There were a number of teams who went to watch Joel Zumaya throw back in December, and even as late as yesterday morning we knew there were a number of clubs interested in the former Tigers' flame throwing strikeout machine. What made the difference for Zumaya though, was that the Twins offered him a Major League contract.
As far as Zumaya is concerned, that's kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? As long as he's healthy, he'll go north with the Twins. Ultimately the most important thing to a Major League Baseball player's career is to play in Major League Baseball. Minnesota gave him that opportunity.
With every other interested club seemingly offering him the same thing (minor league contract, invite to spring training), and with the Minnesota bullpen still shaping up to be a massive liability, Terry Ryan and his front office made a move that could bolster the back end of the relief corps with relatively little risk.
- The Twins are financially on the hook for a minimum of $800,000 for one year. As far as MLB payrolls are concerned, that's nothing.
- If Zumaya doesn't throw a pitch with the Twins, they're simply back to where they were on Saturday night: Glen Perkins, Matt Capps, and a bunch of question marks.
- If Zumaya does work out, $1.7 million (maximum) for what a pitcher like him can provide is more than acceptable.
We'll flash some more justified optimism after the jump.
I'd like to pretend Terry Ryan was reading when I said this a couple weeks ago:
Zumaya will be 27 in '11 ... Feeling lucky? Hell, it's not much money and there isn't much to lose. Maybe you offer him a Major League deal because nobody else is, and guarantee him $1 million for his trouble.
Of course that wasn't the case, but the front office made a smart decision to buy low and to offer the guy something that no other team would...without hurting themselves. It's a good start in making a late move to re-work the bullpen.
Phil Mackey points out that there was some interest in Dan Wheeler and Todd Coffey prior to signing Zumaya, also adding "Doubt they'd close the door entirely on those guys but space now limited". This was the case before Minnesota added Zumaya, so this is likely doubly true at this point, but still: if Wheeler is available for $800,000 or $1 million, his contributions to the 'pen as a middle reliever would be worth more than the money he'd make.
With the exclusion of the Josh Willingham signing, the Twins have lacked big news this winter...unless that news involved them losing Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer. I'm fine with that.
Yet Minnesota has managed to make a number of smaller, well-designed moves. Capps at his price isn't terrible, and will be a bargain if he pitches closer to how he did in 2010 than 2011. Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were both good moves. Choosing not to out-bid teams for Nathan, Cuddyer and Jason Kubel was the right thing to do. Now, adding Zumaya.
Nobody will confuse the Twins with division contenders out of the gate. But if these decisions and additions work out, and if guys can stay healthy...you never know. That's one of the many things that's beautiful about baseball. Somebody and something will always surprise you.