First of all, the most important thing about the Nick Blackburn signing for Section 219 is that it keeps Ms. Baseball's favorite player under contract to the Twins through 2013. She has been abandoned in the past by too many of her favorites -- the name of the former No. 57 must only be spoken with great care around her -- so the Blackburn news was especially welcomed in these parts.
That being said, this is another one of those moves by the Twins that speaks to a bright future, if Blackburn can conquer the stretches that have kept him a .500 pitcher over his first two seasons -- 11-11 records with near identical ERAs in 2008 and '09.
Some .500 pitchers attain that status by being inconsistent or mediocre from one start to the next. Give up 3 or 4 earned runs in 6 or 7 innings and there's a pretty good chance you'll win some and lose some and end up somewhere in the middle.
Blackburn's tenure has been marked by extremes of excellence and suckitude.
We are all about the Blackburn who was 5-2, 3.07 in his final seven starts of last season, including the Saturday afternoon in October when he outdueled the Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke, for a vital victory. He gave up 45 hits and walked only three (while striking out 30) in those 44 innings.
What we need is for Blackburn to exorcise the stretches like the one from last July and August, when he gave up 31 runs in 25 2/3 innings over six starts.
In 2008, his problem was an inability to pitch with a lead. That April, a pair of 5-0 leads turned into losses to Detroit and Texas. An early 7-1 lead against Boston turned into a 9-8 victory and an early 3-0 lead against the White Sox turned into an 11-6 loss. There was also a seven-start stretch of late-season mediocrity with pitching lines that looked like they were borrowed from the Twins tenures of Livan Hernandez or Ramon Ortiz.
Still, when you think of Blackburn's 2008 season, what also comes to mind are the pair of 1-0 defeats -- in his first start against the Angels and in Game 163 against the Twins. (Thanks, Jim Thome.)
His work in that game and his pitching down the stretch in 2009 gives Blackburn the aura of a big-game pitcher. In that context, the deal he signed (four-years, $14 million and an $8 million club option for 2014) looks like an excellent investment.
I suspect the Twins are counting on Blackburn's maturity to minimize the problems of his first two seasons.
Signing Joe Mauer, of course, would ...
No, not today. If you want to read about Mauer, here's a New York Times story. There's nothing to see here, right?
For a not-so-enthusiastic view of the Blackburn contract, here's a link to TwinsGeek's take. Mrs. Geek, if I remember correctly, is a Phillies fan.