Warne: It's early but investment in Kevin Correia looks like a good one
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins' signing of free-agent pitcher Kevin Correia last winter wasn't the type of impact move the team's fan base was hoping to see when significant money came off the payroll following a 96-loss season in 2012.
While most pitchers are only three or four starts in this season, the options the Twins might have turned to otherwise are definitely not making the Correia investment of $10 million over two years look like a bad one.
Here's a look so far, keeping in mind the sample size is very limited. (Contract information via Baseball Prospectus/Cot's Contracts):
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks: $15.5mm/2 years
McCarthy is four starts into his Diamondbacks career, and has gotten just one more out than Correia despite making an additional start. His strikeout rate is on a three-year tumble, and while he has been unlucky with his 7.06 ERA (3.91 FIP/4.19 xFIP), he's simply not getting deep into games.
This was a key thing the Twins wanted to address this offseason, as 12 different pitchers started games for the club last season, and no fewer than half were woefully inept.
Only three pitchers on the Twins threw more than 100 innings last season. One departed via trade (Francisco Liriano), and another made 44 of his 55 appearances out of the bullpen (Brian Duensing). The other was rotation stalwart Scott Diamond. Stability alone was the key factor in signing Correia, regardless of if his ceiling was a bit stunted.
Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels: $15mm/2 years ($8mm '15 option)
It was almost taken for granted that Blanton was a slam-dunk signing for the Twins, as his stinginess with the walk and ability to get ground outs fit in nicely with what the club was looking to get. Last Monday the Twins faithful saw up close how much of a struggle it has been for Blanton this year. He has a 8.59 ERA, with little help from his peripherals (8.08 FIP/5.23 xFIP).
Blanton has lost nearly 2 miles-per-hour from his heater -- and is down universally across the board -- and according to PITCHf/x, that offering and his sinker are both allowing wOBA (weighted on-base average, scaled to OBP) numbers exceeding .700. Barry Bonds in his prime was in the .500s, for some context. To summarize, Blanton is getting tattooed. The strikeouts are gone, the walks are up, and he's giving up nearly a home run every other inning.
Brett Myers, Cleveland Indians: $7mm/1 year ($8mm '14 club option)
If Myers' 21.1 innings of 8.02 ERA ball with 10 home runs given up weren't enough, he was placed on the disabled list Sunday because of elbow tendinitis and a mild sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm. This is an injury that can often lead to Tommy John surgery. Myers is said to not be considering surgery, but there is no timetable for a return. Even pitching through it is risky, as seen with Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley, who was also placed on the disabled list on Sunday and is believed to be considering going under the knife.
Think of this one as a bullet dodged for the Twins.
Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners: $6.5mm/1 year (undisclosed mutual option for '14)
In a lot of ways, Saunders and Correia are extremely similar. Both have more than 1,000-career innings thrown. Saunders' career FIP and xFIP are 4.55 and 4.49, respectively. For Correia the numbers are 4.51 and 4.44. Correia strikes out a few more, but walks a few more. In terms of home run rate, one checks in at 1.11, the other 1.10.
In essence, it then boils down to money. Correia costs the Twins less in year one. Trying to track down data on the mutual option for Saunders has proven tricky, but one thing's for sure: It's not cheaper than his year one cost, or Correia's year two. So the Twins did well to pay Correia less, despite having less leverage due to the market situation at that time in free agency.
Shaun Marcum, New York Mets: $4mm/1 year (plus innings pitched/active roster bonuses)
Marcum got less than Correia this season, but for good reason it seems. Neck and biceps woes have kept Marcum from even throwing an inning in the big leagues this season, and he's coming off a 2012 season which saw him only throw 124 innings -- albeit pretty good ones. If Marcum was as good as his numbers dictate, why did he have to settle for a 'pay-as-you-go' contract with contract language written as follows (via Cot's).
Performance bonuses: $0.250M each for 120, 140, 160, 170 innings. $0.375M each for 180, 190 IP. $0.5M for 200 IP
Roster bonuses: $0.375M each for 90, 120 days on active roster without injury to right arm. $0.5M each for 150, 170 days
Some oddly specific language in there, no? It looks as though the belief is that Marcum's right arm is barely hanging on, and the contract structure and base value only serves notice. A healthy pitcher of Marcum's caliber gets a deal like Anibal Sanchez' in terms of AAV (average annual value).
Scott Baker, Chicago Cubs: $5.5mm/1 year
The Twins wisely wanted to get Baker into an option-type scenario, knowing full well that 2013 could be a lost year and with the desire to possibly recoup some of that good faith with a possible 2014 contract in place. Baker balked, and now is on the 60-day disabled list with the Cubs. It's fair to wonder if he will pitch much at all this season.
And there are countless other options who could have been considered, such as Edwin Jackson ($52/4 for 0-3, 4.84 ERA, 1.39 WHIP); Dan Haren ($13/1 for 1-2, 8.10 ERA, 2.03 WHIP and potential back issues); Ryan Dempster ($26.5/2 for a 35-year-old wasn't happening here)'; Carlos Villanueva ($10/2 for a potential swingman); and plenty others.
Reading between the lines, it's clear even if the Twins had offered more money, these players and countless others would have or in fact did spurn the club to sign elsewhere.
Anyway, for what it's worth, Correia's three starts into the season with a 2.95 ERA (3.92 FIP/4.21 xFIP), 46.6% groundball rate, and is averaging over seven innings per start. His strikeout rate is down, but he's still getting a healthy groundball rate, sliced his home run rate by 20 percent, and his walk rate is continuing his career-long tumble.
In short, Correia has been pretty solid.
But hold it just a minute. By no means is Correia out of the woods. The Twins have seen this stretch from another free-agent starter with limited expectations to begin the season.
Through three starts:
Correia - 21.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 8/3 K/BB ratio.
Starter X - 22.0 IP, 2.05 ERA, 8/2 K/BB ratio.
That starter is Ramon Ortiz, signed to a one-year deal before the 2007 season. Not only did Ortiz not even end the season with the club -- dealt to the Rockies for Matt Macri in August -- he was bounced out of the rotation in May and only worked mopup duty after that, finishing 11 games (almost all blowouts) down the stretch before moving onto Colorado.
The overriding message is this: Don't get too excited or too down about this year with Correia. Enjoy it while it's good, be prepared for if it gets bad, and help is on the way. The Twins did better than most thought here.