Wednesday, January 24

The cost of "Veteran Presense" - when it's not really needed.

There's a long-held belief in baseball that the idea of having veteran presence on a team is inherently valuable. It makes sense in theory - after all, if you have a group of talented youngsters, it can at worst be useful to bring in a guy that's been there before. Whether he's acting as an example for the kids or telling them what they should be doing, there's at least a moderately proveable correlation here.

However, like any idea when carried to extremes, it quickly falls apart. Case in point? Ramon Ortiz signing with the Twins for $3.1 million. There's a fine line between "bringing in helpful veterans" and "squeleching the youngsters". The Twins, for those unfamiliar with the organization, have a pretty good group of young pitching. There's the obvious one (Johan Santana), the even younger lefty (Francisco Liriano), and there's a host of young righties (Boof Bonser, Matt Garza, Scott Baker) that I can all recall off the top of my head. That's enough for a very, very young rotation - and I can understand wanting a guy who's had more than, oh, 25 big-league starts in there. That's doubly true given Liriano's likelihood of missing the 2007 season with surger and rehab.

However, the Twins already have Carlos Silva. Silva's not great - his calling card is excellent control, and over the course of his career he's been about average (101 ERA+). Again, that's not great, but when you have the talent that the Twins do, you would prefer it if the vets largely stay out of the way, right? That's what Silva does - and he's not a great player, don't make the mistake of thinking I'm saying that. He's either average or slightly below average (if you like your starters to strike people out, he's not your guy). So if we replace Liriano with Silva, now we have a rotation that looks something like:

Santana, Bonser, Silva, Garza, Baker

That's not bad. It's young, cheap, and effective. When you're operating on a shoestring budget, it's as good as gold to find that kind of rotation.

So now we add Ramon Ortiz to the mix. What's he offer? Really, not a whole hell of a lot. Think a worse version of Silva (93 ERA+) that will eat about 190 innings below league average. Great. That's useful if you're going to be looking at an innings shortage. However, the Twins aren't going to need that - they have at least 5 pitchers (already mentioned), plus a few other arms in AAA that they could call up who would be much cheaper than Ortiz. They'd probably be less effective, but whatever.

Basically, what it boils down to is Scott Baker v. Ramon Ortiz. Now, I'll admit I'm biased here for two reasons:

1 - I saw Scott Baker shut down the Durham Bulls for 8 1/3 innings two years ago, so that's my memory there.
2 - I saw Ramon Ortiz suck last year for the Nats.

So, let's compare. Scott Baker has a career ERA+ of 86 - worse than Ortiz, and Baker sucked last year (ERA+ of 70). However, Ortiz wasn't much better last year (ERA+ of 79 in a ton more innings) - and when coupled with 2005, that's about 350 innings of 81 ERA+ ball, give or take. That's worth about $2.7 million more than Baker? Never mind that Ortiz is now past the peak age for a pitcher and will probably decline from hideous to god-awful here in the next couple of years - plus he's losing the RFK effect. Baker, meanwhile, will be 25 this year (still well in his growth phase). Why not give him the chance? At worst, he'll do what he did last year - which wasn't much worse than Ortiz's effort - but the odds seem to speak against that. At the worst, he's cheaper, which leaves more room to sign Santana to a long-term extension. I don't think any Twin fan would argue with that.

Anyway, the Twins' rotation now looks something like:

Santana, Bonser, Silva, Ortiz, Garza

And they're looking at signing Bruce Chen. If they do, you can repeat the above argument but put Matt Garza's name in place of Baker's. Let's hear it for Terry Ryan.