Too much, too early may very well characterize Mike Pelfrey‘s 2013 season with the Minnesota Twins. After a shorter-than-expected turnaround from Tommy John surgery, the big righty was essentially thrust into a frontline starter role with the team — one that he simply wasn’t built for or prepared to take. Needless to say, despite leading the pitching staff with 2.1 fWAR, Pelfrey did little to help the league’s worst starting five this past season, posting a 5.19 ERA of his own.
So why sign him to a two-year deal when he’s not the long-term solution for a rotation leader?
Well, context changes things in Pelfrey’s case, and considering the remarkable job that the Twins have done this offseason to upgrade their abysmal rotation from 2013, you might even say that he’s now in the right situation to bounce back heading into his age 30-season.
Proper roles do make a difference, and while the right-hander was unfairly relied on to do more than just eat innings this past season, that won’t be the case in 2014. Instead of being the no. 2 guy and one of the stoppers on the team, the 29-year old will take a more reasonable spot as the no. 4 or even no. 5 pitcher with Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and (perhaps) Kevin Correia ahead of him.
There, a 2.1 fWAR innings-eater would be more than adequate, showing off the depth of the rotation with some stable production rather than being an indictment of how bad things are overall.
Besides, it’s not as if the Twins have made a decision to commit to him long-term either. At two years and up $11 million with incentives, this deal should prove to be more valuable than the one Minnesota signed Correia to through the 2014 season, and it should serve an important purpose in keeping the team afloat, buying them time to see whether prospects like Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson can make any headway in the bigs over the next couple of years.
In the best-case scenario, those talents do emerge and Minnesota sets themselves up with a solid rotation in 2015 with Pelfrey in the back end. If it doesn’t? The depth gives them the luxury to be patient with the prospects’ development. So while Pelfrey’s newest deal is by no means a strong vote of confidence for him as a long-term piece of the puzzle, it’s a deal that’s made with the future squarely in mind.
That’s not even to mention the fact that Big Pelf should improve in 2014 regardless of his role. His 4.76 second-half ERA vs. 5.55 in the first half suggests that adjustments were already being made as he cut his HR/9 be nearly half (0.98 in first half to 0.51 in second), and his 3.99 FIP/4.54 xFIP at least suggests that some degree of normalization is on the way when it comes to his ERA … as long as the BABIP gods are willing to help him out.
Though there was nowhere to go but up for the Twins’ rotation after 2013, they still managed to accomplish the unlikely task of remaking it to the point of respectability on paper. In doing so, they’ve found a way to turn what was a questionable arm to bring back in Pelfrey into at least stopgap of value.
And if it pans out, he should be in good position to set himself up for a bigger payday after 2015 — which is not something that can often be said about a guy coming off a 5.00-plus ERA season.