The Minnesota Twins have long been hesitant to make changes, with many of their coaches having come up in the organization and remaining there long term. There will be changes to the coaching staff for 2013 however, and if that is any indication, there may be some significant changes coming on the roster as well.
Starting pitching is clearly the team’s biggest need this off-season, as injuries in recent years have magnified the fact the Twins’ farm system is not yielding upper-echelon pitchers. Free agency is an option, and the group of starting pitchers slated to become free agents this winter looks fairly deep, but the Twins traditionally have not been big spenders in the past. So entering the trade market may be the better way to go, and targeting younger pitchers that could be long-term mainstays would be even better.
With that, I present Clayton Richard of the San Diego Padres, who went 14-14 with a 3.99 ERA in 2012 over 33 starts while setting a career-high in innings pitched (218.2). He did allow the most hits (228) and home runs (31) in the National League, but it’s worth noting his HR/FB rate (15 percent) far exceeded his career rate (10.7 percent) and nearly doubled his rate from both 2010 (7.7 percent) and 2011 (7.6 percent). Couple the fluke nature of that home run rate with a career-best groundball percentage (53.8), and a correction in terms of home runs allowed should come. It’s also noteworthy that 19 of his starts came on the road, outside the pitcher-friendly confines of PETCO Park. A declining K/9 rate (4.4 in 2012, 6.8 in 2010) is a concern, though a shoulder injury that ended his season early in 2011 could be the explanation.
Richard was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2005, and was sent to San Diego as part of the Jake Peavy trade in July of 2009. Most of his major league experience has come with the Padres, with 96 of his 118 career starts coming since the trade over the past three-plus seasons. Perhaps his best season came in his first full season with San Diego in 2010 (14-9, 3.75 ERA, 201.2 innings, 6.8 K/9), though most of those numbers compare closely to 2012.
Richard fits the Twins’ previous profile of a starting pitcher, save for a low strikeout rate which may not make him a desirable trade target, if the team seriously refurbishes the starting rotation this off-season. He made a fairly reasonable $2.7 million in 2012, and will likely be getting a raise since he is arbitration eligible this winter. That said, at age-29 and what should still be a reasonable salary, Richard could be a good fit for the Twins, even if he is not a potential staff ace.