Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
December 16, 2013
Dodgers Win Your eBay Bidding
Re-signed RHP Mike Pelfrey to a two-year deal worth $11 million. [12/14]
Of Andrew Friedman's many baseball-related fears, stocking a rotation with free agents tops the list. (He once stated the Rays would be doomed if it came to that.) The implication is clear: the costs are too high and the yields too low for a revenue-challenged franchise to embrace. The solution is clear, too: small-market teams must foster their starters through the draft and trades to sustain success.
Terry Ryan knows Friedman's plight as well as anyone. During the height of his success—we'll say the stretch from 2001 to 2004, the only time in franchise history the Twins won 85 or more games four years in a row—Ryan had nine different pitchers start 15 or more games in a season. One of the nine signed as a free agent (Kenny Rogers) on a one-year deal, and two others were veterans acquired through trades (Rick Reed and Terry Mulholland). Otherwise, Ryan relied on six pitchers who had one career big-league start among them before joining the organization (Kyle Lohse, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, Brad Radke, Johan Santana, and Carlos Silva).
This winter, Ryan is living on the other side of the fence. His organization's failure to develop their own has shepherded him to becoming the league's most-active buyer on the free-agent starter market. Ryan had already pounced on Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes by the time Pelfrey's return was reported, pushing his 2014 commitments to starters this winter to $25 million—for a trio that averaged 4.93 runs per nine innings in 2013. Should Kevin Correia and his $5.5 million salary also make the rotation, the Twins would be in line to pay four starters acquired as free agents some $30 million next season—and they might not be done shopping.
The scary thing is the Twins haven't shopped at the brand-name stores. Instead Ryan has paid market prices for back-end types. Pelfrey fits the bill in both regards.
The former top prospect underachieved again in 2013, though there were some differences from the past. Pelfrey began using his sinker more and more as the season progressed, and embraced a windup as a means to stay on top of the ball. Yet, despite the increased emphasis on killing worms, he posted a career-low groundball rate—likely due to imprecise location. Perhaps Pelfrey will be aided by getting further away from elbow surgery, or spending another year under Rick Anderson's tutelage. If all else fails, he could transition to the bullpen in year two.
Regardless of how the veteran signings work out, you can understand Ryan's winter. He's attempted to upgrade his 2014 rotation with fours and fives—hey, beats sixes and sevens—with an obvious succession plan in mind. Come 2015, everyone should move down a peg or two. Then in 2016 a few will slide off the roster entirely, as the talented youngsters come into their own. By the time those young guns are reaching for their piece of the pie, the veterans will be dining on someone else's dime.
Ryan is building a bridge to an idyllic, cost-efficient Twins rotation. Until then, he'll have to deal with this nightmare. —R.J. Anderson
Fantasy owners haven't expected much out of Pelfrey in a while, and that's a good thing considering the performance he's graced us with. However, with his stay in Minnesota extended, he'll look to build off the moderate improvement he had in the second half of last season (4.39 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings). Like I said, we don't expect much, but maybe there is something to work with in AL-only formats this coming season. —Bret Sayre