Twins have plenty of rotation options, but no defined ace

The starting rotation was unquestionably the most disappointing unit on the Minnesota Twins last season.

The Twins entered the 2009 season hoping a very young rotation could build on the success it had in 2008, when many of the starters were rookies and Francisco Liriano was coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Fast forward to today, and the Twins are hoping a Jekyll and Hyde pitching staff can find some consistency next season.

Scott Baker was great in the second half of 2009 but brutal in the first half. It was vice versa for Nick Blackburn. Kevin Slowey struggled before missing the final three months of the season with an elbow problem. And Liriano, who pitched well in his first year back from Tommy John surgery in 2008, struggled in 2009 and was eventually demoted to the bullpen.

The Twins decided to offer veteran Carl Pavano arbitration, and he accepted. But the fact remains that this team has no ace and very few candidates for such a role.

Baker has been the de facto ace, and he’s a fine pitcher, but not the kind of guy who matches up real well with the other aces of the American League, especially among the contending teams.

Pavano provides a veteran presence, but he remains a starting pitcher that posted an ERA of 5.10 last season.

Blackburn is the team’s best big-game pitcher, having fared very well in the 2008 one-game playoff against the Chicago White Sox and pitching well in his final four starts of 2009 when the team could ill afford a loss.

I still believe Slowey has the highest ceiling of any of the Twins’ potential starters for next season. He’s a K/BB rate machine who I have spoken glowingly of in the past.

He drew comparisons to Greg Maddux while dominating the minors, and I think there’s still a chance he can be that guy, but as I’ve said before, maybe he’ll just be another Brad Radke. Nothing wrong with that. Maddux didn’t really become Maddux – as in, the Maddux that regularly allowed less than one baserunner per inning in a season – until his sixth season. And pitching as a youngster in the National League in the 1980s is a little different than today’s American League, which is what Slowey’s forced to develop in.

Liriano will have to compete with Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins for that fifth and final rotation spot.

There are plenty of candidates for the rotation. But the Twins must find someone that can stand above the rest as the team’s ace.

BASEBALL HALL OF FAME UPDATE

Baseball Think Factory’s Web site is updated to include 68 Hall of Fame ballots. As I mentioned before, last year there were roughly 550 ballots, so the ones found on the Internet represent a little more than 10 percent now.

Bert Blyleven continues to be in good position to make the Hall of Fame in this his 13th year on the ballot. Players are given 15 years on the writers’ ballot. Blyleven has 85.3 percent of the votes in the 68 ballots found on various Web sites. Andre Dawson and Roberto Alomar are also above the 75 percent threshold for induction.

Hall of Fame voting is announced at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

ESPN has a lot of great Hall of Fame stories on its Web site. Definitely worth reading.

Dangerous Love proves Wolves did right thing

My New Year’s resolution is to be less cynical. Well, not really. But let’s start the New Year – and the new decade – by applauding the oft-criticized Minnesota Timberwolves.

Since trading the face of their franchise in Kevin Garnett a few years ago, little has gone right for the Wolves.

But it’s time to give credit where credit is due: The Wolves made the right play in trading for Kevin Love on Draft Day 2008.

The Wolves, if you remember, drafted guard O.J. Mayo out of USC on that night. But around midnight, then-GM Kevin McHale orchestrated a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, sending Mayo for the draft rights to Love. A veteran player or two exchanged hands as well.

I realize many disagree with the assessment. The Wolves are in dire need of a scoring guard, and Mayo – who is averaging 17 points per game – can do that. And with Love and fellow big man Al Jefferson, the Wolves’ two best players essentially play the same position.

But anyone who watched Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz could see the promise Love is starting to fulfill. He hit two big 3-pointers in the final minute to cut into Utah’s deficit and came within an assist of a triple-double.

He’s developing a skill set rarely seen in big men. He handles the ball well, his a big-time rebounder and has developed as a shooter.

His 12.7 rebounds per game this season would rank second in the NBA if he’d played enough games. And he’s 12-for-24 from 3-point range. He’s attempted more 3s through 15 games than he did in 81 games all last season. Granted, he won’t shoot at a 50 percent clip all season, but he’s becoming one of the more well-rounded big men in the NBA.

The Wolves could really use a big-time scoring threat at shooting guard. However, players of Love’s caliber are hard to find. As long as he can continue to play on the court with Jefferson and be successful, both big men are sound building blocks for the future.

Plus, I’d like to see Mayo hit this shot: