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Hidden Aces (Part II)

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: October 28, 2010 - 11:54 PM

When we last joined our intrepid blogger, he was researching the word "intrepid." Shortly thereafter, he started looking for "aces" beyond Zach Greinke that the Twins could target this offseason. (You can see Part 1 here.) So he was counting down the qualified starting pitchers with the highest strikeout rates and highlighting the ones that might be available. We were up to #21......


21.              Roy Oswalt (PHI)
22.              David Price (TB)
Thanks for playing. Please, try again!
 
23.              Chad Billingsley (LAD)
Another good name to have handy when someone won’t shut up about Greinke. Billingsley struck out 171 guys this year, had a 3.57 ERA and only gave up 8 home runs. He’s also just 26 years old, and has two years of arbitration left – but he’ll still be fairly expensive this year, probably in the neighborhood of $7M. Normally, that wouldn’t phase the Dodgers, but with the franchise hanging in the crosshairs of that divorce, anything is possible right now. 
 
24.              Roy Halladay (PHI)
25.              Cliff Lee (TEX)
Ha! Unless you have a time machine and can go back to last offseason. (Hold it – you do? Can I borrow it?)
 
26.              Scott Baker (MIN)
Really? Hold it. Really?
 
This deserves some comment, but I’m a little stunned. Let me digest this a bit.
 
27.              Ian Kennedy (ARI)
28.              Edwin Jackson (CHW)
29.              Ted Lilly (CHC/LAD)
Never gonna happen my friend. I think that Jackson is going to be traded somewhere this offseason, just so the White Sox can get his $8.35M salary off their books. After all, he was never supposed to be with them in the first place. The only reason they traded for him was because they thought they were going to trade him to the Nationals. But I can’t see any way they trade him to the Twins.
 
30.          Tommy Hanson (ATL)
31.          Jonathon Niese (NYM)
32.          Gio Gonzalez (OAK)
33.          Shaun Marcum (TOR)
I suppose Hanson (3.33 ERA, 173 K) could be available, but he’s gonna cost you. He is within two years of free agency, and his agent is Scott Boras, so maybe the Braves would be interested in moving him, but it would be a significant deal.
 
That goes for the next two guys, too. I could see the Mets letting go of Niese(4.20 ERA, 148 K) for some offense. Ditto the Athletics and Gio Gonzalez (3.23 ERA, 171 K). They’re also both left-handed. I’d mark both off-limits if their respective teams weren’t so flawed.
 
Finally, Marcum(3.64 ERA, 165K) will be in his second year following Tommy John surgery and is two years from free agency. The Jays are already getting excited about their young rotation, so he might be available in the right deal. I would think high upside prospects would be especially tasty bait, so they can follow the path the Rays have tread.
 
Are they aces? Gio is probably the closest, but I’m encouraged that we haven’t even got to the next four names, all of whom are generally regarded as aces or still playing in the postseason.
 
34.          C.J. Wilson (TEX)
35.          CC Sabathia (NYY)
36.          Ricky Romero (TOR)
37.          Phil Hughes (NYY)
Save your breath. Romero is signed through 2015. I wouldn’t be shocked if Hughes is made available, just because it would be a classic Yankees overreaction to unload him after his last playoff performance. But you’re trying to get an ace to beat the Yankees. Do you really think Hughes is that guy?
 
38.          Zack Greinke (KC)
The 27-year-old Greinke didn’t have a down year just because he was on a cruddy team. He just wasn’t fantastic. His ERA was 4.17 almost two full runs over last year’s. He was in the top 10 in strikeout rate last year, and 38th this year. He was very, very good, but he wasn't an ace this year. He’s also thrown a lot of innings over the last two years. Was it just a down year that he’ll surely bounce back from, or would the Twins be trading for past performance?
 
I’m betting it was just a down year, but that doesn’t mean he should be the only guy considered. The next time someone tells you the Twins have to trade for Greinkie, here are some names to have handy: Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billingsly, and Shaun Marcum. Maybe it'll get them past the Greinke mantra.
 
 
Ok – back to Scott Baker.
 
First, I should point out that he had the second highest ERA of anyone on this list, second to Jamie Shields. But it’s also worth noting that his strikeout rate and walk rate this year were very, very good. He just gave up too many damn hits. Oh, and led the league in slumped shoulders. 
 
It turns out I could say the same thing about Jamie Shields (#18 yesterday), and I’m fairly confident Shields will bounce back. Would other teams be saying that about Baker? Are they wrong, or would a little distance give us a better perspective? And how much did the elbow problems, on which he had surgery immediately following the season, play into things?
 
This whole exercise is making me wonder if he is a very good candidate to have that breakout year we’ve been waiting for. He just turned 29 years old. His career strikeout rate is over 7 per nine innings. His walk rate is close to 2 per nine innings. His hit rate was below 1 per inning for the last two years. He is exactly the kind of sneaky good struggling pitcher that I would target just looking at his stats. Oh, plus, he’s relatively cheap.
 
That doesn’t mean he belongs on a list of possible aces. But he’s exactly the kind of sleeper that suddenly breaks through and everyone looks back and wonders how they didn’t see it coming. Shouldn’t we know better? Didn’t we just go through this with Liriano?
 
Before today I wouldn’t have given two cares about whether Baker got traded away this offseason. Now, I’d love to see him stick around, because I want to see what kind of year he has. I suspect I’m going to want to see it happen with him as a Twin.
 

 
Did you know there is such a thing as a blogging scholarship? Apparently there is, and one of the Twins own bloggers, Andrew Bryz-Gornia of Off The Mark, is a finalist for it. I've met Andrew several times over the last year, and I came away with the distinct impression that he is worth exactly $10,000. But I don't really want to pay him that with my own money, so could you please help me vote him to victory? Just click here and vote for him.  Thanks.
 

 
Nick takes a look at Bill Smith's greatest weakness.
 
And over at The Bat Shatters, Adam tries to decide: Thome vs. Kubel.
 

 
Have a good weekend folks, we'll see you next week!

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