Tom Powers: Pitching-rich Twins likely to move Scott Baker and/or Kevin Slowey
Updated: 03/07/2011 10:14:25 PM CST
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Scott Baker vs. Kevin Slowey battle for the fifth and final spot in the Twins' starting rotation continued Monday with Baker pitching three solid innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. It has been nip and tuck, but I'm ready to declare a winner.
Listen, do you mean to tell me the Twins are going to pay Baker $5 million to be their fifth starter? And they're going to fork over $2.7 million to Slowey to be a long reliever? That's nonsense, not to mention a misappropriation of funds, especially for a team that reportedly is over budget. At the very least, one of them will be moved. Perhaps both.
There are so many reasons why. The Twins might be able to shore up their middle infield in a trade. They have two unproven guys there and no veteran presence on the bench. Or, they could pocket some of the money for now, keeping their powder dry for an acquisition down the stretch. If nothing else, they could take that combined $7.7 million and put it toward re-signing Michael Cuddyer.
I know Bill Smith always is looking to improve the team. The danger is that he makes a trade and then one of the other starting pitchers gets hurt. Then he's stuck. So I wouldn't look for anything to happen until later in camp. That also gives both pitchers time to demonstrate their effectiveness. In Baker's case, he needs to show he's completely back from elbow surgery.
Meanwhile, Gibson lacks experience but still could take that fifth spot
in the rotation, if necessary. The plan was to call him up sometime during the season, anyway. He'd just get a bit more on-the-job training. Of course, if Smith trades either Baker or Slowey, and not both, Gibson could report to Rochester for further seasoning.
There were supposed to be six guys competing for five rotation spots coming into camp. But four starters have been named very quickly, which leaves two guys fighting for one spot. Manager Ron Gardenhire said pitching coach Rick Anderson spoke with both Baker and Slowey after Nick Blackburn was named the No. 4 man two days ago.
"Everything is under control. They're still fighting for a job," Gardenhire said. "Nothing has changed. They knew coming in they'd be fighting for a job."
But now there's only one job left.
Both guys have ability. It's not as if the Twins would be offering a couple of slugs in a trade. These fellows have winning records and have had stretches of high performance. But Baker has gone from being last season's Opening Day starter to scrapping for crumbs at the bottom of the rotation.
He's scheduled to make $6.5 million in 2012 and the club has an option in 2013. He had offseason elbow surgery and it's difficult to imagine having that surgically repaired elbow warming up on short notice in the bullpen. Logically, it just seems as if he needs to be in the rotation, where he would have a set routine.
"I'm just getting ready. That's all I have control over," Baker said after Monday's outing. "I'll do what they tell me to do."
Gardenhire didn't sound that concerned about it. He said if Slowey turns out to be the better option as a starter, he wouldn't have a problem using Baker out of the bullpen.
"He was coming off an arm ailment last year, too. He got pretty loose pretty quick in New York," Gardenhire said, referring to Baker working out of the bullpen in last year's playoff series against the Yankees. "I think he's pretty versatile. And with Baker out there, he can also come in and strike a guy out."
Slowey, meanwhile, has a large repertoire, but not a signature pitch. He doesn't have an "out" pitch and therefore needs very good control. It strikes me that he could be effective out of the pen as a long man. But so could several others on the Twins' roster, and for about one-fifth the price.
There's no way the Twins will lock up $7.7 million on two spots that could be filled for less money and probably without any drop-off in effectiveness. There's no question the team will make a trade, as long as no other pitcher gets hurt. The only question is whether one or both of them will go.
Meanwhile, the competition is keeping them sharp. That's good to see ... for the other clubs looking for starting pitching.
Tom Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baseball is a funny game. There once was a time when the rotation of Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Liriano and Perkins were considered to be a potentially league dominating machine and the word "dynasty" didn't seem inconceivable. Didn't quite turn out that way.