Reusse: Rotation needs fixing, so Cuddyer must go

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2011 - 11:09 AM

Any salary the Twins can free up should go toward securing a hard-throwing No. 1 starter and a No. 2 guy who is better than their other options.

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Even if Michael Cuddyer were willing to come back for $9 million a year for three years, the Twins can't climb out of its current predicament by spending $27 million on an outfielder when that money is needed for at least two starting pitchers.

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Michael Cuddyer, it has been great having you around for the past decade. You were highly professional, frequently productive and, by Twins standards, very reliable.

Trouble is, even if you were willing to come back for say $9 million a year for three years, this ballclub can't climb out of its current predicament by spending $27 million on an outfielder who will be 33 before the start of next season.

Any loose $9 million the Twins have sitting around for 2012 has to be spent on a starting pitcher.

It's true that feeble run production has plagued the Twins from Game 1 in Toronto on April 1 through Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Yankees at Target Field in Game 126, but a look through the current starting options screams that an even greater disaster will await the 2012 Twins if the rotation isn't addressed in a big way.

Joe Nathan's $11.25 million will come off the books. Matt Capps' $7.15 million will come off the books. Delmon Young's $5.375 million is already gone. Jason Kubel figures to leave as a free agent with his $5.25 million salary.

Throw in Cuddyer's $10.5 million, deduct Nathan's $2 million buyout from the savings and the Twins could be taking $37.6 million off the payroll with this fivesome.

And I'm guessing that the change in that number -- $7.6 million -- might go away when management dictates a reduction from this year's robust, season-opening payroll of $113 million.

That would leave the Twins with $30 million to spend. And if they want to get back to competing in 2012, they are going to have to spend more than half of that as the first seasons on multiyear contracts for a pair of starting pitchers.

After 126 games, these are the starting totals for the Twins: Nick Blackburn 26, Carl Pavano 25, Brian Duensing 24, Francisco Liriano 23, Scott Baker 21, Anthony Swarzak 5, Kevin Slowey 1 and Scott Diamond 1.

Blackburn left Sunday's game because of a sore forearm, and he's headed to the disabled list. Whatever the outcome of this injury, there's no way the Twins can take themselves seriously next spring if they consider Blackburn as anything more than an emergency candidate for the last spot in the rotation.

There's not a team in the major leagues that can look at a pitcher with 241 base runners in 148 1/3 innings -- as has Blackburn -- and have the manager again say, "He's one of my guys."

Carl Pavano hasn't pitched as well as in 2010, but he's still a pro and can be a third or fourth starter with an infield that makes most of the plays. The Twins also can give Baker another shot, with the knowledge he probably won't make it from April through September without seeing the DL a couple of times.

As for Liriano -- yes, he drives everyone nuts, but unless the Twins bring in three veteran starters (rather than two), they have to open another season with him and make the final call in mid-summer.

Duensing is not a starter for a team that hopes to rally from an abysmal season. He goes back to the bullpen -- a needed lefty, with Glen Perkins as Candidate A to be the closer.

It took a while for the Twins to find the right spot for Perkins as a late lefty in the pen. They have been quicker in finding Swarzak's role: long relief, spot starter.

The fear is if Swarzak pitches well as Blackburn's replacement in these meaningless final weeks of 2011, you can see Twins declaring him part of the rotation. That would be a big mistake.

The only starting prospect close to big-league ready, Kyle Gibson, is out of the picture -- likely headed to Tommy John surgery.

When the Twins discuss the rotation for 2012, this should be the plan:

No. 1 starter: Yet to be signed/acquired hard-thrower (doesn't pitch to contact); No. 2: Yet to be signed/acquired veteran starter with solid stuff; No. 3: Pavano; No. 4: Liriano; No. 5: Baker, with Swarzak, Blackburn or Slowey to fill in when Baker is on the DL.

As mentioned, it's been a hoot, Cuddy, but the available millions must go to fix this rotation, not on a 33-year-old outfielder who deserves a three-year contract from another club.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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