Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | March 7, 2010

Twins Extend Blackburn

Jon Paul Morosi (former Tigers beat writer) of Fox Sports and Twins beat writer Kelly Thesier are both reporting that the Minnesota Twins have signed Starting Pitcher Nick Blackburn to a contract extension worth a total of $14m over 4 years (2010-13) with an $8m club option for 2014. The annual values of the contract have not been released yet.

Blackburn enters this season with 2 years of service time and therefore this contract will buy out his final renewal season (2010) and all of his remaining arbitration seasons. If Minnesota picks up his 2014 option, it will cover his first free agent season.

Frankly, I don’t get it. I can speak with greater authority once I see the AAVs, but just looking at the total number it is easy to see that with a $14m deal over 4 years, there will be no season during the length of the deal which will be especially crippling financially should things go wrong. If the Twins ownership is committed to raising payroll in the future that would make this contract even less onerous. However, on pure principle alone this just seems like a completely unnecessary maneuver for a pitcher of Blackburn’s age, service time, and skill level.

Looking at the total dollar amount it does seem clear that if Blackburn sticks around for the entirety of the deal that the Twins are likely to see some savings over what may have happened were they not to offer the deal (assuming Blackburn stays effective), but it just seems to be entirely too risky, and needlessly so.

Nick Blackburn is essentially what Carlos Silva (a former Twin) was before his career imploded. He’s a pitcher that works primarily off of his fastball and cutter (in Silva’s case it was a changeup) who induces tons of ground balls, strikes out very few, and walks very few. His pitching style (like Silva’s) for whatever reason induces lots of hitters to swing (and connect with) pitches outside of the strike zone. We all have seen how the Carlos Silva story has played out in Seattle, and while he has been given a second chance by the Chicago Cubs (only taking him in order to be rid of Milton Bradley), there haven’t been a lot of cries of optimism surrounding the resurrection of his career.

This isn’t to say that Blackburn will end up like Silva, or that he’s a bad pitcher. In each of the last two seasons he’s gotten 33 starts. In each of those seasons he’s had an ERA of either 4.03 or 4.05, and a FIP of either 4.37 or 4.40. His 2008 and 2009 seasons look nearly identical in fact, save for his boost from 193 1/3 innings in ‘08 to 205 2/3 in ‘09. Blackburn has been able to make his pitch-to-contact, no strikeout, no walk skill set work for him, and there’s no particular reason to believe that it definitely won’t work for him going forward.

However, there’s nothing in his results or skill set at any level to suggest that he will ever be significantly better than he is right now, which is an average to slightly above average starter that can eat a lot of innings. Conversely, it is a skill set that presents little margin for error and even a marginal drop in control could completely devastate his effectiveness. As a pitcher with only 2 years service time, the Twins already had four years team control built-in without signing this long term deal without having to guarantee him money over the next four years. He heads into this season aged 28, meaning he’ll be 31 at the time the deal expires. This doesn’t make him incredibly old, and it does cover what are generally accepted as a player’s prime years, but it does seem a little old to guarantee money to a pitcher of such average talent. It seems like the safer move for the Twins would’ve been to go year-to-year with him, perhaps spending slightly more annually in order to protect against carrying an injured or ineffective pitcher should something go wrong over the next four years. It just doesn’t seem like “locking up Nick Blackburn” should really have been on their list of priorities.

Having said all that, it seems unlikely that this will be a particularly crippling deal, and if Blackburn is able to maintain his skills throughout the contract the Twins likely end up as big winners in this signing. However, it isn’t without its risks. For Blackburn’s part, he now has been guaranteed $14m, which essentially sets him up for life if he handles his money wisely. If he continued delivering the results that he has in his first two seasons he likely could’ve made more money by going year-to-year, but he also was subject to the risk of injury or ineffectiveness. He didn’t get greedy, and now he has fourteen million dollars guaranteed to show for it. The Blackburn household should be a happy place this evening.


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