Key offseason decisions: Will Pavano bring more mustached mastery?
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With the Major League Baseball free agency period upon us as of Saturday afternoon, the Minnesota Twins have big decisions to make on Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Orlando Hudson, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, and on Jim Thome, who general manager Bill Smith said the team is likely to pursue.
But the biggest decision may revolve around Type-A free agent starting pitcher Carl Pavano, who earned $7 million last season and could easily earn more -- on a two- or three-year deal -- heading into 2011.
The positives of having Pavano around are plentiful to a Twins team that lacks top-end starting pitching depth:
• Pavano's 221 innings were the sixth-most in the American League, and he likely would have moved up to third on that list if it weren't for shuffling the starting rotation in the final two weeks of the regular season.
• Since 2000, only three individual Twins pitchers have thrown more innings than Carl Pavano did last season:
Johan Santana - 2006 (233 2/3 IP)
Joe Mays - 2001 (233 2/3 IP)
Johan Santana - 2005 (231 2/3 IP)
Johan Santana - 2004 (228 IP)
Brad Radke - 2000 (226 2/3 IP)
Brad Radke - 2001 (226 IP)
Carl Pavano - 2010 (221 IP)
Considering the inconsistencies and/or injury issues with Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn, it's nice to have a guy like Pavano who is likely to throw seven effective innings almost every night.
• Pavano issued a career-low 1.51 walks per nine innings -- a mark that ranked third in the majors behind only Cliff Lee (.76 BB/9) and Roy Halladay (1.08).
• Pavano induced a career-high 51% groundballs in 2010 -- a testament to his sinking fastball and a plus-changeup that ranked as one of the most effective changeups in baseball last season.
• Talk to any member of the Twins front office, field staff or any player and they all say the same thing -- Pavano's work ethic and tenacity were top-notch and rubbed off on others.
The negatives surrounding Pavano, who turns 35 in January, are few and far between, and much of the luggage he carried from his failed four-year stint in New York has disappeared.
• Pavano's Type-A status means any team that signs him, other than the Twins, must fork over their first-round draft pick. This makes him slightly less appealing to the bidders.
• Pavano tends to allow too many home runs -- 50 over his last two seasons, although pitching in the pitcher-friendly Target Field has helped limit those long-balls.
• The 4.76 strikeouts per nine innings Pavano tallied were a career-low, but was never much of a strikeout pitcher to begin with (5.72 K/9 in his career), and his low walk totals and high groundball rate help balance the lack of strikeouts.
• Between 2005 and 2008, Pavano pitched only 145 2/3 innings for the Yankees, leaving people to question his durability, and justifiably so. But over the last two seasons, durability has been Pavano's greatest strength. In fact, any team that signs him will likely -- and perhaps ironically -- list durability as the main reason.
• Pavano had a reputation in New York as a poor clubhouse guy. That couldn't have been further from the truth in Minnesota last year, as Pavano -- mustache and all -- was viewed as a great teammate and leader. He was also a joy to deal with for media members.
Cliff Lee is the clear-cut best available starting pitcher in this year's free agent market, but Pavano might rank second -- in the mix with Jorge De La Rosa, Hiroki Kuroda and Javier Vazquez.
Kevin Millwood, Rich Harden, Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Harang, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Correia and Brandon Webb could also get a fair amount of phone calls.
The Twins have until November 23 to offer salary arbitration to Pavano. By offering arbitration -- like they did last year, and Pavano accepted -- the Twins ensure draft pick compensation if Pavano rejects the offer and signs elsewhere.
The Twins will almost certainly offer arbitration, and Pavano -- who by rejecting arbitration could position himself to get upwards of approximately $9 million per year over two or three years -- will almost certainly say, "no thanks."
The real question is whether or not the Twins are in position to offer a long-term contract and immerse themselves in a bidding war with other teams.
As it stands, the Twins are currently tied up for $94.6 million before signing any free agents and before raises to arbitration-eligible players like J.J. Hardy, Matt Capps, Delmon Young, Francisco Liriano and Kevin Slowey. Raises to those players, plus signing Pavano, would push the Twins' payroll well over $120 million.
For Pavano, Minnesota is a perfect fit. He pitches in a ballpark where fly balls go to die, he works with one of the best pitching coaches in baseball, Rick Anderson, and he isn't forced to deal with an army of aggressive (and vindictive) media members like in New York or Boston.
The interest is mutual, but the Twins generally shy away from bidding against multiple teams in the free agent market. If Pavano's price tag skyrockets, expect Smith and company to lean toward a Plan B -- possibly another free agent or something else via trade.
If Pavano's price tag is deemed reasonable, there's no reason why he can't be wearing a Twins uniform again in 2011.