Tuesday, February 12, 2008

And He Shall Be Livan

OK, let's cover Livan Hernandez briefly. And really, I mean briefly, because it's late, I'm sick as a dog, and if I was even half of a writer I'd be telling about the Oratorio at Orchestra Hall that The Chatty Chatty Princess just sang in. Instead I'm writing about an overweight, overused veteran pitcher. And that's because I'm a bad father.

I could also be declared legally blind for not seeing this a mile away. Especially because on Friday night I was at a party with a bunch of other Twins geeks(again, bad father), and the topic of "What veteran free agent pitcher would you sign if you were the Twins" was raised. I said I'd rather they just went to war with the kids, another fellow thought they should try and get a veteran arm to soak up some innings, and I was OK with that if we could identify a guy with some upside.

But looking through our mental rolodexes we couldn't find a very good fit. Josh Fogg? Kyle Lohse? The guy we liked best was R. A. Dickey, the minor league knuckleballer that the Twins lost in the Rule 5 draft. Nobody (as far as I remember) came up with Livan. And that includes a half hour later when one of the guys started playing Elton John on the organ and broke into Levon. I swear to god I am not making this up.

Cause here's the thing - if someone would've mentioned Livan, I'm pretty sure he would have been the consensus choice. I expect this pick will be blasted in some areas, and that isn't totally unjustified. And I'll be reading them, because it will be interesting to try and determine if the reality they're advocating is really the result of a paradigm. Personally, I can't get too worked up about it one way or the other, and I'm not deadset opposed to it.

Is it a waste of money? Hell yeah, but right now the Twins have money to waste. Bill Smith has done some things well this year, but he's also flubbed a couple of doozies, and one of those is the Twins budget this year. He was way too conservative early, a trait he shared with the previous GM, and now they have money to burn. Not signing Hernandez isn't going to fix that. This is essentially a freebie. (And yet one more piece of evidence that the Twins should never be afraid to bid an extra couple of million dollars per year to re-sign their stars. )

Is it going to take away innings from younger pitchers? Probably, but it's not like there won't be plenty left. The starting rotation is still going to have 800 innings to spend on developing major league pitchers, and the bullpen will probably have a couple hundred more. I'm not going to weep for the 200 innings that will be soaked up by Hernandez, especially when I was willing to hand them off to R.A. Dickey.

The biggest problem with Hernandez is that he just might not be very good. This, in my opinion is the strongest argument. His ERA has been rising, his strikouts have been dipping, and his home run rates will make Twins fans remember Brad Radke and Carlos Silva - and not in a good way. The consensus opinion is that his arm has absolutely been fragged by overuse, and last year's 4.93 ERA in the National League is going to give attentive fans pause.

But on the other hand, he's just 32 years old. He has learned to survive more on guile than power, and his guile hasn't been seen in the American League ever. He also started very strong last year, with 5-2 record and a 3.36 ERA in his first 11 starts before there started being some reports of a sore neck, etc.

Finally, it's worth noting that Livan sure thought he's be doing better than this when he turned down the Diamondbacks offer of arbitration. He likely could have made more money by just accepting that than he did by signing with the Twins. And Livan, Livan likes his money. He makes a lot they say.

But maybe most importantly, it's not like he's bumping the best of the Twins pitching performers down to the minors. Given all the youth on this team, some guys were going to really struggle, and they were going to need to stay on the roster because there wasn't going to be many options. It's unlikely that those players, whoever they ended up being, would have posted the upper 4's ERA that the Twins are hoping they can coax out of Hernandez.

They also get a guy who knows how to pitch, and someone who can nominally be the #1 guy/horse in the rotation until a youngster steps up and grabs it (and someone will). Pundits will suggest that this signing will hurt some of the development of young pitchers, but I expect that the Twins signed Hernandez for exactly the opposite reason. We'll hear that they signed him to help the young pitchers by example and take the weight of the world off their shoulders.

Maybe that will end up as prophecy or maybe it will end up as irony. I don't know. But the Twins have developed about as many minor leaguers into regular players as any franchise in the majors. They probably deserve the benefit of the doubt on the strategy they choose.


Anonymous said...

I like this signing. The Twins really needed someone to be the leader of the staff, even if he isn't the best pitcher on the staff. They needed a guy to be the professional to show the kids how to go about your work, etc. I think that gets a little too overlooked in the blogosphere. Reading comments from Scott Baker about the possibility of him starting Opening Day, I felt like I could just see his eyes getting real big. That's a lot of pressure for any of these guys other than Liriano. Remember, Radke started Opening Day in 2005 after Johan won the Cy Young in 2004.

Livan was really the best guy left on the market that fit the bill. And when Carlos Silva is getting paid $12M, $5M for Livan looks like a steal.

Interesting fact: Much like Johan is the only Johan to ever play MLB, Livan is the only Livan to ever play MLB. At least you type in Livan at Baseball-Reference and you go straight to Livan Hernandez's player page.

Anonymous said...

Dickey and his knuckleball are already with the Mariners.

I don't buy that the Twins can just afford to burn money. Why? Guys like Jose Tabata, Carlos Triunfel, Deolis Guerra, and Fernando Martinez. While we're busy trading the best pitcher in baseball for guys like that, other teams are buying them up for $1-2M a pop. And honestly, our farm system could use some top prospects.

Unless Livan finds the juvenation machine, he's going to have trouble pitching well enough to eat innings, and there's also the chance that all the wear and tear on his arm finally takes a toll and he gets injured. I understand the desire to get a veteran innings sponge, I just don't think it was a good idea to look towards an over-the-hill pitcher with an ERA that is unsupported by his (rapidly declining) peripheral stats to find that innings sponge. I hope he proves me wrong, but I'm not optimistic, to say the least.

neckrolls said...

If he can start as strongly as he did last year, this could turn out to be an excellent signing. I agree that any of the in-house 5th starter candidates would likely get smashed as much or worse than Livan, and all could benefit from a couple more months in Rochester. My hope is that when one of them emerges as truly major-league ready, Livan will have performed well enough to command a strong trade value from some contender desperate to plug a rotation whole with a proven "innings-eater."

If, however, Hernandez is still with the team in August, I think I'll be pretty unhappy.

Anonymous said...

Here's to hoping he starts strong so we can trade him and Nathan at the break... with that said, I do not like this.

Take the money and plug it into drafting and signing international talent. Use it as a signing bonus or something to lock up Young, Kubel, Liriano, Neshek, and Baker for a long time.

Anonymous said...

With the payroll so far under, who is to say they won't use those dollars in the draft or on international players?

Anonymous said...

Livan is not 32, he's "32". He's also accumulated, by plenty, the most Pitcher Abuse Points, according to Baseball Prospectus's count, of any pitcher over the last decade.

Yep, the Twins have screwed up this year's payroll. The best idea I've heard is to take that money and invest it in signing foreign born players. Handing $5 million of it to Livan Hernandez can't be the best use of it. At least they didn't hand him a multi-year deal.


Anonymous said...

I think this is great signing--though I would have preferred Colon with his AL Central experience.

The veteran innnings eater (Livan) means the Twins can bring Liriano back from Tommy John the right way (slowly) maybe even at Rochester in April then the 5th starter. There will be less pressure on Boof, Slowey and Baker to be number 1.

Good move.


Anonymous said...

I thought your intro to this article was hilarious!