MINNEAPOLIS -- After their starting pitchers combined to post the second-worst ERA in the Majors in 2012, the Twins set about improving their pitching staff for '13.
They added veterans Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey via free agency, and traded with the Phillies for right-hander Vance Worley to help bolster the rotation.
But instead of taking a step forward, the Twins took a step back, as they finished with the worst ERA in baseball by a sizable margin. Twins starters had a 5.26 ERA, nearly half a run greater than the Blue Jays starters' 4.81.
Correia posted a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts, but Pelfrey had a 5.19 ERA after 29 outings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and Worley had a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts before being optioned to Triple-A Rochester.
Scott Diamond also struggled in his sophomore campaign with a 5.43 ERA in 24 starts after impressing as a rookie with a 3.54 ERA. Former top prospect Kyle Gibson had trouble as a rookie with a 6.53 ERA in 10 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery. And fill-ins, such as Liam Hendriks (6.85 ERA), P.J. Walters (5.95 ERA), Pedro Hernandez (6.83 ERA) and Cole De Vries (10.80 ERA), didn't fare any better.
It led to the Twins finishing with an identical 66-96 record from the year before, and now they have just as many question marks in the rotation as they did a year ago.
"This year we thought we did a little better with the rotation with Correia and Pelfrey, thinking Gibson was going to come along, but it all goes back to starting pitching," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "We haven't rebounded yet. It's drafting, signing, baseball decisions, it's internationals, it's GMs, it's coaches, it's everything. It's not just one opportunity where we went awry."
Ryan is now tasked with trying to fix a rotation that has been one of baseball's worst over the last three years, and he knows it won't be an easy task, as acquiring quality starting pitching is difficult.
The Twins certainly have the payroll flexibility, as they have roughly $60 million in commitments for next year after having an $82-million payroll to start the 2013 season. And they're also flush with top prospects, who could be used to trade for a frontline starting pitcher.
The big question is whether the Twins will be willing to spend big money on starting pitching, as their largest free agency signing remains the $21 million over three years handed out to outfielder Josh Willingham before the 2012 season.
Ryan has long maintained that a club cannot be built on free agency, but knows it's an important avenue to add talent to the roster.
"We'll address that free-agent list, but it's not a good way to build," Ryan said. "It's a good way to supplement a roster. We're certainly going to look. There's going to be a lot of competition for quality starting, and we'll be in the mix. We certainly need to address the pitching staff."
The Twins do have starting pitching help on the way, as right-handers Alex Meyer, ranked as the club's No. 3 prospect, and Trevor May, ranked as the club's No. 7 prospect, should start the season at Triple-A Rochester. And Gibson is still well-regarded as a prospect, despite his rookie struggles.
But in order for the Twins, who have one of the game's strongest farm systems, to have any short-term success, they need to acquire proven starting pitching help. There are several free-agent starters, such as Scott Kazmir, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Feldman, who should be in the club's price range, as well as Pelfrey, who has publicly stated he'd like to return next season.
Ryan, though, says he won't spend for the sake of spending, as he doesn't want to hurt the club's long-term success for a short-term fix gone wrong.
"If the market is not there, you aren't going to chase money just to say that you're involved in free agency; that would be a horrible approach," Ryan said. "But if there's people out there that have interest in us and we have interest in them, we should be pursuing them. There are some decent free agents that will become available, like there are every winter."