Will Twins Strike Quickly for Pitching?

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has made no secret of the fact that his top priority this offseason is to rebuild his team’s pitching rotation. He’s also described the free agent class of potential starting pitchers to be, “thin.” Whether we agree with that assessment or not is of really no concern, because only Ryan’s opinion matters at this point and if he feels that’s the case, it stands to reason that he’s going to be looking at his trade options.

Terry Ryan

That being the case, the question probably isn’t, “Will Terry Ryan trade for starting pitching?” so much as it is, “WHEN will Terry Ryan trade for starting pitching?”

I don’t think we should be all that surprised if the answer turns out to be, “Right now.”

The reason for moving quickly is that a couple of teams with arguably surplus arms that could be considered close to “top of the rotation” quality (certainly, at the very least, top of the Twins’ rotation) have to make some decisions this week concerning whether or not to exercise team options on those pitchers or let them walk as free agents. Even if they let them walk, in some cases, those teams have relatively expensive buy-out payments to make. Of course, there’s nothing to stop the GMs from picking up the options and then trading the pitchers later in the offseason, but right now, they have to be thinking they’d be better off getting the best deal possible in return for those pitchers before the option deadline is reached later this week.

So who might the Twins be looking to acquire? Three pitchers with impending options come immediately to mind.

The Angels have two pitchers with options that must be exercised or bought out this week: Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Haren’s option is for $15.5 million but the buyout is a lofty $3.5 million. Santana’s option is for $13 million and comes with a $1 million buyout.

The Rays have a similar decision to make with James Shields. The perennially cash-strapped Rays paid Shields $7 million this year and his contract has a $9 million option for 2013, as well as a $13 million option for 2014. The buyouts for 2013 and 2014 are $1.5 and $1 million, respectively. Media reports indicate the Rays intend to exercise his 2013 option but that doesn’t make him any less of a trade possibility.

Of course,  the Twins aren’t the only team looking for starting pitching, so why should we expect them to end up with one (or dare we hope, two?) of these pitchers? The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t “expect” any such thing. But it’s possible because the Twins can make players available in a trade that the Angels and Rays may want.

To my mind, Shields would be the preferred target from among this group. The Rays could be looking to cut payroll (aren’t they always?) and one way to do that would be to part ways with BJ Upton. The Twins certainly have centerfielders that could fill that void. The Rays also are among the teams who could stand to upgrade at 1B. Would they take on Justin Morneau’s contract? Not likely, but Chris Parmelee might be of some interest to Tampa Bay. Anyway, the “how” is Terry Ryan’s business, but the point is that Shields could be in play this week.

Angels GM Jerry Dipoto is probably feeling more inclined to move his pitchers quickly. He wants to re-sign Zack Greinke. Combine that factor with the more significant buyout price of Haren’s contract, and you realize he may be feeling a bit more of sense of urgency than the Rays are feeling with regard to Shields.

But do the Twins have anything the Angels would want? After all, they’ve got a pretty decent centerfielder already and their first baseman is no slouch, either.

The answer, as pretty much any fan of one of the Angels’ minor league affiliates could tell you, is, “absolutely yes.” The Angels farm system is a mess. I’d have to go back and check for sure, but I recall that about half of their minor league affiliates finished dead last in their respective standings in 2012. I don’t know exactly what Dipoto is asking for in return for Haren and Santana, but even marginal prospects would likely jump several spots on a “top prospects” list by switching to the Angels organization.

Having Shields under team control for two more years is another reason he’d be the best acquisition for Terry Ryan to make, from among this group. But if he can get Haren or even Santana in a deal that doesn’t cost him any of his best prospects and/or get the Angels to kick in some cash to offset their 2013 salaries, I’d welcome either of those pitchers, as well. As a matter of fact, since the Angels and Rays would be looking for different types of players in return, there may be no reason Ryan couldn’t be talking to both teams.

Finally, let’s be honest about addressing the question of whether the Twins can afford to pay between $9 million and $15 million for a pitcher in 2013. The answer is yes, they certainly can. There’s no reason in the world why the Twins shouldn’t be able to start the season with a $100 million payroll. None whatsoever. I think Ryan already knows this, but he’s smart enough not to say so publicly. Why let the agents of potential free agent signings know how much money you really have to work with?

A couple of big deals early in the offseason will generate some enthusiasm among the fanbase and perhaps even jumpstart some season ticket renewals. It may also make a few mid-level free agents more inclined to sign on with you in coming months if they think you’re really committed to competing in 2013. If things don’t go the way you hope the first half of the season, Ryan could no doubt turn around and deal any of the three pitchers mentioned here to a contender (assuming the pitcher’s healthy, of course).

While I’m not “expecting” any of these pitchers to be Twins by the end of the week, I won’t be all that surprised if one of them (or perhaps even more likely, some other pitcher I haven’t even thought about yet) is brought in to the fold relatively soon by Terry Ryan. I believe he has nothing to lose and much to gain by striking quickly.

– JC

If you’d like more information about Shields, Haren, Santana and a whole host of other potential acquisitions (not to mention an excellent interview with Terry Ryan by the TwinsGeek, John Bonnes) you really should consider purchasing TwinsCentric’s Offseason GM Handbook. It’s available for purchase and download now!