Unlike the San Francisco Giants who won the World Series on the shoulders and elbows of pitchers they developed themselves, it appears that the Twins are showing signs that they not quite comfortable moving forward with their crop of homegrown starters in 2011.
Last week, Bill Smith admitted to trying to land one of Japan’s top pitching talents. On Sunday, Joe Christensen revealed that the Twins remain in contact with Carl Pavano:
“Twins General Manager Bill Smith spoke to Pavano's agent, Tom O'Connell, last week, expressing the desire to keep the righthander. Pavano would love to return, but he also wants to test the market.”
The Twins realize that allowing Pavano to walk – with or without offering arbitration – means the rotation loses the starter that consumed the most innings for them. In addition to the sheer total of innings, he worked deep into the games, averaging 6.9 innings per start, saving an often overworked bullpen that was forced prematurely into active duty after numerous Kevin Slowey (5.5 innings per start, third-lowest in AL) and Scott Baker starts (5.8 innings per start). Furthermore, with the team’s rash of injuries and ineffectiveness in 2010, it would be difficult to have the utmost confidence that the in-house starters can pick up the slack Pavano would leave behind.
Replacing or upgrading Pavano simply isn’t that easy. To begin, the starting pitching free agent pool is murky at best. After Cliff Lee, the offerings grow questionable. Jorge de la Rosa has some swing-and-miss stuff but is erratic with his control and wants a four year deal. He’s also had just one season of 30 starts. Javier Vazquez is one season removed from his Cy Young-caliber year in Atlanta but battled through injuries in New York and was left off postseason roster when his velocity dropped from 91 to 88 miles an hour. Jon Garland has worked 190 innings each season dating back to 2002. Garland was also smacked around consistently in the American League before finding solace in the National League West. In the end, none of these bachelors have a greater appeal than retaining Pavano.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the team couldn’t explore other alternatives.
Because the free agent starting pitching market is filled with damaged goods, the Twins attempted to acquire one of Japan’s best starters. Targeting the 29-year-old Hisashi Iwakuma made complete sense from the team’s perspective. Like Pavano, Iwakuma was primarily a groundball pitcher who didn’t allow many walks while chewing through a ton of innings. So for the roughly the same cost as meeting Pavano’s three-year, $30 million request, the Twins would get a pitcher with the exact same skill set as Pavano except five years younger. That potential acquisition, of course, turned out to be a moot point as the Oakland A’s trumped whatever the Twins’ offer was to Iwakuma’s ballclub, paying the Rakuten Golden Eagles $17 million to initiate the negotiation with the pitcher.
While the free agent market may be a crapshoot, the trade market appears just as bleak as well.
Twins fans that dream of landing the younger Zack Greinke to replace Pavano’s innings are in for a rude awakening. According to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, because the Royals are in no hurry to trade their number one starter who is not a free agent until after 2012, a source told Stark that the Royals are informing those clubs that are inquiring on his availability:
“(A) they would need to "win" the deal, (B) they would have to get the kind of four-for-one haul the Rangers got for to pull the trigger, (C) they need a bunch of "front-line, winning, quality players" in return, and (D) at least one of those players has to be a pitcher capable of turning into the next Zack Greinke in a couple of years.”
For the Twins, this would spell a complete drain of organization’s top prospects, as they would presumably have to surrender some combination of Kyle Gibson, Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, David Bromberg and Joe Benson. As good as Greinke could be and how perfectly he would fit in to the rotation, he is simply not worth scorching the entire farm system over.
Without a clear replacement and the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their impending free agents just seven days away, this leaves Bill Smith and company with little time to decide whether they want to experience the financial ramifications of retaining him or the potential performance ramifications of not re-signing him.