With the start of Season 6 just around the corner, it's time to preview the defending champion Minnesota Twins, so here goes. In part 1, we focus on the pitching staff.
Although it might be best to let the veteran players go off and explore greener pastures, Twins management has decided to try and keep the team together for at least one more season to see if any of the magic remains. Most of the pitching staff will be filled with established major-leaguers, and Twins management will be actively seeking to deal away some of the major-league-ready talent that simply won't get a chance to contribute to the Season 6 version of the Twins.
SP #1 - Yup, you guessed it. Lefty Chris Y. Nen is being brought back for another season of being the Twins' Ace. Though he is a few points off his ratings peak, Nen still rates as arguably the best SP in the World and with a good team behind him is poised to challenge for his sixth consecutive Cy Young Award.
Contract - Signed through S6 for $11.5M.
SP #2 - For the first time in years, there is a new #2 SP in Minnesota. No, no one was brought in via trade, but this year right-hander Gabby Martin is set to be moved up in the rotation. After an outstanding season where he finished in the top 5 of the Cy Young voting, sporting a 15-3 record with a 1.08 WHIP and a 3.08 ERA, Martin took another step forward in the off-season and is poised to make even greater strides. Still only 23 years old, Martin has the potential to be one of the most effective pitchers in the World. His Achilles heal may be his lack of a great durability/stamina combo (only 28/62 presently), which will limit his IP over the course of a season and could potentially put some added strain on the bullpen.
Contract - With only 1 ML year under his belt, Martin is locked up for the bargain price of $360k in S6.
SP #3 - Though he struggled somewhat in the Season 5 post-season, Twins management has enough faith in lefty John Jang to bring him back in Season 6 to act as the veteran core of the rotation. Jang has been quietly spectacular for the Twins over the past 5 seasons, accumulating a career record of 67-47 with a 1.26 WHIP and a 3.57 ERA over 1014.1 innings. In Season 5, management called off the dogs early and rested many veterans (including Jang) down the stretch, but he still posted an impressive 13-7 Win-Loss record to go with a 1.18 WHIP and a 3.70 ERA in 175.1 IP. On many teams, he'd be considered an Ace in his own right and be the career leader in most pitching categories, but he has been overshadowed by Nen.
Contract - Management recognized his true value in the off-season, giving him a 2-year contract extension at an over 50% increase - though at only $4.6M per year, he's still a great bargain.
SP #4 - Used as a swingman last season, 27-year-old righty Vic Nitkowski is likely to move into the rotation full-time this season. In 53 games last season (9 starts) Nitkowski threw 118.1 innings, with a 13-4 record and one save, a 1.06 WHIP, and a 2.59 ERA. After enjoying a 2-point increase in OVR rating in the off-season, including an impressive 3-point jump in vRH, Twins management is confident in Nitkowski's ability to be among the best, if not THE best, #4 SP in the World.
Contract - Nitkowski is arbitration-eligible and asking for $5.7M this season. The Twins have not yet decided whether to give him a one year deal or extend him long-term for 4 years at $5.8M per.
SP #5 - It's tough to consider a season where a pitcher went 11-4 a "disappointment" but that's exactly what last season was for then-#3 SP Clay Bellhorn. Bellhorn posted a respectable 1.39 WHIP and 4.29 ERA, but management hoped for much more from the highly-rated lefty. Still only 28 years old, maybe the move to SP #5 will help remove some pressure from Bellhorn and allow him to reach his full potential.
Contract - Like Nitkowski (above) Bellhorn is arbitration-eligible this season. Perhaps recognizing he has yet to fulfill his potential, Bellhorn is asking only $1.7M for Season 6, though management is considering the option of locking him up for the same rate as Nitkowski - 4 years at $5.8M per.
Long Relief -
Paul Suzuki (LH, 93.0 IP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.97 ERA in S5) is the established lefty long-reliever coming out of the pen. Arbitration-eligible, he'll likely be brought back for his one-year asking price of $1.6M. The righty RP that teams can expect to see coming in for long relief is Reid Moeller. Moeller was outstanding in his first full season with the Twins, going 11-0 in 84 appearances, with a 1.33 WHIP and a 2.98 ERA. He's seeking $1.7M in arbitration. The Twins are also committed to giving lefty Brian Helling an opportunity to succeed in S6. Though he has struggled more than expected in the past, his ratings and high ceiling suggest he may be poised to break through. Making only $378k, there's the potential for a good payoff with very little risk.
Setup Pitchers -
Twins management has yet to decide what route to take with stud right-handed RP Buddy Bryne. His effectiveness is undeniable (81 G, 84.0 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 3.86 ERA in S5; 351 G, 361.1 IP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.58 ERA career), but he is asking for the very high sum of $7.3M in arbitration. Alternatively, he's looking for only $6.0M per in a long-term deal, but that would require a four-year commitment. Though he will almost certainly be counted on by the Twins in their S6 push, it's not clear whether he will be locked up beyond that. His left-handed counterpart, Matt Crespo, was inked to a 1-year deal in the off-season for $4.0M. Crespo has been solid for the Twins since being brought over in S3, and management is expecting him to be the lefty anchor for the pen. Following two consecutive seasons of sub-2.75 ERAs, management also brought back righty Jason White by signing him to a 2-year extension at $2.8M per. White actually led the Twins in saves last year, but since the club employed a closer-by-committee, he only totaled 9 saves. Rookies Carlos Blanco (RH, 23 years old, $343k), Timothy Kent (RH, 25 years old, $343k), Tommy McIntyre (LH, 25 years old, $343k), and Tex Sefcik (RH, 27 years old, $343k) are expected to compete with returner Ralph Bradshaw (RH, 58 G, 69 IP, 1.20 WHIP, 3.26 ERA in S5; $378k in S6) to give the Twins bullpen depth in S6. Unfortunately, Twins management wants to only carry 13 pitchers going into S6, so someone is going to be left out in the cold.
That means if you are in the market for pitching options, Minnesota is a great place to go shopping!