Last week on this site, my old friend and colleague Mike Bates discussed the signing of Kevin Correia to a two-year contract, and while he noted that bringing on Correia at something like $5 million would be a perfectly defensible move for what is very likely to be a lost 2013, he argued that the second year on the contract was something of a waste, thereby sending a disappointing message to Twins fans.
Some of the TwinkieTown faithful didn’t like that very much, finding it (and my article before it) overly negative. To me, Mike’s piece reads like straightforward analysis, reaching a reasonable conclusion that’s about the same as you’re likely to read anywhere, but maybe reality is too negative these days? I don’t know. I hope that’s not the case, because I don’t understand the Twins’ signing of Mike Pelfrey to a one-year, $4 million contract plus incentives. I don’t want to be needlessly negative, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt – these are not misguided signings; the paperwork simply got mixed up somewhere along the way. Pelfrey was supposed to get Correia’s contract and Correia Pelfrey’s. It all makes sense that way.
It’s not that Pelfrey’s contract is bad -- not at all. It just doesn’t make much sense for this team. Pelfrey had Tommy John surgery in May 2012, it’s not clear yet whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day, and even if he does come back at or near the beginning of the year, Twins fans (or, at least, those of us who have not repressed those memories) will remember well from watching Francisco Liriano how hard it is to predict what you’re going to get from a TJ survivor on the mound, especially for the first year or so.
Big Pelf had two very, very solid years, In 2008 and 2010 (with a bit of a slip-up in between, but not nearly as bad as his 5.03 ERA in 2009 made it look). He struck out just under five per nine innings both years, which is bad, but he kept walks and homers relatively low, which is good, and posted an ERA and FIP that were both better than average. Pelfrey was never an ace or even a number-two, but he was a solid mid-rotation starter; if the pitcher Pelfrey was from 2008 through 2010 were on the market today, going on age 29, he’d probably be looking at a three- or four-year contract worth $10 to $12 million a year.
There’s a chance that Pelfrey steps in and is almost immediately that guy again, and that chance is probably worth taking a $4 million, one-year flyer on. That’s a deal you might expect to see this year’s A’s make, or the Orioles, or the Rays -- a great move for a team on a budget that expects to contend in 2012. For the Twins, though? If that lottery ticket hits, they’re still likely several more good pitchers or hitters from a playoff shot, so the payoff on their admittedly small gamble is likely to be very, very small. They can hope he pitches well and can trade him to the Orioles, A’s, Rays, or any other contender, but it seems unlikely that he’ll bounce back from surgery quickly enough to do that in half of one season, and with only half a season left on his contract (and not being great to begin with), the return won’t be very much. It’s not going to hurt them at all, but it’s just not a move that makes a lot of sense for the Twins.
The real value in signing Pelfrey, to the Twins, would be in getting a second year. A team option at something like $8 million would be ideal, but a guarantee at $4- or $5 million wouldn’t be so bad, either. A healthy Pelfrey on that sort of deal can be traded for something or can be a useful part of a competitive 2014 squad. Kevin Correia will always just be Kevin Correia, in 2013 and 2014 and beyond; Mike Pelfrey could turn into a pretty good pitcher again, and while two years would obviously represent a greater gamble than the one-year deal, it’d be one with a much higher potential payout for this team. In reality, of course, it’s very possible Pelfrey wouldn’t have considered that; maybe he was committed to a one-year deal to build his value back up and get his multi-year deal in 2014. If that’s the case, though, the Twins probably should have let it pass to a better-positioned team to be the one offering it.
As such, it’s clear to me that Correia was supposed to get the cheap one-year filler deal; Pelf was to get the still-cheap two-year investment. Embarrassing mix-up, guys! Let’s switch back now, okay?