Sunday, March 7, 2010
Well, it wasn't the contract extension we've been waiting for, but the Twins announced they signed Nick Blackburn to a 4-year, $14 million deal with a club option for 2014. On the surface, this looks like a ridiculously good deal for the Twins. The details of the contract haven't been released yet, but this is essentially a cost-controlling move, with the Twins buying out the rest of Blackburn's arbitration years as well as his first year of free agency. Blackburn has been a 5.5 WAR pitcher since making his debut as a September call-up in 2007, tossing around 200 innings a season and posting a 4.39 ERA. He isn't exactly what anyone could (or should) consider the ace of the rotation, but Blackbeard is the sort of reliable workhorse most teams would love to have rounding out their rotation. As long as he continues to gobble up innings and turn in at least league-average performances, Blackbeard will be worth the $14 million.
However, this deal isn't without risk. Blackbeard will be locked up until he's 32, and typically pitchers with pedestrian stuff and a high contact rate don't age well. I've gone over Blackbeard's limitations as a pitcher in greater detail here, and, well, I'm not really sure how he's managed to pitch as well as he has up to this point. He gives up a lot of hits, he has a pretty mediocre ground ball rate, he gives up an awful lot of fly balls for a sinkerballer, he doesn't strike out many batters, really the only thing he does well is not issue a ton of walks. Considering that Blackburn only has two full seasons in the major leagues under his belt, the timing of this deal seems odd. He's under team control for at least the next three seasons, and isn't likely to make that much in arbitration, so what's the harm in making him wait at least another year to prove his success isn't a fluke? I realize that the Twins want to control payroll costs as much as possible, and locking up players through their final arbitration years is a good way to do that, but it just seems like too risky a proposition for a player with so little upside.