Cautious Twins don't take the plunge

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2006 - 10:19 PM

Free agency? Not for them. Now even the possibility of trading for pitching help appears to be fading.

When the price for free agent pitching skyrocketed this fall -- $55 million for Gil Meche, etc. -- the logical assumption was that the Twins would address their starting rotation needs with a trade.

The Colorado Rockies called, offering Jason Jennings, who seemed like a potential fit. But this week, people saw how costly a deal like that can be.

To get Jennings, the Astros gave up center fielder Willy Taveras and young righthanders Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz. For the Twins, insiders say, the equivalent package would have been Denard Span, Matt Garza and Scott Baker.

The speedy Taveras is basically Span in three years. Hirsh's minor league numbers -- 13-2 with a 2.10 ERA at Class AAA last year -- were comparable to Garza's. And scouts think Buchholz, like Baker, projects to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

For all of that, the Astros are assured to get one year of Jennings, a potential free agent next fall. A trade like this would be terribly shortsighted for the Twins.

At least Houston has a chance to re-sign Jennings. He's a Texas native who went to Baylor, and the Astros proved they have deep pockets with that $100 million deal for Carlos Lee this fall.

Lieber another no-go

Don't look for the Twins to trade for Jon Lieber, either.

The Phillies aren't asking as much for the 36-year-old righthander. They want an eighth-inning specialist, which the Twins have in reserve with Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek.

But with each passing week, as the market continues to explode, the Twins are convincing themselves they'd be better off keeping their young pitching talent for themselves.

White Sox watch

The Chicago White Sox were reportedly set to receive that same sweet package from Houston -- Taveras, Hirsh and Buchholz -- for righthander Jon Garland.

That might sound crazy, considering the White Sox have already traded righthander Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia this offseason. But Chicago GM Kenny Williams also decided it was better to stockpile talented young pitchers than pay his established veterans ridiculous sums of money.

Hunter's value skyrockets

Torii Hunter must be enjoying himself this offseason, with free agent center fielders breaking the bank.

The Angels gave Gary Matthews a five-year, $50 million deal. The Dodgers gave Juan Pierre $44 million over five years. And the Blue Jays were reportedly close to signing Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126 million deal.

Assuming the Twins can't re-sign him, Hunter, 31, won't get the same money as Wells, who is three years younger and a better hitter.

But Hunter can probably expect something in between the Wells and Matthews deals -- perhaps six years for $90 million. Braves center fielder Andruw Jones also can hit the market next year, and his next deal will be downright scary.

Fluke injury department

The forearm injury that sidelined Tigers flamethrower Joel Zumaya during the playoffs is now being blamed ... on a video game.

The symptoms apparently cleared up when Zumaya stopped playing the PlayStation 2 game "Guitar Hero," which features a guitar-shaped controller to simulate the actions guitarists use to crank out rock music.

"That was probably what was taking place," Tigers president Dave Dombrow-ski told the Detroit Free Press.

The Twins know all about this game. During a late-season trip to Baltimore, the sounds of "Smoke on the Water" echoed from the visitor's clubhouse with Johan Santana, Matt Guerrier and others reveling in the fun.

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