Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pavano Accepts, Changes Off-Season

Last week, hours before the deadline for players to accept or decline their arbitration offers, Carl Pavano realized the most money he would likely get would be to simply accept the Twins offer. A lot of people were very pleased with this, as Pavano was far better than his 5+ ERA suggests, but I'm a bit less happy with the move.

I would have rather seen the Twins fill out the rotation with one of the Liriano/Duensing/Swarzak/Perkins group, and spend the $7 MM+ on a second base upgrade. Pavano made close to $4.5 MM last year, and will certainly get a raise this season. $7 MM seems like a solid, educated guess and that's almost exactly the first year salary I had predicted for Orlando Hudson. Unless the Twins are willing to move their payroll close to $100 MM, which needless to say won't be happening.

Pavano likely will be the team's #3 starter next year, and he certainly is a safer, more sure starter than any of the Perkins/Liriano/Swarzak/Duensing group. The rotation likely will be Baker, Slowey, Pavano, Blackburn and one of the other group. Now, I understand why the team preferred Pavano accept, rather than using the money on a second baseman. Pitchers are important, and depth in your staff is vital over the long season. Adding a veteran like Pavano, who was healthy all of last season, makes sense. The problem I have is that Rich Harden signed for $6.5 MM guaranteed, with $3.5 MM in incentives and an $11 MM mutual option next season. That's a steal for Texas, and I wish the Twins had been more involved.

Harden will only make $10 MM if he stays healthy and pitches well, so the Twins could have had a potential ace on what is ultimately a one year, $10 MM deal. Keep in mind, up until this past season, Pavano had spent most of the past five seasons battling several injuries, and finally was able to stay healthy. Why can't Harden do the same? He made 25 starts in 2008 and 26 starts last season, and if he finally remains healthy that number could surpass 30 next season.

I would have preferred Hudson over Pavano, because the upgrade is more significant at second base over Casilla/Harris (with Punto set to play 3B for now). Pavano should be an upgrade over the three left overs from the previous group, but the difference likely won't be as large as some people believe. If Pavano gets hurt, the Twins ultimately wasted the money without much potential for a great reward. Despite the upgrade Hudson provided, though, I preferred Harden over almost any realistic free agent possibility for Minnesota.

Harden would have been a risk, but with the potential to be a true number one starter his addition would have given the team a good opportunity to compete in the playoffs. I'm certainly not going to rule out the Twins chances in a short series against anyone, because the percentages simply aren't that dominating for any one team, but Harden would have had the potential to give the Twins a very good 1-2 punch with a deep, solid 3-4-5.

I don't blame Bill Smith for this. Offering arbitration was the right move, and for all I know Smith was planning on signing Harden if Pavano declined arbitration. Unfortunately, Harden signed prior to the arbitration deadline and Pavano was unable to find a multi-year deal to his liking so he stayed in Minnesota.

Of course, if Bill Smith truly wanted to bring in an upgrade at second base, preferably Hudson, he still could squeeze Hudson's contract into the projected $93 MM payroll I had fairly easily. Make the Mauer contract a true extension, which means Mauer's $12.5 MM salary remains for this season, rather than the $18MM I had projected. That would give the team $5.5MM more, and they could either trade Crain and/or Perkins or simply move the payroll up about $1MM and have a much improved lineup.

I'm fine with the Pavano move, I just believe the Twins missed out on a golden opportunity to land the one pitcher they should have been going after hard in Harden. If Smith can find a way to bring in an upgrade at second base, and even a potential starter at third base, the Pavano move won't be a mistake at all. Tomorrow, I'll discuss why adding a third baseman certainly isn't a problem in relation to Danny Valencia.