Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The price of a "disposable" veteran pitcher

Aaron Harang had a spring training ERA above 8 this year.
Follow the bouncing contracts:

Aaron Harang spent the 2012 season in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation: 31 starts, just under 180 innings, 10-10, 3.61.

The Dodgers proceeded to load up their starting rotation with big-ticket contracts — Josh Beckett, Zach Grienke, Korean rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu. Harang was pushed into the bullpen, an ill fit for the veteran. He hasn't pitched, spring training or regular season, since March 26.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Rockies had veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez and no real use for him once Yorvit Torrealba won the backup job. The Dodgers wanted a veteran reserve catcher, so this weekend they traded: Harang and cash for Hernandez.

And the Rockies promptly designated Harang for assignment, a move that got him off their roster and gave them 10 days to dispose of him.

This is relevant to Twins fans because Minnesota is one of three teams that are reportedly interested in trading for Harang.

According to Baseball Reference, Harang's 2013 salary is $7 million, but the Dodgers are picking up $4.5 million, leaving whoever winds up with his contract obligated for the other $2.5 million. There is also a mutual option for 2014 for either $7 million or $8 million, depending on how many innings he pitches; since mutual options are almost never mutually exercised, the relevant figure is the $2 million buyout.

So trading for Harang means spending $4.5 million. Which, as it turns out, is roughly what the Twins are paying Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey.

Less than a decade ago, the Twins had the habit of signing veteran pitchers (Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez) to $1 million contracts to plug a gap in the starting rotation for a month or two while younger pitcher marinated in the minors. When a replacement was deemed ready, the veteran was released. They were disposable veterans.

Harang's April in limbo— and the Correia and Pelfrey contracts — suggest to me that the price today for a disposable veteran starter has inflated to $4.5 million. I continue to think it's absurd to pay a marginal veteran that much when a minor league veteran will cost about a tenth the amount.

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