On Saturday, the news we've been expecting for weeks finally arrived: the Twins have agreed to terms with Mike Pelfrey
on a two-year contract. Ever since it was initially reported back in November
that Minnesota had made a multi-year bid for the right-hander, there has been little question that a reunion was in store because, frankly, it seemed unlikely any other team would match.
The move has been met with criticism from many fans and analysts, which is unsurprising considering that Pelfrey pitched quite poorly in his first year with the club. I expected to experience that same feeling of antipathy when the signing was inevitably announced. And yet... I am not.
To be clear, I'm not a big fan of Pelfrey. Watching him pitch is a grind because he works slowly and uses tons of pitches. For the game-watching fan, he's kind of a drag. But that's secondary to the results he achieves.
Those haven't been good either, of course, at least not since he put up a 3.66 ERA over 204 innings back in 2010. I didn't like the contract given to Pelfrey last year because I saw little upside in a one-year deal for a guy who wasn't great to begin with and was only 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. The best-case scenario was that Pelf would get off to a rough start and come around during the latter part of the season boosting his own value going forward.
That did happen, to some extent. The righty endured a miserable first two months, getting tagged for a 6.66 ERA and .907 OPS while completing six innings just twice in 11 starts. But he looked noticeably better from May through September, turning in a 4.44 ERA while allowing only seven homers in 101 innings.
The overall numbers are far from dazzling, but that's why Pelfrey was available at such a low price. And at that price ($11 million plus incentives over two years), he stands a good chance of being a solid value for the back end of the rotation.
Here are a couple key things to keep in mind: He revved his fastball back up to the mid-90s in 2013 despite being less than a year removed from elbow surgery, and on the season he posted a career-high 6.0 K/9 rate (including 6.7 in the final four months).
Anyone who had become entangled in thoughts of a top-flight talent like Matt Garza is surely disappointed, but in my mind those reports were never realistic. The Twins weren't going to sign another pitcher to a four/five-year deal worth potentially upwards of $75 million after already committing that amount to a pair of hurlers in November. Those printed rumors struck me as a classic example of media being leveraged in negotiations -- either by the Twins (trying to motivate Pelfrey to sign) or by Garza's agent (trying to drum up the market).
Once Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were on board, I sincerely doubt Terry Ryan was ever truly interested in adding Garza, or Masahiro Tanaka, or even Bronson Arroyo (who, at 36, simply doesn't fit as well with the organization's contention timeline as Pelfrey, who is still 29). Not at the prices they are going to eventually command.
In all likelihood, the Twins are now done shopping for starting pitching. No one is going to look at their rotation -- which will include Nolasco, Hughes, Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and one returning arm -- and be blown away, but this group is a far more stable one than we've seen the past few years. The first four names are all experienced hurlers who made at least 29 starts in the majors last year. Leaving only one spot open puts the Twins in a position where they can pick the best of their internal candidates rather than counting on total question marks to fill multiple holes.
I know it's hard to get excited about Pelfrey based on what we've seen. But it's important to view him for what he is: an inexpensive back-end piece whose contract won't constrict the Twins much in terms of years or money. And while last year's deal carried little upside, there's more to be found in this one.
If Pelf can build on the things he did in the second half of 2013, he could turn out to be a pretty damn good value at around $7 million per year in his age 30 and 31 seasons.