It comes as no surprise that Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan recently said the team is actively participating in the free agent market for starting pitchers, and he confirmed what was already clear by saying Scott Diamond is the only pitcher assured of a spot in the Twins’ 2013 starting rotation.
Where exactly Diamond winds up slotted into next year’s rotation is dependent on who is added this off-season, and the Twins should be interested in everything from potential No. 1 starters to bottom of the rotation options. The only real differentiating factor in terms of who they have interest in should be money, in terms of both per year value and total value of a contract.
One of the veteran options Ryan said the Twins have expressed interest in is Joe Saunders, who spent 2012 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Baltimore Orioles and went 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA in 28 combined starts (174.2 innings). He pitched well in two postseason starts for the Orioles, allowing two earned runs and nine hits in 11.1 combined innings (1.59 ERA). Could the left-hander be a good fit for the Twins?
Saunders has a 78-65 career record with a 4.15 ERA in 189 major league starts over eight seasons. His best seasons came with the Los Angeles Angels in 2008 (17-7, 3.41 ERA, 31 starts-198 innings) and 2009 (16-7, 4.60 ERA 31 starts-186 innings), and he earned his only career All-Star appearance to this point in 2008. Saunders did top 200 innings pitched in both 2010 and 2011, setting a career-high of 212 innings in his only full season with the Diamondbacks in 2011.
Saunders is certainly not a top shelf starting pitcher with ace-caliber stuff (5.1 career K/9), and he has allowed at least 195 hits in each of the last four seasons. But his start and inning totals from 2012 would have been enough to lead the Twins’ pitching staff, despite the fact they were his lowest totals in both categories in any of his five full big league seasons. So if nothing else the Twins may have interest in Saunders based purely on his track record of durability, even if his upside is limited.
Saunders’ ultimate landing spot will be dependent on his asking price, and to some extent the length of contract he is looking for. His 2012 salary of $6 million seems like a big number to me, but if his agent is steadfast in getting that or more per year for him he could linger on the open market for awhile. If he can be signed to a one-year deal for $2-$3 million, the Twins can do a lot worse than Saunders. But I don’t think Ryan needs to feel too bad about it if they are simply outbid.