Despite opening a brand new outdoor stadium, re-signing their franchise catcher for the better part of the next decade, and winning their division in relatively easy fashion, the Minnesota Twins 2010 season would end the same as in previous years.

Yet another first round elimination at the hands of the New York Yankees would leave Twins fans wondering what it would take to succeed in October.

As the Twins look towards the 2011 season, they have to have concerns about the status of their pitching staff, both starters and relievers. Needless to say, Twins pitchers were at times unpredictable in 2010.

From the perspective of the starting rotation, free agent Carl Pavano is getting the vast majority of the attention when it comes to the state of the staff.

The Minnesota Twins would be wise to retain the services of Carl Pavano in 2011, however, due to his successes in 2010, it is becoming apparent that he might be too expensive for the Twins comfort.

As a result, the Twins will need to maximize the productivity of the pitchers they’ll have in 2011 if the team hopes to build on the success of 2010.

I’d still love to see Carl Pavano wearing a Twins uniform in 2011, but the possibility of that not happening makes it all that more important to pay close attention to some other key pieces of the staff.


No. 1 Starter Will Be: Francisco Liriano

In his first season back from reconstructive elbow surgery, Francisco Liriano definitely showed the pains of adjusting to form.

He finished the 2009 season with a 5-13 record and an ERA just under six, leading many to question whether or not he would be able to regain his pre-surgery confidence as the Twins entered the 2010 season. 

Liriano would prove his critics wrong, however, finishing the 2010 season with a 14-10 record and a 3.62 ERA. With the current uncertainty of Carl Pavano’s return to the rotation,  it’s a safe bet that the Twins will count on Liriano to be their opening day starter in 2011.

Should Be: Carl Pavano

Since Pavano joined the Twins in late 2009, he has a combined 22-15 record with a 3.97 ERA. That stability would go a long way in helping the franchise get back to the playoffs.

As I’ve already said, I hope I can see Pavano at Target Field in 2011. I just don’t want to see the Twins get cornered into offering a long term contract to him and ending up paying $10-13 million in a third or fourth year.

Pavano would be 38 years old, in a third year of a new deal, and it’s a safe bet that the productivity will have declined by that point.

That said, Pavano would be a great veteran option as a No. 1 starter, and in doing so, would take at least some pressure off of Liriano, who seems to get worked up easily in high pressure situations.

It does appear that Pavano would like to stay within the organization, but the amount of years the Twins are willing to offer seems to be a sticking point.

The Washington Nationals are said to have offered Pavano 3 years for $33 million, which might prove too much for him to walk away from.


No. 2 Starter Will Be: Scott Baker

For the past few seasons, Scott Baker has been holding down the opening day starter role for the Twins. While his numbers might not reflect that of a true staff “ace,” his productivity has helped get the Twins to where they are today.

Over the past two seasons, Baker has a 27-18 record with an ERA just under 4.50. Baker’s numbers overall have been solid, but critics have been quick to point out that he doesn’t have dominating stuff and relies too much on batters making contact to get them out.

Still, Baker is a moderately consistent pitcher who can provide a solid amount of innings for the Twins if he’s able to avoid giving up that one big inning as he’s done many times in the past.

Should Be: Francisco Liriano

As noted in the discussion of the number one starter spot, Liriano will likely end up being the ace of the staff if Carl Pavano ends up elsewhere as a result of free agency.

However if the Twins do end up retaining Pavano, Liriano would fit much better in the number two spot as he sometimes doesn’t appear to be completely comfortable being THE guy in the Twins rotation.


No. 3 Starter Will Be: Brian Duensing

When the 2010 season started, Brian Duensing was eating up innings as a member of the Twins’ bullpen. By season’s end, Duensing was one of the most consistent pitchers and had by all accounts solidified his permanent place in the starting rotation.

Duensing went 7-3 with an ERA of 3.44 as a starter in 2010, providing stability when starters Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn experienced their own struggles. He ended his season with a painful division series loss to the Yankees, but will still be relied upon for mid-rotation stability next season.

Should Be: Brian Duensing

Duensing belongs in and deserves this spot in the middle of the rotation. His overall consistency in a partial season as a starter could lead to great things when he has a full season starting at the major league level.


No. 4 Starter Will Be: Nick Blackburn

Definition: Enigma (noun):a person of puzzling or contradictory character

“Enigma” is perhaps the best way to describe Nick Blackburn last season. Blackburn got off to an impressive start to the 2010 season, silencing many critics who had thought his newly signed four year $14 million contract wasn’t deserved.

He would stumble however, leaving the team for a period of time for personal reasons, and ultimately being removed from the starting rotation and spending time in both the minor leagues and the Twins bullpen in the fall.

If Blackburn can gain confidence in his pitches, he can be the type of pitcher that the Twins thought he’d be when they gave him a contract extension, he will fit just fine in the rotation. If not, Twins GM will need to take a close look at other options available.

Should Be: Scott Baker

In the event that Pavano, Liriano and Duensing will hold up the front end of the rotation this season, Baker would be a solid No. 4 option to hold up the back end. He’s made his fair share of starts as the team’s top pitcher, but at this point he may be better suited to add depth to the second half of the rotation.


No. 5 Starter Will Be: Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey’s best season as a Twin came in 2010, as he went 13-6 with a 4.46 ERA in 28 starts. His talent hasn’t been in question, and many think he has the pitches to last in this league.

What he may not have is the health to stay in the league. Slowey has made trips to the disabled list three times in the last three years, an alarming trend considering he is only 26 years old.

All indications are that the tricep injury that put Slowey on the DL last August has healed and that he will be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report in February. Still, Slowey’s durability is something that has to be watched closely.

Should Be: Kyle Gibson

Kyle Gibson started the 2010 season with the organization’s Single-A team, but solid performances throughout the summer earned him a spot in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester by season’s end.

Between the clubs Gibson pitched in last season, he earned himself an 11-6 record in 26 starts. He struck out more than seven batters per nine innings while walking two per nine.

If Pavano does end up leaving for Washington or Slowey’s health does fail him as it could seemingly do at any time, it’s quite possible that Gibson will be called upon to fill a spot in the rotation.

Assuming the rest of the rotation holds up, Gibson’s placement in the rotation would force Nick Blackburn to the Twins’ bullpen, where he could potentially help fill existing holes.

It’s not a completely unfathomable situation since Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has made it clear that Duensing won’t be back in the bullpen.

The organization doesn’t want to put Gibson in the bullpen since he’s the best starting talent that the Twins have had in their farm system in a long time, and they’d like him to be starting for the Twins as soon as possible.

Note: Projected starting rotation based on Minnesota Twins current depth chart

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