Available Ace Arms
· Be sure to listen to last night’s Twins Minor League Weekly podcast.
The question of whether the Twins should be buyers or sellers continues to come up. As I wrote yesterday, with the Twins next 15 games being against the four AL Central teams, we will know a lot more at that end of that stretch. Many believe that the Twins need help in the bullpen. I wouldn’t completely disagree. Another reliever that can be counted on would be great, although no one they could acquire in a trade will be as valuable as getting Joe Nathan back at 100%, Glen Perkins continuing to dominate, and Matt Capps piching well.
It always amazes me when I hear a Twins Fan say or write something like “Division titles me nothing to me anymore.” That is the most ludicrous thing a fan can say, I think. Obviously in order to get to the World Series, you have to get to the playoffs. My opinion is that once in the playoffs, it’s just a tournament and the best team does not always win. But, one thing that we all can agree on is that pitching wins in the playoffs. Many Twins fans question the Twins starting pitchers should they make the playoffs.
In my opinion, if Scott Baker comes back healthy in the second half and continues to pitch as he did in the first half, he can absolutely be a winning pitcher in the playoffs. The other guy that I think can win in the playoffs is Francisco Liriano because he has the type of dominant stuff that can dominate in the playoffs. We have only seen that a few times in 2011, but he is a guy that should be able to pitch well. He did a year ago. Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing are not prototypical top of the rotation guys for a playoff team but if they’re at the back end of a playoff rotation, I’ll take my chances.
Even so, I believe that a large percentage of Twins fans would still argue that the team’s biggest need is a top of the rotation starter, a CC Sabathia, a Justin Verlander, an unquestioned ace. I would never have a problem with the Twins bringing in a starter who could have that type of role. A couple of quick notes though. Two years ago, the Brewers gave up four good prospects to acquire CC Sabathia from Cleveland. Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley have helped the Tribe get to where they are this season. Sabathia was terrific and the Brewers ran him ragged the rest of the regular season. He got them to the playoffs for the first time in almost 30 years. But when the playoffs started, Sabathia was gassed and was shelled in the playoffs. Or, how about last year, the Rangers gave up Justin Smoak to acquire Cliff Lee for a couple of months. He helped Texas to the World Series, but he struggled in those two WS starts. In my mind, some Twins fans would be disappointed in Lee because he didn’t win the World Series. I would also add that the Twins had a pretty solid ace through most of the decade of the 2000s. Johan Santana at that time was the definition of an Ace. Did having that ace, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, get the Twins to the promised land that some Twins fans seem to think is the only end to a season that is acceptable? No.
So again, I would take my chances with the Twins rotation IF they are able to get to the playoffs.
I was listening to KFAN on Thursday morning and there was a discussion of Twins needs and they too mentioned an Ace. I e-mailed producer Joe Nelson about the subject. He responded by saying, “Staff Aces are hard to get, but more than attainable. If this team wants to be known as a contender, they need to stop holding onto their prospects with potential and go out and get guaranteed studs.”
Again, like Sabathia was for the Brewers? Like Santana did for the Twins?
But still, it was an interesting comment to me, particularly the comment about aces being more than attainable. So, what I did is looked at the standings in all six divisions in baseball and considered which teams might be sellers at the trade deadline. Teams that are in contention will not be trading their aces. It is a little too early to know, but I did want to start considering the topic. Of those teams that could be sellers, I looked at their pitching staffs and tried to determine which pitchers would be considered an “Ace” or a “Stud.” Here is what I found, with my thoughts:
· Toronto Blue Jays – I would consider Ricky Romero close to an Ace. He was just signed to a long-term deal, so he will not be traded.
· Baltimore Orioles – Brian Matusz is the closest thing they have to an ace, and he missed two months of the season before coming back, struggling and being sent to AAA.
· Kansas City Royals – They’re (always) in rebuilding mode. Their only aces are prospects and they’re not going to deal those.
· Oakland A’s – Brett Anderson is hurt and out for awhile. Trevor Cahill isn’t an improvement for the Twins. Gio Gonzalez is an ace, and he is one guy that I would be willing to give up a lot to get!
· Seattle Mariners – The M’s aren’t dealing Felix Hernandez, even if they maybe should. They also will not be dealing Michael Pineda at this point for anything!
· Florida Marlins – I like Josh Johnson as much as anyone, but considering he’s already had Tommy John surgery once and has been on the 60 Day DL with arm/elbow problems, I would be hesitant to give up upper echelon prospects for him. Anibal Sanchez is certainly intriguing, but with the Marlins moving into a new stadium next year, I can’t believe that he would be available.
· Washington Nationals – They’re not trading Stephen Strasburg.
· Cubs – Carlos Zambrano is on a rehab assignment (and will pitch against Beloit tonight). No Thanks! And speaking of head cases, you have to think that Matt Garza would be a trade candidate yet again, and we know he isn’t going to go to the Twins. Garza has become the new AJ Burnett. Great talent who just is so inconsistent that it’s hard to say he fits the true ace mold.
· Houston Astros – Wandy Rodriguez is probably available, but is he really an Ace, a step above what the Twins have? Is he a guy you would feel really good starting in a Game 1?
· Colorado Rockies – At this point, the Rockies are looking for a starting pitcher. But should they sell, Jhoulys Chacin would not be available. Ubaldo Jimenez might be, and if you knew you were getting 2010 Jimenez, it’d be great. He’s been hurt most of this year.
· San Diego Padres – They don’t have an ace-type pitcher. They’ve got some starters with good numbers, but that could be due to Petco Park.
· Los Angeles Dodgers – Now this is where it gets interesting. With all of the issues surrounding the Dodgers, the bankruptcy, the inability to meet payroll, etc., it isn’t impossible to see a scenario where they would sell off some pieces. Chad Billingsley would be a terrific pitcher for the Twins to add and I would give up quite a bit to get him. However, with Clayton Kershaw about to get more expensive, I would give up anything (including Gibson, Hicks, etc.) to acquire the young, talented left-hander! That said, I am not certain that MLB would support the trading of Kershaw.
SUMMARY – I guess I don’t see a lot of ‘Aces’ being readily available. Maybe a couple more teams will struggle through July and become sellers and a name or two might become available. But for right now, I think there are just THREE starting pitchers that I would consider aces that would be available and the Twins should be interested in. Frankly, Clayton Kershaw is the crown jewel of that list, and I don’t know just how available he really would be. I would hope the Twins would make a call to the Dodgers to at least gauge that. Next would be Gio Gonzalez of the A’s. I don’t know that I’d give up Gibson for him, but probably anybody else. Next would be Chad Billingsley, but there would be a couple more guys that I would not trade to get him, including Liam Hendriks. If doctors felt that Josh Johnson would be healthy for sure over the course of the next two or three years, the life of his contract, I would obviously give up a lot for him. I just don’t think that we can say that which means that I would not deal any of the Twins top five prospects for him either. None of these three would be rentals as each would be under the Twins control for at least a few years.
1.) Clayton Kershaw – Any two top prospects, plus a couple of second or third tier prospects.
2.) Gio Gonzalez – not Gibson.
3.) Chad Billingsley – not Gibson, Hicks, Arcia or Hendriks.
\So, are there a couple of Aces that may or may not be available? Maybe… or maybe not. Should the Twins call on these guys? Absolutely. Should they be willing to trade good prospects for top pitching talent? Of course. Should they break the bank for anyone? Of course not, although, for Kershaw, it has to be considered.
What do you think? Did I miss any names? Are there other teams that might be sellers in three weeks? Let me know what you think.