Mark Buehrle won't be on the market when Major League baseball free agency begins six days after the World Series. That doesn't mean he's not an option as the Minnesota Twins try to fix their starting rotation, again.
It is believed the Twins quietly were among the most serious suitors for Buehrle's services last year, before the veteran left-hander signed a four-year, $58 million deal with the Miami Marlins in early December.
While the Marlins underachieved, Buehrle had a vintage season at age 33, posting a 3.74 earned-run average while walking only 40 batters in 202 1/3 innings -- the 12th consecutive season he has passed the 200-inning mark.
According to league sources, though, not only are the Marlins open to trading Buehrle this winter, they would also be willing to eat a significant chunk of the $48 million remaining on his back-loaded contract, which guarantees $11 million next year, $18 million in 2014 and $19 million in 2015.
The Twins, or any other potential suitor, would need to give up a good prospect or two, sources said, and the quality of those prospects likely hinges partly on how much money they would want Miami to kick in.
With Scott Diamond currently the only pitcher penciled into next year's rotation, the Twins are hoping to bring in two or three new starters this winter via trade or free agency.
General manager Terry Ryan says he will do due diligence on top free agents such as Zack Greinke and others, but prices for top-of-the-rotation arms are likely to be too lofty for the Twins, who head into the offseason with approximately $74 million tied up in the 2013 payroll.
Twins decision-makers always admired Buehrle's durability and leadership from afar when he pitched for the Chicago White Sox. Over the last decade-plus, Buehrle has been perhaps the most durable pitcher in baseball, averaging 219 innings per season since 2001 with a 3.81 ERA.
Since 2005, the Twins have received 200 innings from a starting pitcher only five times from men not named Johan Santana (Carl Pavano twice, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carlos Silva).
After signing free agents to nearly $200 million worth of contracts last winter, the Marlins have spent the last few months dumping salary and booting out malcontents.
Prior to the July 31 trade deadline, Miami traded Hanley Ramirez ($15 million) and Randy Choate ($1.5 million) to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two young pitchers. They also dealt Omar Infante ($4 million) and Anibal Sanchez ($8 million) to the Detroit Tigers for top pitching prospect Jacob Turner and two other minor leaguers, although Sanchez's impending free agency played a role in this deal as well. Right-hander Edward Mujica ($1.6 million) was traded too.
Last week, Miami fired manager Ozzie Guillen with three years and $7.5 million remaining on his contract.
Earlier this month, Miami traded underperforming reliever Heath Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a light-hitting, 22-year-old, Single-A shortstop named Yordy Cabrera. Most important, Miami also picked up $8 million of the $21 million remaining on Bell's contract.
Right-hander Josh Johnson, who will earn $13.75 million in the final year of his contract next season, is also believed to be available.
Marlins' brass thought a new ballpark and a big splash in free agency would generate wins and excitement, but 2012 turned out to be a disappointment on all fronts. The Marlins finished 18th in total attendance, bringing only 27,400 fans per game, and that figure might sink lower following a 93-loss season. Prior to the new ballpark, Miami averaged 19,000 fans per game (28th in MLB).
Twins starters posted a 5.40 ERA collectively last season, which was the American League's worst mark.