Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the Twins’ half-decade-long dry spell in developing pitching prospects than the one that begins with a dollar sign.
The Twins are spending only 22.5 percent of their $82 million payroll on the pitching staff this season, the lowest figure since the turn of the century at least, and less than half of the major league average. It’s also quite a contrast to a decade ago, when the team devoted more than half of its cash to pitchers.
“It’s not by design. It’s not like we said, ‘Let’s spend less on pitching and go another way,’ ” said assistant GM Rob Antony. “It’s just the nature of having [Joe] Mauer and [Justin] Morneau as your top players, and then having a couple of guys in the rotation who aren’t eligible for arbitration yet.”
The nature of the Twins is also responsible for the decline, because the team generally rewards its own players with long-term contracts, rather than pour cash into large free-agent contracts. Case in point: Nick Blackburn, who despite not even being on the team’s 40-man roster, will be the Twins’ highest-paid pitcher this year, earning $5.5 million as he tries to return from wrist surgery.
The only three Twins pitchers ever to earn salaries above $10 million in a year — Johan Santana, Joe Nathan and Brad Radke — fit that profile as well; all three blossomed once they arrived in Minnesota.
“That’s how we like to do it. When we’ve spent a lot on a contract, more often than not, it’s on players we already have, that we know. We know how they fit in the clubhouse, and we know their health situation,” Antony said. “It makes you a little more comfortable with the investment.”
Trouble is, the Twins have developed few pitchers recently who have earned big paydays. Glen Perkins is in the first year of an affordable three-year deal that pays him $2.5 million this year, and Brian Duensing makes $1.5 million. But that’s it for homegrown pitching at the moment, which is why hitters take such a huge chunk of the current payroll.
The Twins have by far the lowest percentage of this season’s payroll devoted to pitching in the AL Central. Kansas City has 53.6 of its payroll in pitching, the White Sox 47.4 percent, Cleveland 45.9 percent and Detroit 38.8 percent.
The Twins aren’t entirely unwilling to spend on pitching, Antony said. They paid Carl Pavano almost $24 million over the past three years, and “we were out there [last winter] with offers to some pitchers with some higher numbers.” Outbid in those cases, however, they signed Kevin Correia to a two-year deal worth $10 million and Mike Pelfrey to a $4 million, one-year deal.
Still, it’s a notable change. In 2002, the four biggest salaries on the Twins belonged to pitchers (Radke, Rick Reed, Eric Milton and LaTroy Hawkins), plus seven of the top nine. Now only three of the top eight are pitchers, and that’s if you include Blackburn.
Some of those investments go bad, usually because of injuries. Blackburn, Pavano, Scott Baker, Matt Capps, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mays and even Nathan have all collected checks in years they were unable to pitch. “It’s frustrating, but every team faces that,” Antony said. “It’s the nature of this business, and you try to compensate for it as much as possible.”
Percentage of payroll spent on pitching:
Year Twins MLB Diff. Highest-paid Twins pitcher
2013 22.5% 49.8% - 27.3 Nick Blackburn ($5.5M)
2012 31.8% 58.3% - 26.5 Carl Pavano ($8.5)
2011 38.7% 57.1% - 18.4 Joe Nathan ($11.3)
2010 23.2% 57.9% - 34.7 Joe Nathan ($11.3)
2009 28.8% 58.5% - 29.7 Joe Nathan ($11.3)
2008 40.0% 56.5% - 16.5 Joe Nathan ($11.3)
2007 44.0% 56.3% - 12.3 Johan Santana ($13.0)
2006 43.7% 57.7% - 14.0 Brad Radke ($9.0)
2005 52.9% 52.0% +0.9 Brad Radke ($9.0)
2004 32.8% 50.6% - 17.8 Brad Radke ($10.8)
2003 58.7% 50.1% +8.6 Brad Radke ($8.8)
2002 61.9% 51.7% +10.2 Brad Radke ($8.8)
2001 66.7% 52.3% +14.4 Brad Radke ($7.8)
2000 64.0% 54.1% +9.9 Brad Radke ($3.5)
Source: Baseball Prospectus
You can’t blame Jose Valverde for trying to rewrite history. Upon his triumphant return to the Tigers — a 1-2-3 save against Kansas City — after going unsigned as a free agent last winter, the flamboyant closer told reporters “a lot of teams wanted to sign me, like the Yankees and Mets. A lot of teams.” Both New York teams quickly denied ever making an offer.
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Jason Giambi interviewed for the Rockies’ managerial job last winter and was offered coaching jobs by a handful of teams, he said. But the 42-year-old former MVP said he wants to enjoy what is probably his final season as a player.
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White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was asked last week about his retirement plans, but he made it clear he won’t make up his mind until after the season.
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While James Shields gets most of the notice, Wade Davis, who came to Kansas City from Tampa Bay with Shields, has quietly posted a 3.20 ERA in four starts.