Sunday, February 08, 2009

Transaction Notes: Luis Ayala

Minnesota Twins agreed to terms with RHP Luis Ayala on a one-year, $1.3M contract.

Slow offseason? Slow offseason?!? Well, OK, sure, pitchers and catchers report in a week and we just got our first new Twin. But in my book that deserves at least a full length 750 word story. So let's see how many ways can we spin the signing of the 20th guy on the roster.

I haven't seen much of the coverage of this signing, but I suspect the capsule version is something like "He had a 5.71 ERA last year but he's better than that." And in dozen words or less, that's about right, but we've got 738 more words than that, so we might as well use them.

The signing will please contrarians immensely, because that 2008 ERA is such a deliciously large target, and the truth is that he wasn't better than that. He was exactly that. What's disconcerting (or comforting, depending on your point of view) is that we don't know why. His strikeout rate didn't change much. He walked more batters than he used to, but still not so many that you would expect disasterous consequences. He didn't give up many more home runs. And yet his ERA jumped almost three full points.

What we do know is that he's not the eighth inning replacement that we hoped the Twins were going to sign this offseason. He should be a useful reliever like Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier. He should be a solid one inning guy most of the time. But he isn't going to drown the opposing bench in a wave of despair an inning early.

Interestingly, he hasn't been particularly dominant against one hand or the other. His stats against both right-handed and left-handed batters are almost identical. Given the depth the Twins already have on both sides of the mound, it might be better if he was dominant against right-handed hitters, even if it meant he was susceptible to the other side.

More serious roster watchers might worry about the impact of this signing on some of the fringe players on the roster. The Twins are going to break camp with seven guys in the bullpen, and those seven spots were spoken for before this signing:
- The closer, Joe Nathan
- The right-handed veterans - Crain and Guerrier
- The lefties - Jose Mijares and Craig Breslow
- The long relief guys - Boof Bonser and Philip Humber

So, pop quiz, hot shot: What happens now that Ayala is guaranteed a spot in the bullpen? (And make no mistake, he is.)

A: Somebody gets hurt.

And I mean legitimately hurt, like when Scott Baker began last season in Rochester. This signing provides a much needed insurance policy, not just for the bullpen, but for the rotation too. If a member of the starting five is hurt, Bonser slides into that role and then there's room in the bullpen.

There is at least one side benefit, too. The only guy in that bullpen who still has options left is Jose Mijares. Given the disturbing stories coming out of his winter league assignment, it might not be a bad thing for him to be looking over his shoulder.

Plus, this puts to bed the speculation about signing Eric Gagne, a client of Scott Boras. That's significant because Joe Crede is also Boras' client. Does blowing off Gagne make is less likely that the Twins sign Crede, or does it reaffirm to Boras that his leverage in these matters is less than he thinks?

And finally, it's worth noting that the signing isn't official yet, and there's more than just the usual pending physical housekeeping to take care of. Who is going to get dumped from the 40 man roster? Seth of claims it can't be any of the guys who were added this fall, which is a rule I didn't know. If that's the case, I would not want to be in Bobby Korecky's shoes tonight.

That brings us to 663 words, and it's going to have to do, as The Voice of Reason is less likely to view another 87 words as the moral imperative that I do. Don't take it personally Luis. You're still the biggest free agency signing of the offseason for the Twins. And as your agent has no doubt explained to you, it's a slow offseason.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Positive spin would be he, in last three years, has more than double the Ks of BBs, doesn't give up more than his share of HRs, and, given Twins bargain-hunting ways, the Twins have never been scared to sign a guy who gives up a few more Hs than IPs.