Throughout the past few offseasons, the comments I hear most regarding the Twins needs involve the need to acquire an Ace. In fact, I’ve said it a few times myself. Of course, that isn’t completely true and it is never the full story. You see, for the mid-90s, the Twins had not only an Ace, but the best pitcher in baseball, and that didn’t get them to the second round of the playoffs. The 2011 Phillies boasted a starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt and didn’t get to the World Series. That rotation has two definite Aces, a borderline ace and a former ace.
I’d also caution that many people, one year ago, felt that Francisco Liriano fell into the borderline ace category. That is just one example of why I believe that to be a true ace, there has to be greatness over several seasons. Another example would be Ubaldo Jimenez who was dominant for half of the 2010 season but hasn’t been great since. Like Liriano, Jimenez has a chance to return to ace-like status, but we shall see.
With that, I took to Twitter yesterday where I asked my ‘followers’ which current major league pitchers would or should be classified as True Aces. The response was great, and I will break this into the true aces (my opinion), and those on the borderline (my opinion).
- Justin Verlander (Year 3 of five year, $80 million contract - $20M)
- Clayton Kershaw (Year 1 of two year, $19 million contract - $7.5M)
- Tim Lincecum (Year 1 of two year, $40.5 million contract - $18M)
- CC Sabathia (Year 1 of five year, $122 million contract - $23M)
- Felix Hernandez (Year 3 of five year, $78 million contract - $18.5M)
- Cliff Lee (Year 2 of five year, $120 million contract - $21.5M)
- Roy Halladay (Year 2 of three year, $60 million contract - $20M)
- Jared Weaver (Year 1 of five year, $85 million contract - $14M)
- Dan Haren (Year 4 of four year, $44.75 million contract - $12.75M - $15.5M club option for 2013)
- Yovani Gallardo (Year 3 of five year, $30.1 million contract, $5.5M)
- Matt Cain (Year 3 of three year, $27.25 million contract, $15M)
- Chris Carpenter (Year 1 of two year, $21 million contract - $10.5M)
- Josh Johnson (Year 3 of four year, $39 million contract - $13.75M)
- Cole Hamels (avoided arbitration, $15M)
- Adam Wainright (Year 5 of four year, $15 million contract – Cardinals picked up $9M option for 2012 despite Tommy John surgery)
- Zach Greinke (Year 4 of four year, $38 million contract - $13.5M)
- Matt Garza (avoided arbitration, $9.5 M)
- Jon Lester (Year 4 of five year, $30 million contract, $7.625M)
- Josh Beckett (Year 2 of four year, $68 million contract - $15.75M)
- David Price (avoided arbitration, $4.25M)
- Ricky Romero (Year 2 of five year, $30.1 million contract, $5M)
- Anibal Sanchez (won arbitration, 1 year, $8M)
Could be an Ace quickly: Matt Moore, Stephen Strasburg, Mat Latos, Yu Darvish, Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran, Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy.
So, when I hear Twins fans say, “We (meaning, the Twins) need an Ace,” I will frequently say, “I agree. How are the Twins going to get one?”
Not one pitcher in that top list is available. Part of the reason they are in that top list is that, so far, they have been able to stay healthy. Johan Santana used to be in that category, but now that he hasn’t pitched for over 18 months, I’m not so sure he should be there any further. In the “Borderline” category, there are some guys who have been really good for a short period of time, or there is some injury concern or some inconsistency.
We can argue what an Ace is, who is or who isn’t. That’s not really the point here. The point is that they are not easy to come by. These guys are not available, and after the Mat Latos trade earlier this offseason, it’s understandable to see why. Latos was traded to the Reds from the Padres in exchange for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger. Part of that is because Latos is not even arbitration-eligible for another year. However, the Cubs have been trying to trade Matt Garza much of the offseason and either are not getting any interest or the asking price is beyond what anyone is willing to pay. Santana is probably a big reason why. When the Twins traded the two-time Cy Young winner to the Mets, he was baseball’s best pitcher. He was good for another year and a half and then he did what most pitchers do, he got hurt. Of course, he could still come back. We shall see. But will he ever be what he was again? Probably not.
More than half of the players listed above were drafted in the first half of the first round. The Twins have had one pick in the first half of the first round since 2002. The Twins have a big opportunity in the June draft when they have the 2nd overall pick. Mark Appel’s name is frequently mentioned as a possible choice. The Stanford right hander doesn’t really profile as an Ace, more like a 2 or 3 starter (like Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers or Liam Hendriks). Not that there is anything wrong with a 2 or 3 starter. Those are very good pitchers who will make a lot of money when they hit free agency. Lucas Giolito is another pitcher, a high school pitcher, who gets mentioned as a possible #2 pick. He profiles much more like a future Ace, but there is much more risk with a high school pitcher than with a college pitcher. Of course, by the time of the draft in June, there may be another name (pitcher or hitter) who is the best available player at that #2 spot and that’s who the Twins should take. The Twins have five picks in the top 100 picks this June.
Along with signing Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Javier Pimentel and other talented Dominican hitters, the Twins have also done a good job signing several top Dominican pitchers in recent years. They have signed two top young pitchers from Taiwan.
I completely agree with people who say that the Twins need an Ace. Frankly, the best way for that to happen is for Francisco Liriano to gain a little self-confidence, trust his stuff and become that pitcher again. He was there in 2010. It’s a contract-year for him, so it would be to his benefit if he did regain that form this year. Scott Baker was pitching as well as anyone last year before his elbow injuries. He really needs to step up too.
And then they just have to find a way to sign the right draft picks and international players and develop them. Frankly, I’m not as worried about getting a True Ace. That doesn’t guarantee anything. But I do think that pitching does win, and if they had more #2s and #3s that were consistent, they would be just fine.