If one game can show the jumbled mess that the Twins’ starting rotation is even in the midst of a playoff chase while also encapsulating the dangers of delving into the free agent market in an attempt to solve the problem, Game 2 of last night’s doubleheader — not a must-win, but a hurts-to-lose 10-2 drubbing at the hands of Cleveland — was exactly that game.
In an effort to bolster their starting rotation heading into the 2014 season, the Twins signed three pitchers to multi-year contracts: Ricky Nolasco (4 years, $49 million), Phil Hughes (3 years, $24 million) and Mike Pelfrey (2 years, $11 million).
Nolasco and Pelfrey were disasters last year. Hughes was brilliant and was rewarded with an even bigger contract extension this past offseason (he is owed roughly $49 million from 2016-19). In 2015, Hughes hasn’t been terrible but he has been far less than he was in 2014 — a disappointment in the context of what he was a season ago. Nolasco again has been a disaster, this time primarily because of injury. Pelfrey was very good for two months of the season and has been languishing ever since.
The inconsistency and injuries of all three pitchers have contributed to a state of flux in the Twins’ rotation. The strange and disappointing nature of it all came to a head in one of the biggest games of the season Thursday. Pelfrey started and was knocked out before the second inning was over. Hughes came on in relief later on, while Nolasco also pitched two crisp innings later in the game.
So there it was: three starting pitchers, all signed to multi-year deals in 2014 that eventually grew to more than $100 million in total commitment when Hughes signed an extension … all appearing in the same game. And the thing is, there’s no guarantee any of them would be prominently featured in a postseason rotation if the Twins are able to make it that far.
The three best options down the stretch have been Kyle Gibson, rookie Tyler Duffey and Ervin Santana. Gibson and Duffey would be my top two choices to start meaningful postseason games right now. Santana is ineligible because of his drug suspension. He could pitch in any extended regular season games (like a Game 163 Monday and/or a Game 164 Tuesday), but he’s slated to start Friday so that seems unlikely. Duffey pitches today. Gibson very well could pitch again on short rest Sunday, though there’s not even an official starter listed for the Twins for the final game of the regular season, which could determine a postseason berth.
Who would pitch a Game 163? Anyone’s guess. If the wild card game was Tuesday, who would pitch that? Quite possibly Duffey.
So after investing heavily in free agents, the Twins’ starting options for the final game of the regular season, a possible one-game regular-season playoff and a wild card game are Gibson on short rest, a question mark (Hughes? Nolasco? Pelfrey?) and a rookie who didn’t start the season here.