Monday, August 31, 2009

No Penny, no Harden, no nothing

After all that speculation, the Twins didn't make a deal for Rich Harden and didn't put in a claim on Brad Penny, who became a free agent and is almost certainly headed to the easier National League.

This leaves the Twins with a rotation of Scott Baker (good), Carl Pavano (less good), Nick Blackburn (mediocre), Brian Duensing (effective beyond reason so far) and a grab bag of minor leaguers, bullpen arms and perhaps injury returnees. Last week the grab bag meant Armando Gabino; on Tuesday, it means Jeff Manship. Next week, who knows?

And you know what? I'm not broken hearted over this. Penny has a 5.61 ERA with the Red Sox for a reason, and it follows a 6.28 ERA last year for the Dodgers. He may not be any real improvement over Gabino or Manship.

Harden's a much better pitcher, but the question with him isn't if he'll get hurt, it's when. He's had seven DL stints since 2005. A pitcher acquired now figures to make six regular season starts, max; Harden, even assuming he makes all six starts, would hardly have meant six guaranteed wins, any more than the grab bag approach means six guaranteed losses. (The Twins did, after all, win Gabino's one start.)

We don't know exactly what the Cubs wanted for Harden, but it was always assumed to be a steep asking price, and thus always seemed a long shot to happen. The Twins at this moment — after the Tigers' Monday loss, before the start of the Twins-White Sox game — are four games out. That's a big margin to overcome on the basis of one rotation slot's six starts. Had the Twins won a couple more of those eminently winnable games since the All-Star break, giving up key prospects for Harden trade have been justifiable.

If the Twins are going to make up those four games on the Tigers, they're going to need somebody to step up the way Baker and Duensing have. Tonight is Blackburn's next chance to start being that somebody.

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