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Twins 5th Starter Battle

Sometimes I wonder:  are the Twins even trying to win?  I mean, do they just want to put a kind of respectable team on the field and have a record over .500, or are they going for the gold?  (Ewww, Olympics reference). 

I wonder this for various reasons.  First off, Tony Batista.  Do I really need to say more about that?

Second, Ruben Sierra.  Why does he deserve a roster spot?  I know it's too early to get on Jason Kubel bandwagon before he sees game action.  But even 75% of Kubel gives you a better chance to win than Sierra.  Now, Sierra is a non-roster invitee so it's still possible Kubel makes the team over him.  But seriously, I'd rather have Kubel shaking off the rust against Major League pitchers than have Sierra on my bench or DHing.

Let me interject this rant with a related rant.  When an average joe like me proposes a bunch of roster changes like this, sometimes using numbers as an argument, it's often dismissed because the team "isn't a fantasy baseball team."  What exactly does that mean?  Teams make tons and tons of roster moves; why are these any different? 

Back to my main point, that the Twins aren't trying to win it all.  My third data point in that argument is the fifth starter job.  Per Aaron Gleeman yesterday:

"Francisco Liriano has been asked to pitch for the Dominican Republic in next month's World Baseball Classic, and Ron Gardenhire suggests that not being in camp could hurt Liriano's chances of beating Scott Baker out for the fifth spot in the rotation. I happen to think that the Twins have all but decided on Baker already, in which case Liriano might as well pitch for his country if it means a lot to him."

Alright, I can definitely see why Baker should be in the rotation from the get-go.  You know I've been singing his praises for a while now.  But while Baker should be good, Liriano has the potential for greatness.  On any other team except maybe the White Sox, Liriano would also be a lock for the starting rotation.  He's got nothing left to prove in Triple A after posting a 1.78 ERA there in 91 innings.  His peripheral stats - strikeouts, walks, HR allowed -  are off the charts.

Compare this to the proven mediocrity that is Kyle Lohse.  Lohse won his arbitration case after posting an extremely flukey 4.18 ERA in 2005 (it was coupled with a 1.43 WHIP).  The only thing Lohse has going for him is good control and veteran experience.  I project him at a 5.13 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 2006.  It would be impossible to argue that Lohse gives you a better chance to win than Liriano.  It's irrefutable that Liriano is superior.  Liriano is the best pitching prospect in baseball.  Even if he struggles, he's easily better than Lohse.

Sure, Lohse will be traded, released, or demoted by summertime and Liriano will join the rotation.  But every win counts, especially in the AL Central.  The Twins need to make the "fantasy baseball choice" and put both Liriano and Baker in the rotation for the entire season.  But they probably won't, and the fantasy upshot is that Liriano may be overlooked in shallower mixed leagues.

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