Paying For Starting Pitching: Twins & Rays At Opposite Ends Of Spectrum
The Twins And Rays Demonstrate Stark Contrast In Cost Of Starting Pitching
The Minnesota Twins won 94 games in 2010 and since then have had seasons of 99, 96, and 96 losses respectively. One of the teams glaring weak spots has been their starting rotation. Thus far this winter the Twins have invested $84M in payroll to the starting rotation and are rumored to still be in the market for Bronson Arroyo.
It’s hard to fault the Twins for trying to improve their rotation. In 2011 their rotation ranked 12th out of 14 American League teams with an ERA of 4.64, in 2012 they finished dead last in the AL with an ERA of 5.40, and in 2013 they ranked last in the AL again with an ERA of 5.26.
They tried to upgrade the rotation last winter as well by acquiring young pitching via trade. Denard Span was sent to the Washington National in exchange for Alex Meyer and Ben Revere was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitchers Trevor May and Vance Worley.
At the time of the trade Meyer was ranked #40 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect List but having only pitched in High-A was a number of years away from impacting the Twins big league team. Trevor May was a little further along in development finishing the 2012 season with the Phillies Double-A affiliate Reading Phillies. The Twins hoped Worley, who had made 23 starts for the Phillies in 2012, could step into their rotation in 2013.
Both Meyer and May pitched for the Twins Double-A affiliate New Britain Rock Cats in 2013. Due to shoulder inflammation Meyer was limited to 13 starts (4-3, 3.21 ERA) and Meyer (9-9, 4.51 ERA) made 27 starts.
Worley started the year with the Twins but after going 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts he was sent to the Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings (6-3, 3.88 ERA).
This offseason the Twins front office has decided that the team can not wait for the young arms in the system to develop and the rotation fix will have to come via the free agent market.
First the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 for Marlins/Dodgers in 2013) to a 4-year/$49M contract with a 5th year club option for $13M ($1M buyout) that becomes a players option if he pitches 400 innings in 2016-2017.
After signing Nolasco the club signed Phil Hughes (4-14, 5.19 ERA with Yankes) to a 3-year/$24M contract and then re-signed Mike Pelfrey to a 2-year/$11.5M contract that includes a reported $3.5M in incentives.
Mike Berardino of the St.Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter) quotes a source that says the Twins remain heavily interested in pitcher Bronson Arroyo who went 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA while logging 202 innings for the Cincinnati Red in 2013.
As it sits now the Twins have spent $84M on their starting rotation and in 2014 they will commit $31.5M in salary to their rotation paying Nolasco ($12M), Hughes ($8M), Pelfrey ($5.5m), Correia ($5.5M), and rookie Kyle Gibson ($500K) or Vance Worley ($500K).
Developing starting pitching is paramount for the success of an organization and is also a key component to controlling the payroll allowing a general manager to spread money around to some not so pricey areas of the roster.
The Tampa Bay Rays have made a habit out of collecting young arms in nearly every deal they’ve made since 2008 season. When they traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels in 2009 they received Alex Torres, after the 2010 season when they traded Matt Garza to the Cubs they received Chris Archer, and following the 2012 season when James Shields was sent to the Kansas City Royals they received Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery in the deal.
Besides stocking young arms from outside the organization the Rays have done an excellent job in developing young arms from their system like David Price, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb.
MLBTraderumors.com estimates that David Price will earn approximately $13.1M in arbitration this winter but it is expected that the Rays will trade him before opening day.
Where does this leave the Rays starting pitching expenditure?
The most expensive member of the 2014 Rays rotation would be Jeremy Hellickson at an estimated $3.3M followed by Matt Moore who will earn $1M, and then a trio of major league minimum pitchers in Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi who colletively will earn approximately $1.5M.
All told the Rays starting pitching staff will earn approximately $5.8M and will most likely out perform the Twins.
There are many ways that an organization can build a starting pitching staff but it would seem to me that developing starting pitching and allocating funds elsewhere through the roster would be the wisest path to follow and one that would lead to the most competitive team on the field.
The Minnesota Twins are doing what they are doing out of necessity and the point isn’t that they are foolish for following this path. The objective here is to demonstrate the immense value and competitive advantage an organization can have by producing it’s own starting pitching to remain competitive year after year. Also, having a knowledgeable front office that knows when to trade pitching and a scouting department that knows which young arm to target so that the process can be repeated years later.