Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pavano's Market

With Cliff Lee signing and Zach Greinke traded, many sports writers are predicting that Carl Pavano is finally the most desirable starting pitching on the market this offseason. But the market isn’t so sure.

Certainly the pitcher that is getting the most interest is Brandon Webb. Webb has been mentioned locally as an alternate option if Pavano signs with another team, but the truth might be that he is even more desirable to most teams. He has tremendous upside, having been a Cy Young winner in 2006. He’s also four years younger than Pavano. He’s coming off an injury, but that hasn’t scared away teams in the past. Last year the A’s signed a pitcher in a similar position, Ben Sheets, to a 1-year $10 million deal.

But Webb isn’t the only pitcher that might rank higher. When Lee signed with the Phillies, many thought the Rangers would suddenly be interested in Pavano. But not only has that not yet happened, it meant another pitcher was added to the market. The Phillies have made it known that starting pitcher Joe Blanton is available, probably because the Phillies need to cut some payroll to pay Lee.

Blanton is unlike Pavano in that he is a flyball pitcher whereas Pavano was more groundball-oriented this last year. Critics will wince at Blanton’s 4.82 ERA in 2010, but for his career, he has a 4.30 ERA, compared to Pavano’s 4.34. Blanton has consistently “eaten innings.” Most importantly, he’s five years younger than Pavano and locked into a contract that will pay him $8.5 million over each of the next two years. That’s less than Pavano is seeking.

Of course, a team would need to trade for Blanton – but a team would essentially need to trade for the free agent Pavano, too. That’s because any team that signs Pavano is forfeiting a very high draft pick, comparable to the Twins first round picks the last few years. Those have been turned into Kyle Gibson, Alex Wimmers and Aaron Hicks - significant prospects within months of being chosen. Giving up a 1st round pick is similar to giving up a top prospect, which is something the Phillies likely won’t be able to demand for Blanton. So trading for Blanton might actually be cheaper than just signing Pavano.

If that surprises you, you’re probably not alone – I think Pavano and agent Tom O’Connell might be surprised too. They had the opportunity to accept arbitration from the Twins and make $11 to $13 million from the Twins for next year, but that ship has sailed. Instead, they’re watching an $8.5M pitcher who teams need to trade for AND who had a bad year last year leapfrog Pavano. That’s doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in one’s position.

Of course, it all could change. All it takes is one team to lose their head, as the Nationals have already shown us once this offseason. That’s why Pavano – and the Twins – continue to wait. But so far, waiting has helped the Twins far more than Pavano. And it appears Pavano will want to wait at least a bit longer.