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.