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A look at Nick Blackburn’s new contract

Apparently all this talk of a Mauer contract has got Bill Smith’s negotiative juices flowing.

According to a tweet from Joe C:

The #Twins have signed Nick Blackburn to a four-year, $14 million contract. The deal includes an $8 mil club option for 2014.

At the moment, that’s all the details I have on his deal. But let’s take a look at it, shall we?

He has two years of service time, which means he’s currently entering his third and final pre-arbitration year. Thus, this 4-year deal buys him out through all three arbitration years, plus an option for his first year in free agency.

Normally, arbitration salaries are set at 40%/60%/80% of your free agent value in each year. Blackburn produced 2.5 WAR in 2008, and 3.0 WAR in 2009 (and is currently projected for 2.5 WAR in 2010). If we set his true talent level at 2.5 WAR, this four year contract should look something like this:

  1. $1M (typical value for final pre-arbitration year, this could go up or down by a few hundred K)
  2. $3.5M (2.5 WAR x 40% == 1 WAR … free agent salaries are $3.5M/win this winter)
  3. $5.25M (2.5 WAR x 60% == 1.5 WAR at $3.5M/win)
  4. $7M (2.5 WAR x 80% == 2 WAR at $3.5M/win)
  5. $8M team option (2.5 WAR at $3.5M/win is $8.75M)

As you probably noticed, these values add up to more than $14M. Normally, players give a discount for the security of a long-term contract. This deal is about 83% of what Blackburn could have expected if he’d gone year-to-year (and performed as well as he has the last two years every single time). That seems like a larger-than-normal discount, which means the Twins did a good job at the negotiating table (even the option is discounted from his expected value).

It’s possible that the Twins have managed to value wins at an even lower rate than this discounted winter shows … the value of this contract makes sense at about $3.2M/win.

So the Twins negotiated themselves a good, team-friendly contract here. Maybe all that practice trying to deal with Mauer has been good for them. But is the value of the contract really the most important consideration here?

For starters, they’ve now locked up perhaps their most consistent starting pitcher for four seasons; Blackburn has also shown himself capable of stepping up in big games (which can’t be measured, but teams and teammates and managers and fans all love those guys). Blackburn is the team’s only groundball pitcher, during an offseason in which they’ve re-upped on infield defense with the addition of Hardy & Hudson. If they expect to make a commitment to Hardy, it makes sense to lock up Blackburn. Plus, this will lend some consistency to the starting rotation. They’ve got a solid, consistent starter for his age 28-31 seasons, which are often a pitcher’s best.

Of course, there are downsides — Blackburn could get hurt or be ineffective. He hasn’t shown much risk of injury, but that could happen at any time for a pitcher. Plus, it blocks the pipeline of pitching talent. With both Baker and Blackburn signed to long-term deals, the space in the rotation for younger (perhaps more talented) pitchers is pretty thin; especially until Baker and Blackburn are considered “veteran presences,” thus removing the need to sign a guy like Pavano (or Livan Hernandez, or Ramon Ortiz, or whatever other guy they feel will give them a 5.95 ERA every 5 days).

I think you can’t be too worried about injuries in this situation. They could happen, but if you go by that logic you’d never sign anyone. And if a group of young pitchers starts knocking hard on the door and Blackburn seems like he should be the odd man out, plenty of teams are looking for consistent workhorses who are groundball machines, excel in big moments, and are signed to team-friendly deals — it shouldn’t be hard to find a taker in a trade and get something back for Blackburn. Especially if he pitches well, besting his 2.5 WAR valuation.

I didn’t really expect to like a long-term deal for Nick Blackburn, but I do. This was a good move for the Twins, and hopefully is an indication of the kind of successful negotiations they can execute, when it comes to the Mauer deal.

6 comments

6 Comments so far

  1. rghrbek March 8th, 2010 10:55 am

    No question this is an interesting topic. The Twins did not spend a lot of money here, so there are worse things that could’ve happened.

    However, by buying out his service time, they are guaranteeing money to someone I am not sure will be pitching with us 3 years from now.

    He’s pitched well in some big spots. People want to point out how well he did down the stretch last year. He’s had basically identical years, that have been serviceable.

    However, He gave up more hits than anyone last year, he’s not a true ground ball pitcher, our ball park dimensions are smaller and have less room in foul territory than before. He pitched terrible mid year and then pitched well against the worst teams in baseball. I mean all of this makes me uneasy. I can’t shake all the Silva comparisons.

    Gleeman and the Twins Geek agree that this is risky, if you want to read different perspectives, that are not all rosy.

  2. rghrbek March 8th, 2010 10:59 am

    By “rosy” I mean other blogs out there, not FG. This one was positive, and posted numbers to explain, but not giddy like a few others I have read.

  3. sirsean March 8th, 2010 1:11 pm

    I find Gleeman’s demeanor to be fairly sour about everything the Twins’ front office does, and thus the fact that he isn’t excited about a deal is basically meaningless to me.

    Looking at Blackburn’s K rate alone ignores his solid 2.46 career K/BB ratio. And while he’s not a super groundball pitcher he does generate a good amount of them and should stand to benefit from a vastly improved infield defense behind him (more than the other pitchers, probably).

    Maybe I’m wearing rose-colored glasses. On the other hand, maybe I’m just not wearing shit-colored glasses like Gleeman always does.

  4. FunBobby March 8th, 2010 1:51 pm

    I think a lot of the people who are “giddy”, don’t understand that Blackburn wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The twins website has a headline that is something like “Twins lock up Blackburn”. We locked up cost certainty. Blackburn wouldn’t be eligible to leave the Twins for several years.

  5. Ragstoriches March 9th, 2010 8:26 am

    It’s a ridiculously small sample size, but he’s pitched very well in big games – Game 163 in ‘08, Game 2 vs. the Yanks, down the stretch last year in general. If the Twins want to do anything in the playoffs they need a go-to pitcher. So I think it’s a reasonable risk to take.

  6. Ragstoriches March 9th, 2010 8:29 am

    Well Gleeman’s suggesting Nathan’s done for the year. At least we won’t have to see him melt down in the playoffs this year. Him or any of the other Twins, probably.

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