Mackey: Looking ahead at Twins' starting pitching options for 2015
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The Minnesota Twins have spent the last few years drafting and trading for young pitchers who are, to be blunt, the opposite of Tommy Milone.
Milone's average fastball runs 87 mph. The Twins have recently targeted pitchers who throw gas. Milone's contact rate is among the highest in baseball. The Twins, albeit late to the party on this piece of strategy, have aimed to acquire strikeout pitchers.
But when a situation presented itself for the Twins to trade a player, Sam Fuld, who they acquired off the waiver wire two months ago for an established-yet-youngish starter with a career 3.84 ERA (4.13 FIP), mostly in the American League, it made perfect sense to pull the trigger. It's the exact type of trade losing teams should be striving to make.
Does the Fuld-for-Milone swap make up for multiple head-scratching personnel moves earlier in the year (looking at you, 2004 reunion tour band members)? Probably not. But - much like with the Denard-Span-for-Alex-Meyer deal two years ago - it's only fair to also point out when the front office gets it right.
I know some people are screaming at their screens, "How can you praise the Twins for trading Sam Fuld but not acknowledge them buying high on Kurt Suzuki?" Well, yes, they did buy high on Suzuki. Absolutely. And I hate that as a general philosophy for baseball teams. But I'm told there wasn't much brewing in trade discussions, due mostly to the fact that very few teams look to target starting catchers at the July 31 trade deadline. It's mostly starting pitchers and power bats. Not to mention, there's quite a bit of skepticism within the organization about Josmil Pinto's future as a catcher. "He can't catch," as one person in the league bluntly put it to me recently.
So, if the Twins don't believe Pinto is capable of being the starting catcher next year, they're going to be in the market for another free agent catcher this offseason anyway. Someone like Suzuki. Suzuki at $6 million for the next couple seasons doesn't cripple the franchise if his bat fizzles.
With Milone on board, here are the starting pitchers currently in the organization who will figure into the mix heading into 2015:
RHP Ricky Nolasco (31) - Despite the most disappointing season of his career and the minor arm discomfort, Nolasco remains the highest-paid starter on the Twins roster, and he's under contract for another three seasons. He isn't going anywhere.
RHP Phil Hughes (28) - He has come back to earth after that blistering stretch through May and June, but his $8 million price tag has been a massive bargain in 2014. Hughes is under contract through 2016.
RHP Kyle Gibson (26) - Gibson has made 20 starts for the Twins this season. On seven occasions he has allowed five runs or more. But in 12 of those outings he has held opponents to two runs or fewer. It all adds up to a 3.94 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 114 1/3 innings. If he keeps it up, Gibson, per Fangraphs, is on pace to be a 3-WAR pitcher, which would be worth $15 million in value. He makes $500,000. Also worth noting - Gibson owns the fifth-best groundball rate among qualified starters.
RHP Alex Meyer (24) - The Twins have been cautious with Meyer because of the shoulder issues he experienced in 2013. Meyer has topped the 90-pitch mark only five times in 21 starts for Triple-A Rochester, but his 3.05 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings signify dominance. The Twins have been hesitant to call him up for these reasons: They don't want to overwork a guy who is reaching uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched; They want to see him develop better command of his changeup; They want him to cut down on the walks. Meyer has walked at least four batters in three of his last four starts, and he walks, on average, one batter every other inning. That's not very good. On the flip side, his stuff is nasty and very difficult for hitters to square up. He's right on the doorstep of the big leagues.
RHP Trevor May (24) - It sounded as if May was close to a call-up just prior to suffering a mild calf strain prior to the All-Star break. Now that he is back in the Rochester rotation, pitching effectively, cutting back on the walks (his chronic problem throughout the minor leagues) and building his pitch count back up, there's a good chance the Twins call him up very soon.
LHP Tommy Milone (27) - He throws 87 mph and has one of the highest contact rates in baseball - two trends the Twins have attempted to get away from with recent draft picks and acquisitions - but Milone is still a pretty nice piece to acquire for a fourth outfielder like Fuld. Yes, Milone was sent to Triple-A Rochester, which seems head-scratching, but it's probably because he pitched in Triple-A two days ago. The Twins will recall him shortly. And oh, by the way, the only reason he was in the minor leagues to begin with is because the A's have a stacked pitching staff.
RHP Mike Pelfrey (30) - Remember him? He's under contract for a $5.5 million base salary next season. He just recently began a throwing program, but might not pitch again until 2015.
RHP J.O. Berrios (20) - Berrios is not yet on the 40-man roster, but his name is included on this list (assuming his shoulder discomfort from earlier in the week is nothing series) because he might be knocking on the door soon. Berrios dominated High-A Fort Myers and has pitched extremely well in two of his four starts for Double-A New Britain, and if he solves Double-A before the end of the season, he'll officially be on call-up watch for 2015 - along with his mid-90's, moving fastball and biting offspeed stuff.
The Twins also have a number of "as needed" fifth starters such as Samuel Deduno (31), Yohan Pino (30), Logan Darnell (25) and Kris Johnson (29).
Which five would you roll with?
Ideally, both Meyer and May would join the rotation. Nolasco and Hughes aren't going anywhere, and if Gibson keeps pitching well he'll be a lock as well. That's five. And that means Pelfrey's $5.5 million rots on a spreadsheet. It also means Milone is on the outside looking in. Berrios probably needs another few months in the minors to start the 2015 season.
We'll see how it plays out. But if Milone's addition means a surplus of competent major league starters, that would be a welcomed scenario for the Twins.