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Updated: December 15th, 2013 10:38am
Mackey: Twins finally bump undeserving pitchers far down the ladder

Mackey: Twins finally bump undeserving pitchers far down the ladder

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The qualifications for being a regular member of the Minnesota Twins starting rotation have been pretty underwhelming lately. If you have an arm and a heartbeat, chances are you've probably started at least 10 games for the Twins over the past three seasons.

Pedro Hernandez (12 starts), Andrew Albers (10), Anthony Swarzak (16), Liam Hendriks (28), Brian Duensing (39), Nick Blackburn (45), P.J. Walters (20), Cole De Vries (18) and to some extent even Sam Deduno (33) and Scott Diamond (58) all have taken advantage of an organization with low standards.

It appears general manager Terry Ryan has grown sick of undeserving, underperforming and unqualified starters taking up large chunks of space in a major league rotation. With news of Mike Pelfrey re-signing on a two-year deal on Saturday night, the Twins now have four veteran starters under contract for 2014 - Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Kevin Correia being the other three. Barring another signing, Kyle Gibson, Scott Diamond, Vance Worley and Sam Deduno will compete for the fifth rotation spot. Soon, Alex Meyer will be in the conversation as well.

As a result, the Hernandez-Albers crew goes back to where it belongs - the middle of a Triple-A rotation.

This is not to suggest the starters under contract are without flaws.

Correia's 4.18 ERA in 185 1/3 innings was very respectable, but his strikeout rate (4.9 per nine innings) was 90th among the 91 starters who threw at least 150 innings last year, and his 4.40 FIP (similar to ERA, but strips away defensive help) ranked 81st. Hughes was available at $8 million a year because of how poorly he fared in New York. Nolasco struggles with runners on base and must adjust to the American League. Pelfrey pitches to contact and posted a 5.19 ERA last season.

But here's the good news: Hughes is a completely different pitcher away from Yankee Stadium and has the ability to tally strikeouts. Nolasco allowed three earned runs or fewer in 26 starts last year. Pelfrey's FIP was 3.99 last season, which signifies his ERA could project to be lower going forward. Pelfrey also was significantly better after May once he was closer to being 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery. There are some career parallels between Pelfrey and former Twin Carl Pavano.

Would Nolasco, Hughes, Correia or Pelfrey be No. 1 or even No. 2 starters on good, playoff-caliber teams? Probably not. That mantle is reserved for Meyer, if all goes well, and Kohl Stewart. But in the meantime, signing some proven commodities and some high upside (in Hughes) while bumping the undeserving bunch far down the ladder has been a good strategy this winter. 

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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