Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Contract Worth Waiting For

So how soon after he signed this 2-year/$16.5 million deal did Carl Pavano fire his agent, Tom O'Connell? Was it a full minute? Or did he throw the crumpled contract in his face as soon as it was signed? None of this has been reported yet, but it had to happen, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Pavano is excited to be back. He sure sound genuinely excited, and there have been several reports saying he expressed his desire privately to stay with the Twins from the very beginning. He’s not in a bad place, and clearly likes the situation. I’m happy for him.

But there’s a reason he didn’t sign this same deal back in September or October. It’s because Pavano, who was viewed as possibly the second best free agent starting pitcher on the market, just signed a deal that was worth somewhere between half and three-quarter of his market value.

(That last sentence is not debatable. For instance, Ted Lilly signed for $33M guaranteed over three years. Jorge De La Rosas signed for two years and $21.5M. Hiroki Kuroda gained $12M for one year. Pavano was in their class, if not above.)

Pavano can blame a good chunk of that lost money on the collective bargaining agreement. That’s what allowed the Twins to offer Pavano, a Type A free agent, arbitration. Since he turned it down, it was going to cost every other MLB team a high draft pick to sign him. That severely restricted his potential suitors.

But the Twins had to take a risk to put that loadstone around Pavano’s neck, and his agent didn’t make them pay. By offering Pavano arbitration, they essentially offered him a 1-year/$11 million contract, because that’s how much he would’ve made in arbitration. When Pavano turned that down two months ago, the Twins breathed a sign of relief as it was pulled off the table.

So instead, a month later, he and his agent were without that offer as leverage, and seemingly without any other serious suitors. Thus, the Twins new offer was for twice as long, but at only 1.5 times the price. The Twins essentially got a “buy one year, get the second at 50% off” deal with this signing.

I’m sure Pavano and his agent will put a happy face on the deal, and nobody is going to be unhappy with a guaranteed $16.5M in his pocket. But there is no question – none – that if they had to do it again, they would have accepted that arbitration offer in November. The extra $5.5M now in hand is nowhere near the money that was available in that bush.

(This signing also further strains the credibility of those who might claim that the Twins paid $7M to Capps just so they didn’t need to sign a multi-year deal. By that logic, the Twins would’ve been happier signing Pavano to the same 1-year/$11M contract they essentially offered him in arbitration. We can safely assume that wasn’t on the table.)

The Twins played this exactly right, and deserved the luck that they got. What’s more, the pitching staff suddenly has an abundance of riches - unless this deal leads to some payroll cutting in which they trade away one of their other starting pitchers. It’s not impossible. There have been rumors going back to the winter meetings that the Twins might shop a starter to other teams if they acquire Pavano. Furthermore, the Twins not only have six pitchers for 2011 – they have the same six pitchers under their control for 2012, too. (And don’t forget Kyle Gibson waiting in AAA.)

If the Twins can’t afford it, we’ll likely hear of another trade. But if they can – and the bargain they just got helps - it’s a nice problem to have. Plus, if a move isn’t made this winter, it’ll be a fun topic to talk about as the trade deadline approaches.