As the Season Begins, Twins’ Rotation is in Shambles


Mar 13, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) pitches during the second inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins have had a tough go. Four straight 90-losses and a couple failed contracts will do that to you, though. Now, I get that what we need more than ever is to have a vote of confidence and some patience as the next haul of prospects makes their way towards the Majors. Until then though, it’s a waiting game and there are some things that need to be done in the meantime.

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First of all, I think we’ve found out the hard way (like many other teams) that giving big contracts to marginal pitchers is not a recipe for success. While Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana both deserved decent paydays at the time of their signed contracts, they wouldn’t have got half that money if it weren’t for a weak free agency class for starting pitchers. When the Twins signed Nolasco, he was thought to be one of the best pitchers of the 2013-2014 offseason. Now, a year or more later, Nolasco is on the DL with elbow issues and could be headed for a Tommy John Surgery eventually (where have I heard that before?). Then there’s Ervin Santana. Boy, you really hurt the Twins when you decided to not pay attention to what you put in your body. On a team that really needed more starting pitching to begin with, losing Santana was devastating. Santana is now serving an 80 game suspension for taking an illegal growth hormone. On top of that, Santana might be fighting some legal issues with a Florida jeweler. To make matters worse? We gave up a second round pick to get him (compensation to the Braves).

I get it, Santana hasn’t even started his tenure for the Twins and he could easily become a mainstay in our rotation once he serves his suspension, but signing the guy for over 50 million is making me (along with many others) shake my head. When he comes back, he better be everything we hope for him to be. Between Santana and Nolasco, there will be over $100 million spent if they fulfill their contracts. That’s a lot of money for two guys that haven’t exactly been ace pitchers in their careers, and are facing a downward spiral filled with arm injuries and suspensions. The crazy thing is, the best offseason acquisition we’ve had in the last couple years was Phil Hughes, and he came at half the price that Nolasco and Santana did. Lesson learned.

Of course, it’s easy for me be frustrated with it on the outside looking in. I’m not the one making these decisions. Sometimes I wonder how things would go if I were making the decisions. I’m not going to be over-ambitious or say I could do a better job, because I can’t. However, I think we all know (Terry Ryan, included) that spending big in free agency is a huge gamble. It’s an even bigger gamble when you’re pulling in a guy who is in his thirties and naturally getting worse. If it were me making the decisions? I would have never signed Nolasco or Santana, saved the money for future contract extensions to our young prospects, and kept our second round draft pick instead.

The funny thing is, Twins fans always talk about how the Twins need to get ace pitchers and be aggressive in free agency. Maybe this is a learning lesson that being aggressive and “winning” free agency doesn’t mean it translates to “winning a World Series”. I liked the old “Twins Way”, when they were building from within without even glancing at free agency. Terry Ryan himself knows that building from within is the best way. I can’t blame him for being aggressive lately, he’s trying to keep his job after all. However, it’s these aggressive moves that can also be the downfall of a General Manager. The Padres made lots of moves this offseason and “won” free agency, but let’s check back in 5 years and see how they’re doing. Odds are they could be paying a lot of guys a lot of money in 5 years, and they won’t have any farm system because they traded it all away.

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Give Terry Ryan some credit, at least he didn’t sign free agent pitchers at the cost of our prospects. Or did he? I certainly think so. Our rotation is filled by veterans who have old arms and minimal stuff. I’m all for competing, but I’m not all for it when that’s at the expense of not giving our prospects the experience they need. If Nolasco and Santana were both active and pitching, chances are they would be marginal given their history and their age. Pair those two guys with Mike Pelfrey and you essentially have 3 pitchers who have similar stuff, similar age, and also are blocking our young talent. Are we really going to win with a rotation that consists of Pelfrey, Santana, and Nolasco? No. So next time, maybe let’s keep our money, our draft pick, and invest it in our future.

Despite all this, the future looks bright. Hughes is a guy we can hang on to for quite a while. Gibson is gaining experience and hoping to find consistency. Milone is a decent lefty that, at worst, could be a decent bullpen pitcher, and there’s a lot of pitching prospects knocking on the door of the Majors. Nolasco having arm injuries is a blessing in disguise, and so is Santana’s suspension. Pelfrey won’t last long in the rotation (at least I’d be surprised if he did) and opportunities might actually come for young pitchers like Jose Berrios, Alex Meyer, and Tyler Duffey. The point is, what did we learn here? We learned that paying money to guys who are on a downward spiral isn’t so fun, especially when they’re blocking needed experience for young prospects, and taking away their money too.

Next: How Did the Twins Pitching Get So Bad?