The (Potential) Downside of Signing Carl Pavano

I bet these ladies want Pavstache to return to Minnesota.

According to the rumor mill - and we all know the rumor mill never lies - the Twins remain ahead of the pack in the sweepstakes for the best free-agent pitcher still on the market: Carl Pavano.

Without a doubt, Pavano would represent a nice addition to the 2011 Twins. Not only was he the team's second-best starter in 2010, bringing him back in 2011 would offer the team some needed depth in the rotation. Without adding another starter, the team is looking at entering the season with three starters - Baker, Blackburn, and Slowey - that combined for a 4.95 ERA in 2010.

While it's easy to understand how Pavano would improve the team in the upcoming season, I wanted to take the chance to explore the potential costs of signing Pavano. Now, I'm not necessarily against signing Pavano, mind you, but I am conflicted on the matter. I thought I could air some of my concerns, and open it for some discussion.

First, he's gonna get paid: entering the off-season, ESPN ranked Pavano as the seventh most valuable free agent, and he's expected to sign a deal worth roughly $10 million a season. The length of any potential deal is obviously still be negotiated, but it's assumed he would get at least two years guaranteed, with the potential of a third year, either guaranteed or as an option. The length of the deal is particularly important: Pavano would turn 37 in the third year of any deal, and considering his declining strikeout rate and previous injury history, it's far from guaranteed that he'll be effective in 2013, much less worth $10 or $11 million.

Here's what we do know: with Cliff Lee off the market, Pavano is a hot commodity among teams looking for starting pitching that aren't named Yankees. Looking at the market, I'd be shocked if his deal doesn't include at least an option for a third year. If that third year is a vesting option or guaranteed, should the Twins touch that deal?

In addition, signing Pavano comes with a significant opportunity cost for the remainder of this current offseason. A couple weeks ago, I put together a chart of the Twins current payroll situation, making some assumptions about arbitration awards/signings/etc. I've updated that chart to reflect recent roster moves, and included Pavano at $10 million:

Signed

Salary

Arb Eligible

Estimate

C

Mauer

$23.00

1B

Morneau

$14.00

2B

Nishioka

$3.00

SS

Casilla

$0.90

3B

Valencia

$0.50

LF

Young

$6.00

CF

Span

$1.00

RF

Cuddyer

$10.50

DH

Kubel

$5.25

Bench

Butera

$0.50

Bench

Tolbert

$0.50

Bench

Repko

$0.60

Bench

Plouffe

$0.50

SP1

Liriano

$5.00

SP2

Pavano

$10.00

SP3

Baker

$5.00

SP4

Slowey

$3.00

SP5

Duensing

$0.50

CL

Nathan

$11.25

SU

Capps

$6.00

RP

Mijares

$0.50

RP

Neshek

$0.63

RP

Perkins

$0.80

RP

Hoey

$0.50

RP

Blackburn

$3.00

TOTAL

$83.10

$25.20

Taking that roster, adding in an additional $1 million for the Punto buyout and the cash we're sending to the Orioles, and we're sitting at $110 million. Now, two weeks ago, I was willing to work under the Joe Christensen theory that the Twins were going to bump up payroll to the $120-125 million level. After the JJ Hardy trade, however, I think it's probably prudent to assume the Twins are actually shooting for $110-$115 million payroll in 2011.

Working under that assumption, look at the team detailed above. The holes are obvious: a questionable, depthless middle infield; a terrible bench; and a potentially disastrous bullpen. Now try to tackle those issues with $5 million. That's what I mean by opportunity cost: if you sign Pavano, you severely handcuff your ability to address the other needs on the team. Oh, and if you sign Jim Thome? Your remaining budget is zero.

Also remember, letting Pavano walk would net the Twins two additional picks in next year's draft - Jesse laid out the scenarios here. Obviously this is a distant third to the other considerations laid out above, but it is worth noting.

Does signing Pavano make our rotation better in 2011? Absolutely. Is it the right move for the Twins? That's up for debate.

Would you rather spend a couple million on a reclamation project like Brandon Webb, and use the savings to bolster the bullpen and bench? Or do you have confidence that Pavano can remain that stabilizing presence in the rotation that served us so well in 2010? Do you set a firm limit at two years in any contract, or are you willing to offer a third if that's what it takes to keep the Pavstache in Minnesota?

Like I said, I'm conflicted. What's your take?

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