Souhan: Twins must open checkbook for pitching, or losing will go on

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 18, 2013 - 7:58 AM

There is little correlation between spending and winning in Major League Baseball.

Seven of the 10 teams that spent the most on payroll this season probably will miss the playoffs, including the top-spending New York Yankees, who will have lavished about $229 million on a bunch of old, overpaid players. The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays rank 27th and 28th out of 30 teams in payroll and have as much chance of winning the World Series this year as anyone.

The Twins can’t spend their way out of their three-year backslide into oblivion.

But wouldn’t it be nice if they tried?

I’m not asking them to sign the top free-agent pitcher on the market, because that would be expensive and, given the history of top-dollar free agent pitchers, dangerous.

Actually, wait. That’s exactly what I’m asking them to do.

I’m using the same scientific rationale as the Wright Brothers, Sir Edmund Hillary, Evel Knievel and Neil Armstrong, who all concluded: What the heck, give it a shot.

(Complete list of MLB free agents)

I’ve always bought into Twins General Manager Terry Ryan’s philosophy, agreeing that most free agents are overpaid and underwhelming, that the only way to build a good team in a lesser market is to develop your own pitching and position players, trade intelligently and seek bargains in free agency.

But, to quote the eminent philosopher Donald Trump, desperate times call for blank checks.

These are desperate times for the unwatchable team at 1 Twins Way.

They’ve produced embarrassing results for three consecutive years. They’ve scared off the paying customers who are interested in something other than craft beer and sunshine. They face another year or two of losing before their phenoms will be ready to lead a competitive team. Their greatest weakness, starting pitching, is also the most difficult and unpredictable commodity to evaluate and develop.

Signing expensive free-agent pitchers usually offers more risk than reward. By the time a pitcher becomes a free agent, his best years might be behind him. There might be a reason his latest team didn’t sell out to keep him. He might be a season-ending injury waiting to happen.

The risks are obvious.

In the Twins’ case, so are the potential rewards.

Signing a premier free-agent pitcher would signal to a highly supportive fan base that the organization is not content to field a disheartening product. The perception that the Pohlads are content to lose games and rake in cash is incorrect, but it exists. A big check could change that.

Competitively, a premier pitcher could hasten rebuilding and, if that occurred sooner rather than later, a premier pitcher could provide leadership for young arms arriving in the majors, and give the Twins a chance to win Game 1 of any playoff series, which is a big deal in a format in which a playoff series might last only one game.

They could pursue a veteran innings consumer such as Bronson Arroyo, a stereotypical soft-tossing lefty such as Bruce Chen, a wacky hard thrower such as Matt Garza. They could take a shot on a slumping Phil Hughes. Even better, they could sign two.

Look what Francisco Liriano has done for the Pirates this season. Pittsburgh plays in a ballpark that looks like Target Field, features a star center fielder who looks like an early prototype for Byron Buxton, and has admirable pitching depth, which the Twins should also develop over the next few years.

What the Pirates lacked was a power arm to lead their staff, to stop losing streaks, to allow the rest of their starters to fall logically into place in a competitive rotation.

The Pirates deserve credit for sticking with Liriano when a freak offseason injury set him back, and for helping him become a more confident pitcher. They also got lucky, given that more accomplished and more expensive free-agent pitchers fail all the time.

The downside to diving into the free-agent pitching market is that it might cost the Pohlads some money.

The upside? They might speed rebuilding and set their rotation up to win in the near future. They might make Target Field something more than a pub with outdoor seating.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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