clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Don't Trade Glen Perkins

New, 79 comments

Elite closers aren't all that easy to come by, and the Twins might really wish they had one in a year or two.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The thing about this time of year is that everybody has to be a "buyer" or a "seller" -- either you're in the race and looking to get better, or you're out of it and desperate to ship out everything that moves (and Josh Willingham, too).

It makes some sense, even if it's overblown. And the Twins officially let it be known that they're sellers, which makes a lot of sense, should some misguided club be interested in a couple months of sweet Willingham or Kevin Correia action. But here's what doesn't make sense, not even a little:

Trading Glen Perkins.

That piece went up yesterday on Twins Daily, by "Twins Fan From Afar," and got quite a lot of attention in the comments, maybe about half for and half against.

Of course, all posts of this type should come with a kind of "you know this is a stupid question, right?" disclaimer: if you're running a baseball team, you listen to offers on every player at all times, and in a way, discussions like these over "should" and "shouldn't" are fictive and pointless. Perkins should be traded for Mike Trout and should not be traded for Jim Johnson, and everything else falls in between. The real question, I suppose, is whether the Twins should be actively shopping Perkins, as opposed to sitting back and waiting to be blown away by an offer (as should be their default posture toward every player, always).

And I think the only answer to that question is no, of course they shouldn't be shopping Perkins. Here are the reasons why, in a way that I think covers most of the points raised by the estimable TFFA and commenters, albeit in an indirect, Minnesota-Nice sort of way:

1. Relievers and "Proven Closers" Are Overrated; Elite Ones Aren't

There was a shortsighted and overreaching sort of saying that went around sabermetric circles a few years ago, "relievers are fungible," which is a nerdy way of saying basically the same thing as "closers are overrated." Bullpens can be patched together from spare parts, new good relievers are popping up all the time, etc. Generally, it's true. It was a good move for the Twins not to match the White Sox' and Dodgers' 3-year, $13- and $12-million offers to Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, respectively, in 2011 -- both were good-but-not-great relievers with short, spotty track records whose uncertain future production could very likely be replaced, basically for free, by a little trial-and-error with a few live arms off the scrap heap.

There's another class of relievers, though, who are a different story entirely. If you know -- or as close to knowing as is possible in baseball -- that a certain pitcher is good for 70 or so brilliant, high-leverage innings, that's awfully rare and valuable. Certainty (relative certainty, even) is the one thing you really can't cobble together on the cheap. Almost by definition, the scrap-heap bullpen relies on gambles, some of which (one hopes) will work while most won't. It's certainly possible to win that way, and plenty of teams have -- but if you can have that one guy at the top you can count on, it sure helps. The famously cheap and resourceful Rays understood this, briefly ditching their scrap-heap strategy in 2010 when a prime Rafael Soriano came available at a below-market price and riding him to a tremendous season before letting the Yankees overpay for his services the following offseason.

Perkins is an elite closer right now, the kind you really can't just replace by throwing a few live arms at the wall and seeing what sticks. He's been more dominant than ever this season and, after overcoming some early bad luck, is likely on his way to his fourth straight season of 60+ innings and at least a 160 ERA+ (that is, an ERA 60% better than his park-adjusted league average) -- and as far as I can tell he'd be the only one to do that over each of the past four seasons other than (a) Craig Kimbrel, who is one of a kind, and (b) Brad Ziegler, a one-out righty specialist. That's pretty arbitrary, and there are probably a few other closers who are currently better than Perkins -- Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Aroldis Chapman -- but regardless, Perkins has firmly established an elite level of production, and is more firmly entrenched among those elite than any (non-Kimbrel) other.

I'm especially intrigued by TFFA's suggestion that Perkins' production might easily be replaced in two or three seasons by Nick Burdi, a second-round draft pick this season whose professional experience thus far consists of 13 strikeouts (but seven walks and six runs) in six Midwest League innings. Maybe! Anything's possible! Are we really so quick to forget first-round-right-after-Aaron-Hicks pick Carlos Gutierrez?

Yeah, closers are overrated. Perkins is a great one, though, and he'll be extremely hard to replace, either now (when it doesn't matter much) or two years from now (when it really might). Which, now that you mention it.

2. Rebuilding Doesn't Take as Long as Y'all Seem to Think

Or: it shouldn't. The linked article flat-out declared #itsnothappening for 2015, which seems a bit extreme to me at this point. Yeah, it'll take a lot of good breaks, but with a largely new and promising rotation, more development from Oswaldo Arcia, a further-removed-from-the-concussion Joe Mauer, and two top prospects potentially ready by May? It could happen. More to the point, though, all those prospects could be budding stars by 2016, and this team could look very different indeed and extremely competitive -- and Perkins will still only be 33, and should be very much the same guy he is right now. Sometimes rebuilding doesn't work, and maybe Buxton and Sano flame out and the Twins are not two but four, or five, or 12 years away. But if you're counting on that at this point, how are you a fan in the first place? The Twins clearly are, and definitely should be, looking toward 2016 at the latest.

And can you imagine, if the Twins had a young and thrilling squad in 2016, and we were watching the bullpen collapse every other night because they'd traded Perkins away two years earlier for three mid-level prospects still struggling through Double-A? Torture.

Which leads me to maybe my most important point.

3. Perkins Is Cheap...Really, Really Cheap

Joe Nathan's last contract with the Twins paid him nearly $12 million a year. Kimbrel's current one guarantees him $10.5 million a year through 2017. Heading into 2013, the Dodgers handed Brandon League $22.5 million over three years to be...okay, overall.

Perkins is making $4 million this year to be great. He'll be making $4.625 next year, $6.3 in 2016, $6.5 in 2017 and, barring some catastrophe that keeps the Twins from exercising his option, another $6.5 in 2018. That is extremely cheap for an elite, post-arbitration-years relief pitcher. Crazily cheap. To a baseball team, even a "small market" one, that's basically no money at all. By FanGraphs' reckoning, which can really tough on relief pitchers, Perkins has already been worth $8.7 million, more than twice his actual salary, in 2014. For Perkins to have a season for which you wouldn't feel totally comfortable paying $6.5 million through age 35, barring injury, would be quite a trick -- normal age-related decline won't get him there. This looks like a great, hugely advantageous contract for the Twins. But.

4. That Kind of Value Isn't Likely to Be Appreciated on the Midseason Trade Market

Think about why teams make deals in July: they're mortgaging (some small part of) their future in return for a greater chance at success this season. It's not that they don't care about the future beyond 2014, just that it's not the point; the fact that Perkins is crazily affordable for four years after this one is a nice bonus, but doesn't help a team in 2014, so isn't something for which most teams will be willing to pay full value in a July trade.

That is to say, those extra four years at bargain-bin prices are worth more to the Twins -- who are packing it in for 2014 but hope to be competitive in at least a couple of those other years -- than they are to any of the teams that might be looking to acquire Perkins this month. If you have an asset that's worth more to you than it is to your potential trading partner, that's usually a good sign that the contemplated trade shouldn't happen.

I haven't touched on the heart-stringy reasons to keep Perkins -- he's an All-Star, a fan favorite, a local boy, all that stuff. Mostly, of course, it's because I think those reasons are crap. But they're not nothing; if you're looking at trading a hard-to-replace asset who could well be an important part of a competitive team in 2015, 2016 or 2017 and whose long-term, ridiculous affordability is worth more to you than anybody else who might want him, that already looks pretty iffy, and "further alienate a fan base that's already kind of angry and losing interest in your product" just becomes the cherry on top of the Bad Idea sundae.

Let teams come to you; listen to offers, as always. Take one, if it's just too good to pass up. But don't go around shopping Glen Perkins like he's available, like you just want to get something for him. That's not likely to end well.