The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 17, 2014

Thoma column: Perkins extension may not be such a relief over time


The Mankato Free Press

---- — In the abstract, long-term contracts for relief pitchers are bad bets for teams.

Nobody seems to be too concerned about that rule of thumb when it comes to Glen Perkins’ new deal with the Twins.

The contract, worth more than $21 million in guaranteed money, binds the closer to his hometown team through 2017 and includes a team option for 2018.

It replaces the two years he had left on his contract and represents some $14 million in new money for the 31-year-old.

This, I suspect, will prove to be a better wager for Perkins than for the Twins.

The theoretical risk for Perkins is that he won’t get to test the free agent market in two years. It’s only a theoretical risk because there’s no guarantee that he’ll remain healthy and effective over those two years — and because there may not be a hot market for relief pitchers when the time comes.

The risk for the Twins? They’ve just invested in the proposition that Perkins will be their relief ace for the next four to five years.

Know how many current closers have held the gig for the same team more than two years? One, Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta. Know how many current AL closers are signed beyond 2014? Four, counting Perkins, and the other three (Joe Nathan of Detroit, Fernando Rodney of Seattle and Grant Balfour of Tampa Bay) just signed two-year deals as free agents.

The last time the Twins signed a closer to a four-year deal, it was Nathan, whose injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery erased one of those seasons and badly marred another.

True, Nathan’s deal was more than twice as hefty as Perkins’ — $47 million for Nathan, $21 million for Perkins. The “average annual value” of Perkins’ contract is just under $5.6 million. The Twins won’t be eager to eat that sum, but it wouldn’t cripple their budget if it comes to that.

The Perkins extension is a case of the Twins swimming against the current. The trend around baseball — and particularly among the stat savvy teams — is to avoid making heavy commitments to specific relievers.

Only two relief pitchers have more guaranteed money coming their way now than Perkins does: Kimbrel and Jonathan Paplebon of the Phillies, and the enthusiasm in Philadelphia over the Paplebon contract has faded sharply over the two years he’s been there.

The St. Louis Cardinals went through three closers last year — and went to the World Series, where they lost to the Red Sox — who also went through three closers.

Tampa Bay habitually dives into the bargain bin for a closer almost every year. Billy Beane in Oakland made a practice of minting new closers and peddling them off to teams who overvalued the save statistic.

There aren’t a lot of organizations left for Beane to sucker like that. The Twins might be one of them; they take seriously the notion that the ninth inning is different from the other eight. (That’s why they were willing to trade away Wilson Ramos for “proven closer” Matt Capps back in 2010.)

So the Perkins extension has this unintended benefit to the Twins: They won’t be tempted to trade for a closer for at least four years. Assuming, of course, that Perkins is capable of keeping the job that entire time.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.