The 2010 Best Rotation for the Money Debate… How to Reach the Postseason on a Budget

April 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

A phrase like “best pitching rotation for the money” can be interpreted many different ways.

On one hand, you have a team like the New York Yankees. The Yankees are the name-brand shoppers of Major League Baseball, and only want the very best that money can buy. They have invested more than $60M into their pitching rotation, and last season it paid off for them in the way of a World Series championship.

Not every team has to spend top-dollar for their pitching talent, though. Some teams, like the great bargain-hunters of the world, have an uncanny ability to stretch their dollars to the very maximum. They may not get the top performers of the game, but they manage to find the right guys for the right price to get the right job done.

No team has managed to stretch their dollars better this year than the Minnesota Twins.

I know there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins hurlers this year thanks to a new ballpark that seems to be hitter friendly, and the season-ending Tommy John surgery for closer Joe Nathan. What the Twins have going for them, though, is a very strong offense and a schedule that includes more than 30 games against either the Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Royals. Because of that, they don’t need world-beaters on the mound. Instead, they simply need guys who can come in and pitch consistently, keeping the offense in the game. That was the key to the Twins’ success last season, and 2010 should not be any different.

The Twins pitchers may not be the flashiest guys to set foot on the mound, and they may not put up the best numbers, but they will once again be successful. And, that success will come at a FRACTION of the cost the Yankees have invested in their hurlers. In fact, the Twins last season paid only $3.56M to the men comprising their 2010 starting lineup (Yankees’ starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett alone combined for TEN TIMES that amount), and will pay one of the lowest combined salaries in baseball again this season (only Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Tampa, and Toronto pay less). Yet the Twins reached the postseason for the fifth time in eight seasons in 2009, and will be among the teams competing for playing time in October once again in 2010.

Three of their budget starters, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Carl Pavano, combined last season for a record of 30-16 while in Twins uniforms. They are all practically locks to have winning records once again in 2010. Added to that mix is Mr. Consistency (Nick Blackburn), who has notched records of 11-11 in 33 starts in each of the last two seasons, with respective ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03 (his first outing of 2010 season resulted in a win and an ERA of – you guessed it – 4.05).

The only real question in their rotation is with their fifth starter, Francisco Liriano, who at one time appeared ready to become the next dominant name in pitching. However, on the heels of a 2006 all-star season where he pitched to a record of 12-3 and an ERA of only 2.16, Liriano had Tommy John surgery that he has not yet been able to fully bounce back from. After a very impressive winter campaign, though, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire seems confident enough in Liriano’s ability to keep him as the fifth starter in the rotation. He also has youngster Brian Duensing waiting in the wings (at a whopping league minimum salary of $400K), who is more than capable of taking over a starting role, should Liriano prove unreliable once again on the starting mound.

The bullpen is the real question for the Twins this season, and the recent vacancy of the closer role by Joe Nathan is where the biggest challenge lies for Gardenhire. Nathan posted a career-high 47 saves in 2009 and has never had an ERA worse than 2.70 since becoming the Twins closer in 2004. Those are very tough shoes to fill, and the Twins don’t really have a bona fide closer who can produce those same results. They have named Jon Rauch as their closer pro tempore, and have Matt Guerrier on reserve, both of whom are VERY capable relievers. But neither will likely match the production that Nathan provided.

Nevertheless, thanks to residing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, along with a very strong lineup at the plate, the Minnesota Twins should remain in contention for the postseason yet again. They don’t NEED the elite pitchers of the game to do that, because it would be a waste of money. The players they have in their rotation are consistent, successful, and most importantly CHEAP. They will manage to remain in HEAVY contention for the postseason with one of the least expensive pitching rotations in the entire league. I would call that one of the best pitching rotations for the money!

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