With Greinke Gone, Carl Pavano Makes Sense for Tigers

With Zack Greinke no longer an option (was he ever?), the Tigers still appear to be interested in obtaining another starter. We’ve heard the name Brad Penny tossed about and while I think he would be a worthwhile gamble, I wonder if the Tigers don’t have their eyes on a bigger prize.

Last week we discussed briefly the possible pursuit of Rays starter Matt Garza, and while I think he would also be a nice addition, I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth a look at free agent Carl Pavano.

Dave Dombrowski has shown an interest in Pavano before. In 2004, when Pavano inked his four-year deal with the Yankees, it was widely reported that he turned down a larger offer to come to Detroit. As it turned out, given the multitude of injuries and missed time that marred his stay with New York, Pavano’s declining the Tigers offer was a pure blessing for Detroit.

Over the past two seasons, however, Pavano has shown himself to be a capable pitcher once again and has provided valuable innings for the Twins in their march to consecutive division crowns. What’s more, he has been extremely durable since the start of 2009 as well. He has worked a combined 420 innings over the past two seasons and lead the American League with seven complete games in 2010.

The Twins have very little in the way of rotation depth and they are widely considered to be favorites to re-sign the right hander. Milwaukee, who had been in the bidding, is no longer an option after trading for Greinke. Pavano’s other suitors figure to be the Nationals and perhaps Pittsburgh, but there is no other club known to have interest.  Of those clubs, only Washington can match the financial muscle the Tigers have shown themselves to have and unlike with Washington, Pavano would be stepping into a club with the Tigers that’s built to win in 2011.

Considering that Pavano is the best available free agent pitcher, and that the Twins appear desperate to keep him, his price tag could reach $10 million per year. Would Minnesota be willing to go that high? I have to doubt it. Even with their new ballpark, the Twins payroll has escalated to unprecedented levels. At some point, Joe Mauer‘s contract will become a burden to that franchise and losing a guy like Pavano may just be the cost of keeping Mauer long-term.

Now, $10 million per year sure sounds like a lot to pay a guy who figures to be at best your third-best starter, but great pitching staffs often have more than just one guy you could consider an ace. Pavano is a solid pitcher who doesn’t walk many batters. He isn’t going to beat himself. In adding Pavano, the Tigers would not only add an upgrade over their current starter (Armando Galarraga), but they would strike a blow to a division rival and seriously damage the chances for a Minnesota three-peat in 2011.

The Tigers still have a good deal of wiggle room in the payroll for next season versus last. While no one expects them to spend all of the remaining balance, even after signing Pavano, there would still be a roughly $20 million decrease in payroll below last season. I’m not sure how I’d feel about any kind of long-term commitment, but for a two-year deal, I don’t see a problem for the Tigers if they were to make a play for him.

He fits into the budget, as best I can figure, he fits the mold of a veteran starting pitcher, and he has owned the Tigers for two years running. What better way to compete with the Twins than by luring a piece they desperately need to keep and to avoid having to face him five times a year as well?

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Tags: Carl Pavano Detroit Tigers Minnesota Twins

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