Part 1 of 4: GM Terry Ryan has a lot of work to do in shoring up one of the worst rotations in baseball.
By TYLER MASONFS North
This is the first in a four-part series reviewing the Minnesota Twins 2012 season and looking ahead to 2013.
Monday: Starting pitchers
Tuesday: Relief pitchers
Thursday: Infielders and catchers
ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Samuel Deduno (6-5, 4.44 ERA), Cole De Vries (5-5, 4.11 ERA), Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54 ERA), Liam Hendriks (1-8, 5.59 ERA), Carl Pavano (2-5, 6.00 ERA), Esmerling Vasquez (0-2, 5.68 ERA), P.J. Walters (2-5, 5.69 ERA)
LOOKING BACK: The Twins entered spring training with an anticipated starting rotation of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis and Pavano. By the end of the year, none of those five were in the rotation. In fact, two of the five were no longer on the team.
The Twins signed Marquis in the offseason with the hope that he could add a veteran presence to Minnesota's rotation. Instead, his Twins career lasted just seven starts. After a disappointing start in which he went 2-4 with an 8.47 ERA, Marquis was released by the team. He later signed with the San Diego Padres after never panning out in Minnesota.
Baker's season was over before it began. The right-hander experienced elbow discomfort in spring training and later had Tommy John surgery, ending his 2012 season. Pavano was also shut down with an injury after making just 11 starts. In the past two seasons, Pavano had pitched over 220 innings each year. Blackburn, meanwhile, was outrighted to Triple-A Rochester after going 4-9 with a 7.39 ERA in 19 starts. And the Twins traded Liriano to their AL Central rivals, the Chicago White Sox, before the trade deadline.
Without those five in the rotation, it was a revolving door of pitchers coming up from Rochester to try and fill holes. Of all the starters who pitched in the rotation, only Diamond found much success. The left-hander was 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA in his first 11 starts through June. While he cooled down late in the season, Diamond was still the Twins' best starter.
A few of the other starters thrown into the fire showed potential at times, but none were consistent throughout the year. Deduno perhaps boasted the best "stuff" of any minor league call-up, with a breaking ball that baffled opponents — as well as his own catchers at times. Still, control was an issue for the 28-year-old Deduno: he struck out 57 but walked 53 in 79 innings.
Hendriks made his major league debut last year, pitching in four games late in the 2011 season. But the 23-year-old Australia native struggled in 16 starts at the major league level this year. He went 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA and 17 home runs allowed in 85 1/3 innings. It took Hendriks 18 career starts before earning his first major league victory, a 6-4 win over Cleveland.
This was possibly Pavano's last season with the Twins. The 36-year-old veteran is now a free agent. While he was an innings eater in 2010 and 2011, Pavano battled injuries in 2012 and saw his velocity suffer as a result.
Left-hander Brian Duensing made 11 starts for Minnesota but was used primarily out of the bullpen (44 relief appearances). His numbers were much better as a reliever: he posted a 3.47 ERA in 57 innings as a reliever and a 6.92 ERA in 52 innings as a starter. Duensing remains an option for the rotation in 2013, but the Twins like what he can do as a left-handed arm out of the bullpen.
As a whole, the Twins' rotation was one of the worst in baseball. Minnesota's starters had a collective ERA of 5.40, the highest in the American League and second-worst in the majors, just ahead of Colorado's combined 5.81 ERA. On top of that, the Twins' starting rotation pitched the second-fewest innings in baseball (880). That meant Minnesota's bullpen was taxed and overworked as the starters frequently put together short outings.
OFFSEASON DECISIONS: It's no secret that the Twins' emphasis this winter will be to find starting pitching, and lots of it.
Among the offseason decisions will be whether to pick up the $9.25 million club option on Baker's contract for 2013. Coming off major elbow surgery, it's unlikely the Twins will pick up Baker's option. There's always the possibility that the two sides could come to an agreement to bring Baker back for less money if the team doesn't pick up the option.
General manager Terry Ryan and the rest of Minnesota's front office will also have to decide whether any of the young pitchers (besides Diamond) that started for the Twins this year will be worthy of a look next spring. Ultimately, the Twins will have to acquire a few starting pitchers, whether that's via free agency or a trade. It should be an interesting spring training as Minnesota will have several candidates vying for one of the five spots in the rotation.
LOOKING AHEAD: Diamond appears to be a lock to be one of the five starters next year. From there, the identities of the remaining four starters are anyone's guess.
There's a chance that guys like Deduno or De Vries could crack the rotation next year as the team's fourth or fifth starters. Minnesota still appears to have faith in Hendriks, who was the organizations' Minor League Player of the Year in 2011. He was lights-out again at Rochester this year but couldn't carry that success to the majors.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson, the team's first-round pick in 2009, missed almost all of 2012 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. It remains to be seen if he can contribute at the major league level last year. If he were healthy entering 2012, Gibson would have challenged for a spot in the rotation.
The cupboard in the minor leagues is not very full as far as starting pitching goes. All of Rochester's top pitchers appeared with the Twins this year as they auditioned a number of starting pitchers.
GM TERRY RYAN SAYS: "We've got to find pitching, however we go about it. I've said this three times … when you lose 90-plus games two years in a row, there shouldn't be too many untouchables on the club. You've got to find a way to get better."