In case you haven’t heard, Joel Zumaya will not be pitching for the Twins this year. He won’t be pitching for anyone, because he tore a ligament in his elbow. If Zumaya wants to continue his MLB career, he will probably need Tommy John surgery. But indications are that he will likely opt to retire instead.
It’s depressing to see a once-promising young pitcher suffer such a devastating setback, especially since the 27 year old right-hander has absorbed so many other blows over the years. It’s especially unnerving for the Twins, who were hoping that Zumaya would be the secret weapon in their 2012 bullpen. But this latest unfortunate development does not change the fact that the Zumaya signing was a smart move for the Twins.
Given that the Twins need to cut payroll, it makes sense for them to seek out players who have been overlooked and are thus available at a bargain price. Zumaya fit that bill perfectly. He was a power pitcher, a true strikeout artist, and he had been given a clean bill of health this offseason.
Zumaya has been described as a “high-risk, high-reward” player, but I think the first half of that label was inaccurate. He was actually a very low risk. Sure, there was a high percentage chance that he would get hurt, but he was a low risk because the investment in him was minimal. His injury occurred before the season started, so he costs the Twins just $400,000. In baseball terms, $400,000 is a paltry amount of money. It is perfectly reasonable for a team to wager $400,000 when the possible payoff could be worth ten times that much Zumaya in a healthy, productive season could easily command a salary north of $4 million). By contrast, the Twins gambled $5.3 million just for the right to sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka last year, and that move was widely applauded at the time.
That the gamble failed does not change the wisdom of taking a chance in the first place. Aside from the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Phillies, who have money trees growing in their backyards, every MLB team needs to gamble on a cheap player from time to time.
To be clear, I am not saying that the Twins should not have signed any other pitchers. Even if Zumaya had been healthy and pitching at his 2006 form, he alone would not have solved all of the team’s bullpen problems. While it was an intelligent move to take a chance on Zumaya, the decision not to also pursue Dan Wheeler, Todd Coffey, Octavio Dotel, or any of the other dozen or so relievers on the market was foolish (full disclosure: I was also an unabashed advocate of signing Rich Harden, which in hindsight would not have worked out). Failing to engage with Wheeler is especially galling, since he reached out to the Twins then ended up agreeing to a minor league deal with Cleveland. Unless Terry Ryan knows something about Jared Burton and Casey Fien that the rest of us do not, the Twins bullpen appears seriously lacking in talent.
It would have been far easier to sign that extra help, of course, if the team had not tied up $4.5 million to sign Matt Capps, but I’ve made that argument enough times already. Say what you will about Zumaya, but at least he did not cost the Twins a supplemental draft pick!