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Late on Sunday afternoon, the legendary Peter Gammons, who is now working for MLB.com and MLB Network, tweeted, “Jesse Crain may be the hottest Rel. w/Benoit signed. TB, Col, LAD, Arizona, Sea, Balt, Cubs, Wash, Tor already in. Makes sense for Bos and LAA.”
When Jesse Crain was drafted by the Twins in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft out of the University of Houston, he was fast tracked to the big leagues. He had been the starting shortstop for Houston, but he would enter games as the team’s closer. He pitched in nine games for Elizabethton before pitching nine games for Quad Cities (Twins previous Midwest League affiliate). In 2003, he started at Ft. Myers, and after ten games he was promoted to New Britain. In 22 games there, he was 1-1 with nine saves, a 0.69 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP. He moved up to Rochester and went 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA and ten saves for the Red Wings. Combined in 2003, he struck out 114 in 84 innings. Eddie Guardado left as a free agent following the 2003 season and as you would expect, I was touting Crain to be the Twins next closer. Instead, they gave the job to some lanky right-hander who had just one career save and had shoulder surgery less than two years earlier. (I guess that Joe Nathan guy turned out alright too.) Instead, Crain went back to AAA where he went 3-2 with 19 saves. In 50.2 innings, he walked 17 and struck out 64.
On August 5, 2004, Jesse Crain made his big league debut. In 22 games with the Twins, he went 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings. In 2005, he went 12-5 with a 2.71 ERA in 79.2 innings. In 2006, he was 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 76.2 innings. Then after 16.1 innings in 2007, Crain’s season came to an end early and he needed a surgery to fix a tear in his labrum and a hole in his rotator cuff. He returned in 2008, and the idea was to bring him back slowly. But it wasn’t long before Crain was working a lot of innings again, and he pitched pretty well. He went 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 62.2 innings. 2009 was a forgettable year for Crain, and it resulted in a mid-season option to Rochester where he worked on a few things. When he came back, he was tremendous. His 2010 started out slowly. Many went with one of the worst nicknames I’ve ever heard, “Crain Wreck,” nearly everyone was calling for him to be Designated for Assignment. Admittedly, I was probably the last one to agree with that thought, but in mid-May, I did finally agree. And from that date forward, Crain was as good as any relief pitcher not named Joaquin Benoit for the rest of the 2010 season. He started working differently. He relied on a devastating, sharp slider, and by doing that, somehow he gained more control of his fastball and his slow curve.
We have to mention Benoit because he was a free agent as well, and his amazing season with the Rays. In 63 games, he was 1-2 with a 1.34 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP. He had missed all of the 2009 season and some in 2008. From 2001 through 2008, he had two seasons with an ERA under 4. So, as a 33 year old, he had an amazing, career year, and the Detroit Tigers gave him a three year, $16.5 million contract. That’s awesome for Benoit. It makes for a great story.
But it did a lot for the market of Jesse Crain. Remember, Crain has a significantly better track record than Beloit does. Crain had surgery in 2007. Benoit missed all of 2009. Benoit was a little better in 2009, but he will turn 34 during the 2011 season, right about the same time that Crain turns 30. So, if Benoit can get three years, Crain should be able to ask for four. If Benoit can get $5.5 million per season, there is no reason that Crain can’t get $4.5 to $5 million a year. There is no reason that Jesse Crain and his agent should not be asking for four years and $18-19 million.
Grant Balfour is still available too, but Crain is a Type B whereas Balfour is a Type A. Crain will not cost the signing team a draft pick. All those Blue Jays relievers (Downs, Frasor, Gregg) are available as well.
If Gammons is correct, and there are nine teams negotiating with Crain and his representatives now, and there are several others who will be, it becomes more and more likely that Crain can get the numbers I mentioned above. And if he is able to, good for him. He deserves it. He earned it. He flipped a switch in 2010 that took him into the upper echelon of big league relievers. What it also means is that the Twins will likely not be his team in 2011 and beyond. As much as I would love to see Crain pitching key spots in the late innings for the Twins, they can’t really afford to be giving him the $4.5-5 million that he should get. In my blueprint in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I suggested that the Twins sign Crain to a three year, $10.5 million. It is now looking like that will be woefully low. And I don’t think that the Twins should extend themselves beyond that. Unfortunately, with Joe Nathan and Matt Capps already eating up somewhere between $18-20 million, it’s hard to justify another $5 million for one more bullpen arm, even if he is the best of them.
So, where will the Crain Train be taking off for? I would assume that we will know within the next week. By the way, if you’re interested, check out the Q&A with Jesse Crain from March.
Here are a few other notes from over the weekend:
- As you heard on Friday, the Twins posted the highest bid (estimated $5.3 million) for middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Chiba Lotte accepted it. The Twins now have about four weeks to negotiate a contract with Nishioka. For my thoughts on the news, click here.
- The Twins also announced last week that Estarlin de Los Santos was removed from their 40 man roster. He went unclaimed by the rest of the league and was put on the Rochester roster. That means he could be drafted in the Major League Rule 5 draft, but could not be lost in the minor league portions. Of course, the fact that he was just made available to all the teams for nothing and not taken likely means that no team would spend $50,000 to draft him in the Rule 5 draft. It’s cool that he stays in the organization for just in case something clicks in 2011, but the reality that is isn’t very good at baseball and all reports I’ve heard indicate that he doesn’t exactly work hard, it doesn’t appear too likely.
- According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Red Sox are interested in Matt Guerrier. I’d love to see the Twins bring back Guerrier at a lesser contract, but it’s also great to see that other teams could be interested. I hope he goes out and gets a big contract. He has been an unsung hero for the Twins for the last half-decade, pitching well in whatever role the Twins have put him in. He has been used more than any other reliever and never complained about overuse, even when he fought through some struggles.
So, what are your thoughts on Crain and specifically, where will he wind up playing the next three to four years? Could the Twins sign him, and how much would you be willing to sign him for? Please feel free to e-mail me or leave your comments here.