"We’re told something may happen this week on the last of the big-name free agent starting pitchers. Pavano is likely to decide between Minnesota and Washington. We know his preference is to return to the Twins, but the Nationals will offer him a better contract. It won’t be an easy decision for the former Red Sox farmhand, and he may take less to stay where he’s happy."With this the Nationals find themselves in an all-too-familiar position. Once again they are one of the last two or three teams interested in a player who just hasn't found the contract he wanted. Per usual, the Nationals have offered that player the best contract on the table, while the player is forced to decide between love, the team he really wants to play for, and money, the contract he really wants to get. The Nats are banking on money.
As a Nationals fan I am torn on whether Washington should really be hoping that Pavano to picks them. At the age of 34 the right-hander had the best season of his tumultuous career, going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and a career high ground ball percentage in 2010. But while he very likely could step up in 2011 and be better than any starter was for the Nationals in 2010, he is far from an elite pitcher at this point in his career, and far from a true ace.
Pavano posts a career ERA of 4.34, and since 2004 has posted an ERA below four only once. We must also remember that he benefited from a great Minnesota defense and despite his resurgence for the Twins last year, things never tend to go up hill at the age of 35.
However, Pavano's signing may be more valuable to the Nationals than just the importance of adding an effective pitcher to the top of the rotation. He brings something no Nats starter had last season, durability. In the past two seasons Pavano has started a total of 65 games, in eight of which he pitched all nine innings. In 2009 he pitched 199.1 innings and in 2010 he pitched 221.0 innings. After the rubber-armed Livan Hernandez, no one on the Nationals staff pitched more than 143 innings last year.
Those stats need to be taken with a grain of salt tough. Pavano has been a workhorse the past two seasons, although he failed to start more than 10 games a season between 2006-2008 after signing a big deal with the Yankees in 2005. We also can't forget that we signed Jason Marquis, a rather similar player to Pavano, last season for the same reasons. He went 2-9 with a 6.60 ERA and only pitched 58.2 innings. Lesson learned?
Pavano has already cashed in on a big contract once before. He has been on losing teams, and on winning teams, and is track record shows he tends to do better on the winning ones. If I were Carl Pavano, it would be a no brainer for me to go back to Minnesota. I would have tested the waters, tried to see if I got Minnesota to budge, and was able to get a good offer on the table from another team. In his situation, pitching in the place he wants to pitch just makes the most sense.