Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan and assistant GM Rob Anthony must have incredible poker faces, because when Glen Perkins came to them with a sweetheart of a deal, they didn't blink. They just got the lefty to sign on the dotted line.
As a rebuilding team waiting on prospects, the Twins don't really need a closer, but they have a great one in Perkins. With the contract extension he signed Friday, which will pay him at least $22.175 million, the Twins will keep him around for another four or five years. The club already had him in the fold through 2016, and it's unusual to see a team wrap up a reliever for this long. This is the kind of perfect extension that works well for both the player and especially for the team, though.
It's a great deal for Perkins, of course. That's why he approached the Twins with the idea. He gets an immediate raise, and many extra guaranteed millions down the road. He also gets to stay in his hometown for another four or five years, with little chance of being traded for prospects at the deadline (not that a 31-year-old closer, even one on a below-market contract, would have brought back all that much).
It's even better for Minnesota, however. I'm as surprised as you are. Until recently, I was firmly entrenched in the camp that advocated for flipping closers as soon as they were established. Hey, it worked for the A's in the early 2000s, why shouldn't it work today? Closers are overrated, I thought, and always will be thanks to that shiny "saves" statistic and their awesome theme music. And, of course, long contracts for relievers always carry some inherent risk. So, why is this a good idea, exactly?
First, they get Perkins' production. Since ascending to the closer role in late August of 2012, Perkins has saved 45 games in 50 chances, with a 2.17 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 78⅔ innings against just 16 walks. He is almost as tough on righties (.183/.251/.317 last year) as he is on lefties (.236/.271/.273). He was one of the 15 most valuable relievers in baseball last year according to FanGraphs' wins above replacement measuring. While he had an operation to fix a sore knee this offseason, his arm has been healthy since 2009, and, for a reliever, he's a low risk for injury. Even if he does get hurt, the annual salary never gets high enough (the deal tops out at $6.5 million) that the Twins can't absorb it.
He also will be paid, throughout the length of the deal, far less than a closer can earn on the open market. Just this offseason, Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, Brian Wilson and Grant Balfour all signed for more than Perkins will receive even in the last year of the deal. Barring a catastrophic injury, the Twins won't have to play in the deep end of that free agent pool.
More importantly, again barring some kind of injury or drop in performance, they also won't have to elevate any of their cost-controlled middle relievers into the closer spot. Saves, as Matt Murphy wrote for the Hardball Times back in February, are expensive. In looking at the A's and their decision to trade for Jim Johnson, and pay him $10 million this offseason, Murphy points out that "by keeping [stud middle-reliever Ryan] Cook out of the ninth inning for just one year, the A's appear to be saving around $7.4 million in arbitration costs." The Twins have essentially done the same thing, but on a much larger scale. They can continue to pay Perkins below market-value rate as a closer, as well as prevent pitchers like Casey Fien, Michael Tonkin, Caleb Thielbar, Ryan Pressley and maybe eventually Trevor May from racking up the saves that will get them paid exponentially more in an arbitration process that disproportionately values them.
So yeah, it really feels weird to praise a long-term extension for a reliever, especially one who was already under contract for two or three more seasons. When Perkins, however, provided the Twins the chance to keep the costs down across their bullpen for years to come, they did a great job not giving away how elated they had to be at their good fortune. Perkins just made their rebuilding efforts a little easier and a lot less expensive.