Sunday, December 6, 2009

Important, but inconsequential

Monday is the deadline for Carl Pavano to accept or decline the Twins' offer of arbitration.

What he decides will go a long way toward shaping the team's starting rotation for next season — which is important — but may not really matter all that much.

If he accepts arbitration, his foray into free agency is over, and he and the Twins are committed to each other for 2010. If he declines, that probably means that he — or more specifically his agent — believes there's at least one team willing to make a multi-year offer, in which case he's almost certainly out of the Twins' reach.

Given Pavano's lengthy injury history, it seems unlikely any general manager will talk two or three years for him — but it only takes one fool to make a market.

The thing is, he's not what the Twins need. Oh, the chatter has been about securing an established veteran for the rotation — if not Pavano, maybe Rich Harden or Jarrod Washburn — but that focus misses the real point.

Right now, the Twins have three rotation slots filled: Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey. All three are better than Pavano. But they also aren't proven to be the match of most of the other teams in the AL Central.

The top three for Detroit: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Edwin Jackson. The top four for Chicago: Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks. Even Kansas City has Zach Grienke and Gil Meche. In every case, the number one guy has a better track record than Baker, and the number two guy is better than the Twins' number two, whether you regard the Twins second-best starter to be Slowey or Blackburn.

What the Twins need, more than a veteran, is somebody who is better than Blackburn and more durable than Slowey has been. Pavano doesn't fit that description; neither, for that matter, do Harden or Washburn.

They're all back-of-the-rotation guys. The Twins have a lot of those. That's really what Blackburn is. So are Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins and Boof Bonser and Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak.

Their need is quality more than quantity. But there isn't a lot of quality available in the pitching market, which means they have to find that quality in-house.

And that line of thought always seems to take me back to Francisco Liriano. Fixing him matters a lot more than signing a established 30-something. It's also probably a lot more difficult to do.

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