By Joe Christensen
OK, I left myself open for some easy criticism at the end of that last post. Not a good week to write, ”I still think Ortiz ($3.1 million) and Ponson ($1 million) were decent investments.”
If I had a blog in 1937, I probably would have followed the Hindenburg explosion by writing: “I still think using flammable hydrogen was the way to go.”
Hopefully, most of you understood the context. I think Ponson and Ortiz were “decent” low-risk investments as opposed to the Adam Eaton-type deals that are leaving teams hamstrung for multiple years. Many of you think the mistake in signing those guys is how they’ve blocked the path for the young guns to join the rotation. But I think we have a philosophical difference on where the Twins were with their pitching prospects when these decisions were made.
I don’t think Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey or Scott Baker were ready to be counted upon coming out of spring training. I don’t think it was dumb for the Twins to buy time for their development (even an additional six weeks) with these lower-priced free agents.
To me, Garza is the case study. Drafted in 2005, he was rushed through the minors last year out of necessity once Liriano and Radke were hurt. He couldn’t command his breaking pitches, but he dominated minor-league hitters with overpowering stuff. Without that last bit of polish, he was exposed in the big leagues last September.
Many of you were incensed when Garza didn’t make the rotation out of spring training. But he had a rough April for Rochester, and the way he was commanding his pitches, it probably would have been a brutal month in Minnesota, with fans losing faith in him by the start. Just look how down everyone got on Baker when he struggled with the Twins last season.
Slowey has emerged as the Rochester darling now, and looking at his eye-popping numbers (1.46 ERA, 44 strikeouts, 3 walks, 0.69 walks and hits per inning pitched), he certainly seems ready for a bigger challenge. But I think the seven starts he’s had for Rochester have been critical to his development.
Without Ponson and Ortiz, the pressure on the young guns would have been huge from the first day pitchers and catchers reported. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen young pitchers falter after making an opening-day roster. (See Baker in 2006, or Erik Bedard in 2004.) Or, how’s Mike Pelfrey doing for the Mets this year?
So that’s what I meant by “decent” investments. Just so we’re clear.