Mackey: Low-risk or not, Twins are taking philosophical gambles
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Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan has gone out on a limb with the signing of right-hander Kevin Correia earlier this offseason.
No, not a financial limb -- Correia will make only $10 million over the next two years, which isn't a large percentage for a team that is able to spend over $90 million if it chooses to. Plus, the going rate for any free agent starting pitcher with an active heartbeat is at least $5 million per year these days.
Ryan has gone out on a philosophical limb.
It's a small gamble at a relatively low cost for a team aiming more toward 2014 than 2013, but Ryan has chosen to fill one of five precious rotation slots with a pitcher Twins scouts say can be serviceable, but about whom stats say has almost no chance.
Correia owns one of the lowest strikeout rates of any pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons, he rarely misses bats (89% contact rate) and his 4.82 ERA over the past three seasons ranks 142nd out of 164 starters. Plus, Correia pitched beyond six innings only five times in 32 outings last year.
All of this, of course, in the National League, where Correia has pitched for 10 seasons.
Over the course of those 10 years, Correia owns a 4.54 ERA -- and, for the statistically inclined, a 4.52 FIP with only 5.5 Wins Above Replacement (three pitchers posted 5.5 WAR last season alone).
Sure, the Twins needed healthy bodies to fill out a rotation that will likely grow with younger pitchers as 2014 approaches. But why pay $10 million over two years for a starter with such a mediocre track record in the National League? Couldn't the Twins get similar, or better production for near MLB's minimum wage?
"Well, I always go back to the scouting evaluation, people that have seen him, and we saw him a lot with the Pirates, and certainly before that when he was with the Padres and the Giants," Ryan said recently. "We like his makeup, he has stuff, we had evaluators tell us and me in particular that this guy is better than the numbers."
Numbers and track records might not mean as much for younger players who have the ability to grow, improve and break through plateaus -- players who lack experience.
That's not to say veterans don't have the ability to improve. They do. But Correia is 32 years old and has thrown over 1,000 innings in the major leagues.
At some point, he is what he is.
Still, Ryan -- who runs every transaction by the Twins' internal statistical analysis department -- has elected to put more faith into the scouting evaluations of Correia than what we see on paper.
"Certainly he fell off there when they took him out of the rotation (in August) when they brought in Wandy Rodriguez, and that had a little bit to do with some of his (sub-par) numbers and lack of innings (last) year," Ryan said. "But I have a lot of faith and trust in people that have seen him, and they were adamant that this guy can help us. He's a little bit better than a fifth starter. ...
"I don't think we overpaid drastically in this situation. People that know him say that he's a good teammate and all that type of stuff, so you take all of that into consideration. We needed pitching badly, so we went and got him. ... We weren't the only team that was chasing Correia. This is a pretty good ballpark actually for him to pitch."
Twins have relied on similar thought processes recently with other pitchers, most notably with Jason Marquis and Anthony Slama.
Marquis was touted as an innings-eater who could help stabilize the bottom of the Twins' rotation, despite the fact that injuries and lack of productivity held him to 58 2/3 and 132 innings in 2010 and 2011. Marquis also had not posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2004 -- again, in the National League. His $3 million salary was a pittance, but so were his chances to succeed in the American League.
Needless to say, things didn't work out in Minnesota.
Twins scouts and decision-makers have also been skeptical about Slama's ability to produce a high strikeout rate in the major leagues with his high-80's fastball. There's a solid chance those decision-makers are correct, because pitchers with Slama's profile rarely produce strikeouts, but on what planet does a guy who owns a 1.99 career minor league ERA while striking out 12 batters per nine innings not deserve at least a shot? Especially on a team with one of the worst collections of pitchers in baseball the past two seasons.
Maybe Correia winds up being a serviceable fifth starter. But if he doesn't, Ryan and company may need to tweak their methods.