August 17, 2008

Jarrod Washburn?!

Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there's no one else to blame

- Sia, "Breathe Me"

One of my favorite blogs, U.S.S. Mariner, has been chronicling the Mariners' horrendous season full of bad decisions, management changes, and mistake-correcting personnel moves. Jarrod Washburn's situation became a hot topic over there last month, when the Mariners reportedly turned down a trade from the Yankees that would've shed Washburn's contract. Two winters before signing Carlos Silva to a four-year, $48 million deal, the Mariners handed Washburn a four-year, $37.5 million contract.

With a year-plus remaining on the deal Washburn has given the Mariners a 23-41 record and 4.51 ERA in 516.1 innings, which is even worse than it looks at first glance considering Seattle's pitcher-friendly ballpark. Rather than a last-place team having to pay a glorified back-of-the-rotation starter $10 million next season, the boys at U.S.S. Mariner have been pleading with the Mariners to dump his contract on any team willing to take him.

Instead, when the Yankees expressed interest in Washburn prior to last month's trading deadline the Mariners reportedly asked for a legitimate prospect in exchange, which predictably ended those talks. When the July 31 deadline came and went, the Mariners placed Washburn on waivers while the boys at U.S.S. Mariner hoped that the team's new management had come to their senses and now simply wanted to rid themselves of Washburn's contract.

Washburn was claimed off waivers last week, at which point the Mariners could have told the claiming team "he's yours" and be done with his contract, saving $10 million for next season while eliminating a mediocre 34-year-old starter from the rotation. Unfortunately for Dave Cameron and Derek Zumsteg, that's not what happened. Once again the Mariners asked for a valuable player in return for Washburn and once again that predictably led to the interested team backing off.

To put U.S.S. Mariner's frustration in perspective, imagine if the Twins had signed Livan Hernandez for two years instead of one. Now imagine that they owed him $10 million for 2009 and when repeatedly given chances to dump that contract ruined things by asking the teams willing to assume his salary for something of value in return. Washburn isn't quite as bad as Hernandez, but as a fan of U.S.S. Mariner who has zero ties to the Mariners it was fascinating to read in a schadenfreude sort of way.

That is until learning that the team putting in the "winning" waiver claim for Washburn last week was none other than the Twins. Seriously. Suddenly a front office's well-documented incompetence had not only ruined the Mariners, it had saved the Twins. Details of what took place between the Twins and Mariners regarding Washburn are fairly cloudy and differ significantly depending on which sources you believe, but according to Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune the basic facts seem clear:

Bottom line: By placing that waiver claim this week, the Twins were willing to take on Washburn's entire contract--$13 million through the end of 2009 for a 34-year-old lefty who is 5-12 with a 4.58 ERA--and the M's walked away from the chance.

Washburn was placed on waivers by the Mariners last week and the Twins claimed him, at which point they could have been forced to take on his remaining contract. Instead, the Mariners asked for further value in return, the Twins balked, and Washburn was pulled back. It took 100 games for the Twins to dump Hernandez and trust a rotation full of 26-and-under starters, so the last thing they needed was to acquire another team's washed-up veteran at the cost of $10 million next season.

2008              xFIP    2008               xFIP    2006               xFIP
Scott Baker 4.01 Livan Hernandez 4.91 Livan Hernandez 5.38
Kevin Slowey 4.25 Jarrod Washburn 4.95 Jarrod Washburn 5.35
Nick Blackburn 4.41
Boof Bonser 4.48 2007 xFIP 2005 xFIP
Glen Perkins 4.86 Livan Hernandez 5.62 Livan Hernandez 4.56
Fran Liriano 5.17 Jarrod Washburn 5.30 Jarrod Washburn 5.01

Claiming Washburn two weeks after ditching Hernandez is like going to Taco Bell for dinner after lunch at White Castle kept you in the bathroom all afternoon. Washburn is not a useless player. In fact, if he was 24 years old and made $350,000 instead of being 34 and making $10 million, he'd basically be Glen Perkins. However, that extra decade and $9.65 million changes things completely. If there's one thing the Twins don't need right now it's a 34-year-old fourth starter who'll cost $10 million next season.

Now that a healthy, effective Francisco Liriano has joined Perkins, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey in the rotation while Boof Bonser remains in the bullpen the Twins have six starters on the roster, each of whom is better, younger, and cheaper than Washburn. In fact, Washburn costs four times as much as all six combined. Rather than actually wanting Washburn my hope is that the Twins made the claim to keep him from the White Sox, although that hardly would've been a bad thing.

Whatever the case, the Twins took a misguided risk involving little upside and it failed to hurt them only because the Mariners trumped the bad gamble with a worse decision. Losing three straight games at the Metrodome over the weekend was nice, but the Mariners did the Twins an even bigger favor by not realizing how much better off they'd be without Washburn around. Even Washburn was surprised that the Mariners didn't jump at the chance to make him another team's problem.

One day maybe the Twins will stop going after overpriced, washed-up veterans, but in the meantime it was nice of the Mariners to save them from themselves.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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