The Twins entered this season with a wide assortment of "maybes" in their starting pitching mix, hoping that over the course of 162 games a couple would separate themselves from the pack and become established as sturdy options moving forward. In a transitional year where there was never any realistic expectation of winning, this was truly the overriding goal.
The Twins talked about wanting to play meaningful games in September, they talked about wanting to play better fundamental baseball, they talked about wanting to see improvement from the coaching staff and the training staff. But in the end, all that paled in comparison to the need for some positive movement within their ruined rotation.
And it didn't happen.
Most of the starting pitching suspects unraveled. Really there was only one case where a borderline pitcher exceeded expectations and positioned himself as an enticing option for next year; that's Samuel Deduno, who has been shut down after struggling through shoulder pain in August and undergoing an MRI that revealed "some issues with his labrum and rotator cuff." (Those are some ominous words for a pitcher.)
With the exception of Deduno, no Twins starter has pitched especially well or given any indication that he can be an asset in next year's rotation. And that's a rather disastrous outcome, which serves to hamper the excitement and giddiness we should all be feeling about the upcoming crop of uber-talented position players.
Along with the mediocre Kevin Correia -- who, in fairness, has performed slightly better than expected -- the Twins will return an unexciting group of starter candidates next year that includes Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, Kyle Gibson, Pedro Hernandez, Andrew Albers, Liam Hendriks and Deduno. Those seven pitchers have combined for a 5.25 ERA in the majors this year, and not one of them has a strikeout rate that is even close to the league average.
Each player has his strengths, and might have a chance to be a useful piece in the big leagues. But none deserves anything more than an invite to spring training at this point, and unlike last year -- where at least Diamond and Worley were coming off solid seasons, and Gibson was looking sharp on the comeback path from surgery -- there are no real positives to sell fans on right now. These pitchers are all wild cards who, based on recent results, seem more likely to struggle than succeed.
Trying to inspire hope of a turnaround with this group would be unacceptable and inexcusable. I could maybe see the logic in letting these guys compete for one or two spots, with the rest heading to Rochester or moving on, as their production merits. But that leaves an awful lot of uncertainty remaining in the rotation, and as we've seen, it can quite tough to find impact arms to fill those spots. Last offseason, the Twins traded two valuable position players and signed two veteran free agents, and still ended up without anyone that helped them much this year.
So what to do now? Well, the front office could take an aggressive approach, ramping up spending to pursue a higher class of free agent while making a few of their coveted assets available in the hopes of luring a near-ready pitching prospect or proven MLB starter. This would actually make a lot of sense, considering they have very few payroll commitments and the system is littered with highly regarded hitting prospects.
The alternative would be to stay the course, sticking with the kind of low-upside moves that have become this organization's signature and praying that a few members of the aforementioned group can rise from the ashes of a dreadful 2013 campaign. The Twins can always point to hope on the horizon, bright young arms like Kohl Stewart, J.O. Berrios and Stephen Gonsalves looking promising, but selling fans on a future built around Single-A pitchers won't be easy.
In my mind, this is an immensely important offseason for the Twins, and one where the old "business-as-usual" manner of operating will not fly. The storyline entering this winter will be much the same as last year -- pitching, pitching, pitching -- only the pressure will be far greater following a season that has seen too much movement in the wrong direction.