Jesse Crain signed a three-year, $13 million contract with the White Sox yesterday, officially ending a seven-year tenure with the Twins that was filled with ups and downs.
"Kenny Williams said I had been a pain in their butt the last couple of years and wanted to get me on their side," Crain told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press.
I bet I can pinpoint the exact moment that the White Sox decided they wanted to add the right-handed reliever. It was mid-September, and they were facing the Twins in Chicago while clinging to very slim postseason hopes. Trailing by one in the seventh, the Sox had loaded the bases with one out for their No. 4 and 5 hitters. Crain, amidst the best four-month stretch of pitching in his career, unleashed a barrage of nasty sliders and 95 mph fastballs on Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez, striking them both out to end Chicago's threat and essentially their season.
Two days later, I penned an article about Crain labeling him the team's "bullpen ace." It's what he was for the Twins from mid-May to the end of the year -- a guy you could rely on to come in and get outs in the most sticky of situations. On the surface, that's a very tough piece to lose.
This isn't necessarily a traumatic development, though. In fact, it might ultimately benefit the Twins. They'll get a supplemental pick in the 2011 draft since Crain was a Type B free agent, and meanwhile one of their top divisional rivals is committing $13 million in guaranteed money to a guy who was rightfully being called "Crainwreck" by fans as recently as May of this year.
When Crain's going good, he's a powerful weapon in the bullpen. But he's been prone to stretches of abysmal performance and 2010 was the first time he's posted a WHIP below 1.37 since 2006. He was a non-tender candidate last offseason, had a 7.31 ERA in mid-May of this year and now he's getting a three-year deal in a deep relief market? I'd have liked to bring Crain back, but with the Sox offering a contract like that the Twins were wise not to even consider matching it.
Matt Guerrier also came off the market yesterday, signing a three-year deal with the Dodgers. He's been mostly effective over the past four years but his arm has seen more wear than any other reliever in baseball during that span. While his durability will be missed, it's tough to justify the kind of contract Guerrier got from Los Angeles.
Right now, the Twins' bullpen situation looks bleak, yet I'm probably less concerned about the depth of this unit than the rotation or lineup. The market for relievers is flush this winter, unlike starting pitchers and middle infielders, so the Twins can afford to show patience and wait until January or even February when solid arms will still be available and likely without the need to make dangerous three-year commitments.