Anchored by a resurgent Francisco Liriano and a surprisingly strong campaign from Carl Pavano, the Twins currently sit sixth in the American League with a 4.10 ERA from their starting rotation. The rest of their rotation has primarily consisted of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing. Let's take a look at how things could shake out for 2011.
The Twins offered Pavano arbitration last year, and the jury was out on whether or not offering it was the right move after he accepted. Pavano's $7MM has been a steal for Minnesota though, as the right-hander has already thrown 189 innings of 3.52 ERA ball. Only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have posted marks better than Pavano's 1.5 BB/9, and his 3.34 K/BB ratio is 18th in the Majors (with Liriano and Baker ahead of him). The Twins will certainly offer Pavano arbitration again — he currently qualifies as a Type A free agent. He may decline and seek multiple years on the free agent market, but there's also the chance that he finds those multiple years in Minneapolis, where he and his signature mustache have developed a cult following.
Liriano is arbitration-eligible for a second time and figures to see a nice raise on his $1.6MM salary this season. If the Twins are convinced of his health, they may look to lock him up before 2011 as they did with Baker pre-2009 and Blackburn pre-2010.
Baker's extension has been far more successful than Blackburn's, who temporarily lost his rotation spot to Duensing after being optioned to Triple-A Rochester in late July sporting an ERA of 6.66. Since returning, Blackburn seems to have gotten back on track, though. Slowey saw similar struggles early in the summer but came back to post an ERA just over 4.00 in July and August, including a 2.89 ERA over his last six starts before hitting the DL recently.
Duensing has been a breath of fresh air to a rotation that failed to acquire what many thought was a much-needed starter at the deadline. Overall, through 99 innings, Duensing's posted a 2.09 ERA and has a nice 2.0 BB/9. His 83.2% strand rate and 4.14 xFIP suggest he's due for some regression, however. Still, he offers the Twins some insurance in case Pavano departs, but who else could they call on?
Minnesota drafted Kyle Gibson in the first round of 2009, and he's risen quickly through the minors, reaching Triple-A in just one season with an overall 2.96 ERA, 7.5 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9. Considered a potential Top 10 pick, he fell to the Twins at 22nd due to concern over a stress fracture in his arm. Baseball America ranked him as the game's 22nd-best prospect on their mid-season rankings.
Jeff Manship has filled in admirably for the Twins in long relief and spot starting in 2010, posting a 2.38 ERA through 22.2 innings. Like most Twins pitchers, he's not big on the strikeouts, but he limits his walks well.
Glen Perkins is another former first-rounder for the Twins, but he seems to have fallen out of favor with the organization to some extent after nearly filing a grievance over his service time in 2009. Perkins has struggled tremendously with a 5.88 ERA in Rochester this season, while allowing 10 earned runs in 10 innings with the big league club. David Bromberg, the Twins' #9 prospect entering the season, has a 3.75 ERA through 151.1 innings in the upper minors as well.
The Twins stand to enter 2011 with Liriano, Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, and Duensing, though the latter two could be pushed for competition by someone like Gibson early in the season, or could give way if Pavano returns. Their pitching depth may not feature many top-of-the-rotation type arms, but should allow them a solid, consistent rotation through and through.