It's easy to hate the Mike Pelfrey signing right now. He started the season 0-3 with a 7.99 ERA, has lost velocity on his fastball, has been placed in the 15-day disabled list, doesn't know what is wrong with his arm and the Minnesota Twins offered him a two-year, $11 million contract last summer.
Many Twins fans did not like the contract to begin with, expressing shock and disappointment when he signed because of his low strikeout rate, control issues and slow pace of play. Team management likes him because Pelfrey is a former first round pick that had two good seasons with the New York Mets in 2008 and 2010, has a positive presence in the clubhouse and is always accountable after his poor outings. That has done little to appease Twins fans that are fed up with poor pitching, however, especially when they were against the signing from the beginning..
"That was weird," tweeted Parker Hageman, a blogger at Twins Daily, in response to the signing, which was initially reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. "The tweet by Heyman made it sound like the Twins made a 2-year deal to Mike Pelfrey. That can't be right." While Hageman appeared to be dumbfounded, Aaron Gleeman, who hosts the popular podcast Gleeman and the Geek with John Bonnes of TwinsDaily.com, expressed frustration upon hearing the news. "If the Twins sign Mike Pelfrey to a two-year contract," he tweeted, "I quit."
Although he had a 5-13 record with a 5.19 ERA last season, pitchers have traditionally thrown better a year removed from Tommy John surgery. By re-signing Pelfrey, they were hoping the 30-year-old veteran would have a Kyle Gibson like leap in production once the pitch count was removed and his mechanics returned to form.
It should be noted that super agent Scott Boras, who also represents big-name players like Stephen Strasburg and Barry Zito, negotiated Pelfrey's contract. Strasburg famously received a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million deal with the Washington Nationals as a rookie and Zito is much-maligned in San Francisco for signing a seven-year, $126 million contract, the highest for any pitcher at the time, and falling to the back end of the rotation and failing to live up to the money.
Pelfrey got two years and now the Twins have a puzzle to figure out. Pelfrey went on the DL with a groin injury, but he says that that is not what is causing his velocity to drop. "My arm physically is fine," he said the morning it was announced he would be going on the disabled list, "if there was something wrong, at least it would give me an understanding of, 'Maybe this doesn't feel right. Maybe this is it.'"
Pelfrey has insisted that he has been healthy since returning from Tommy John surgery earlier than expected last season, but the results have said otherwise. He is being hit hard on a regular basis and is hardly reminiscent of the player that was drafted No. 9 overall in 2005.
It's also hard to tell when he is actually hurting. He's a 6'7", 250-pound man from the heartland that is willing to play through injury. When asked if he was going to go on the disabled list following his last outing, which came on May 1, he said that he hadn't even thought about going on the DL. This has led to speculation that his groin injury is simply a cover-up that will allow him to take time off and play in the minors while he tries to figure out what is wrong with him.
The story has been consistent, however. While pitching to Dee Gordon, the first batter he faced against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 1, he went back to fix the mound by rubbing his cleats against the sand, slipped and pulled his groin. Both manager Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Antony offered the same story to the media before Pelfrey spoke and Pelfrey said that he has pulled his groin before and experienced pain there during Spring Training.
"It's been there," he said. "I've strained my groin a lot, but I'm fine. It's more sore today, a lot more tender today then it is usually is."
Antony said that he was told the injury did not affect Pelfrey's performance, but just became more irritating over time and then stiffened up after he came out of the game. He also said that Pelfrey mentioned the injury to team trainer Dave Pruemer before throwing a bullpen session, indicating that the team was not initially going to put him on the DL.
Even if you choose not to believe his story, it makes little sense for him to pitch through a groin injury while trying to figure out while his fastball has dropped to the high 80s and lower 90s when it is supposed to be around 93-95 MPH. He also said that it does not affect his stride or otherwise influence his pitching.
It also makes little sense to put him in the bullpen. While Pelfrey's absence gives Samuel Deduno an opportunity to prove himself as a starter once again, it makes little sense to add another former starter to a bullpen that already carries Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing -- converted starters who now serve as relievers.
The Twins do have the option of cutting Pelfrey and eating the $11 million he is owed, but that too creates a predicament. While there are myriad reasons why he struggled last year, which Gleeman sums up in this post, and Twins fans would like to believe that Alex Meyer and Trevor May are going to come in and dominate immediately after being called up, most rookie pitchers have a steep learning curve before they can become part of the regular rotation. Even recent stars like Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Kyle Gibson struggled in their rookie seasons and took a year or two to find consistency at the major league level.
By cutting Pelfrey right now, the Twins have essentially limited themselves to five starters: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Sam Deduno and Gibson. Nolasco and Hughes signed long term contracts in the offseason, so they are not going anywhere, but Correia is on the final year of his deal and Deduno has control issues. Keeping Pelfrey around is wise, so long as he does not have serious issues that will prevent him from pitching in the future.
There are a lot of consistencies here. Pelfrey has always been accountable and honest about his situation and people are not piling on -- those who were against the deal were against it from the very beginning. The Twins want players that take ownership of their play and are good influences in the clubhouse, and Pelfrey offers both, but they also know that he needs to produce in order to keep him on the big league roster.
"Everyone roots for him," said Gardenhire, referring to the players in the locker room. "He's a great guy, a great guy in the clubhouse, but the big leagues is all about results. You have to get people out and you’ve got to give your team a chance."
For Pelfrey to do that he’s got to figure out what is wrong with his arm and his pace of play needs to improve, especially with men on base. If he can do that, the Twins will look smart because they got a first-round pick with a first-class attitude at a value price. If not, there will be a lot of people tweeting "I told you so."
Tom Schreier can be heard on The Michael Knight Show from 2-3:00 on weekdays. He has written for Bleacher Report and the Yahoo Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.