the more steady pitchers in the National League, posting a 3.58 ERA with 367 strikeouts in 417 innings over the past two seasons.
LHP David Price, 8.1 K/9 (age 28)... The conversation starts with Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano.
RHP Jeff Samardzija, 8.9 K/9 (age 29)... A free agent after 2015, Samardzija is one of the top strikeout starters in baseball. He probably projects more as a No. 3 starter on a good American League team, considering his 4.32 ERA (3.57 xFIP) as a starter in the National League, but he would immediately become the Twins' top starter. The Cubs are reportedly discussing a Samardzija trade with the Diamondbacks right now.
LHP Brett Anderson, 7.13 K/9 (age 26)... The A's recently picked up Anderson's $8 million option, but the San Francisco Chronicle classifies him as "the most likely A's player to be traded this offseason." Anderson has pitched only 162 innings over the past three seasons, but when he's healthy he is lights out. But... He's never healthy.
Available free agent starters who aren't old and who have a chance to strike someone out
* Pitchers who received a $14.1 million qualifying offer. If they reject the offer, the Twins would have to give up their second-round pick in order to sign.
RHP Masahiro Tanaka, 8.5 K/9 (age 25)... Tanaka's numbers in Japan are eye-popping - a 2.30 career ERA over seven seasons, including sub-2.00 ERAs in his past three campaigns. Cuban outfielder Jose Abreu got $68 million over six years with the White Sox, so Tanaka - a more highly regarded player -- will probably demand more. And that doesn't count the posting fee a major league team will have to pay his Japanese team in order to negotiate. People expect Tanaka's overall price tag to surpass $100 million, and word is the Twins are interested, but teams like the Giants and Dodgers are expected to win this bidding war.
RHP Ervin Santana, 7.1 K/9 (age 31)*... After a very good season with the Royals, Santana is probably in the market for a four-year contract, perhaps worth $14 million per year. Due to inconsistency (two seasons of a 5.00-plus ERA and a ton of home runs allowed over the past five seasons) Santana is not a top-of-the-rotation arm, but he's still very good - a 4.19 career ERA (4.24 xFIP) while striking out 7.1 batters per nine innings. Santana also has made at least 30 starts in six of his eight seasons.
RHP Matt Garza, 7.4 K/9 (age 30)... If the Twins and Garza didn't have a somewhat tenuous history, he would seem like a good candidate to kick the tires on this winter. He tallies a lot of strikeouts, he has posted sub-4.00 ERAs every season since 2006, and he's better than every pitcher on the Twins' current roster. It's likely he will get a hefty contract worth more than $10 million per year.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 8.5 K/9 (age 30)*... Jimenez's average fastball velocity was once a league-best 96 mph in 2008, but over the past two seasons that velocity has dropped to 92 mph -- still good, but it's obvious Jimenez isn't working with the same stuff he had in Colorado. Still, despite a slow start in Cleveland this year, Jimenez made up for mediocre campaigns in 2011 and 2012 by posting a 3.30 ERA (3.62 xFIP) and 9.6 strikeouts per nine in 182 2/3 innings. Jimenez was mostly terrible through the first two months of the season, and mostly untouchable in the second half, posting a 1.92 ERA in August and September. When he's good, Jimenez is one of the best in baseball. But he is also one of the most inconsistent and volatile starters in baseball.
RHP Josh Johnson, 7.7 K/9 (age 30)... From 2009 to 2011, Johnson posted a 2.64 ERA while striking out nearly a batter per inning in Florida, but persistent shoulder issues have hampered him recently. Johnson has missed significant time in parts of three seasons due to shoulder or upper arm discomfort, and he recently underwent minor surgery to remove bone chips from his throwing elbow. All of this, plus the fact that he posted a 6.20 ERA in Toronto this year, makes Johnson a walking red flag.
LHP Scott Kazmir, 8.7 K/9 (age 30)... Once a highly-touted, highly-productive young starter for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kazmir found himself pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic Independent League two seasons ago, where he struggled to the tune of a 5.34 ERA. Seemingly out of nowhere, however, Kazmir latched on in Cleveland this season and posted a 4.04 ERA (3.36 xFIP) with 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and only 2.68 walks per nine. Kazmir's average fastball was just 86 mph during an injury-plagued season in Anaheim in 2011, but his velocity went back up into the 92-93 mph range in Cleveland, which is where it was earlier in his career as well. Kazmir's past includes shoulder and back issues, but aside from dealing with a rib cage sprain in April he was healthy all season. The obvious red flags are A.) his injury-plagued track record, and B.) the fact that he pitched beyond six innings only six times in 29 starts. But while no Twins starter punched out more than seven batters in a single start, Kazmir struck out at least seven in 10 of his 29 starts, including four double-digit strikeout games.
RHP Ricky Nolasco, 7.4 K/9 (age 31)... Nolasco bounced back this season -- half of it with Miami, half of it with the Dodgers -- to help boost his free agency stock. Prior to 2013, Nolasco had plummeted three straight seasons from 9.5 K/9 in 2009 to 5.9 K/9 in 2012, and despite very solid peripheral numbers (a sub-4.00 FIP every year over that stretch), he never was able to shave his ERA under 4.40 -- until this year's 3.70 mark and bounce-back 7.4 K/9 rate. Nolasco is probably in the market for a three-year deal, but it's tough to tell what his numbers would look like if he ever signed with an American League team.
RHP Phil Hughes, 7.6 K/9 (age 27)... He never lived up to the billing as a top prospect in New York, but Yankee Stadium might have been the worst possible venue for Hughes -- an extreme fly-ball pitcher -- to throw in. His career 4.54 ERA (4.31 xFIP) is not impressive, nor are the 59 home runs he has allowed over the past two seasons. But Hughes strikes out 7.6 batters per nine, and it's possible his career could be rejuvenated in a different setting (see: Burnett, A.J.).
RHP Gavin Floyd, 7.3 K/9 (age 31)... Floyd underwent Tommy John surgery on May 8, so he probably won't be back to top form until 2015. But he could be ready to pitch by May or June next year, and it's likely that 4.15 ERA in Chicago since 2008 would be lower in a bigger ballpark. He also strikes out more than seven batters per nine innings.
RHP Suk-Min Yoon (age 27)... One of the best starters in the Korean Baseball Organization (Korean's pro league), Yoon will try out for major league teams this offseason. A posting fee will not be required, but Yoon's agent is Scott Boras, so his price tag could be inflated. Yoon owns a career 3.19 ERA with 949 strikeouts in 1,129 innings in Korea, but it will take time for him to get used to the innings load of Major League Baseball.
RHP Edinson Volquez, 8.4 K/9 (age 30)... A lot of strikeouts, but a lot of walks (nearly 5 BB/9 for his career) and a lot of runs given up in the National League.
Free agent starter who is pretty old and somewhat broken, but let's throw his name out there anyways
LHP Johan Santana (age 35)... Two shoulder surgeries, 21 starts over the past three seasons, severely diminished velocity, and soon to be 35 years old... But hey, what the hell? If Santana wants to sign an incentive-laden contract, why not kick the tires? Santana would act as a great mentor for Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson, and fans would love the nostalgic reunion.