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01/08/09 1:10 PM EST
Pavano a reasonable risk for Tribe
Given contract, Indians can afford upside gamble
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- It's a $1.5 million investment, which, in today's preposterous terms, amounts to loose change. Still, it's an investment, nonetheless. It's a gamble the Indians are taking on right-hander Carl Pavano returning from an onslaught of injuries over four seasons with the Yankees and becoming an effective member of their starting rotation. How likely is this gamble to pay off? Well, it has hurdles on a couple different fronts. For one, there is the perilous injury past posed by Pavano, who turned 33 on Thursday. If you thought Kerry Wood came with baggage, consider Pavano has appeared in a grand total of 26 games over the last four years, with injuries ranging from a bruised buttocks to bone chips in his elbow to a rib fracture suffered in a car accident to the ubiquitous Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. When it comes to the surgery, which Pavano had performed in 2007, the success rate of Major League pitchers returning to their same or better level of play after Tommy John is about 75.5 percent, according to a recent study by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine. Even players over 30, such as John Smoltz -- who had it performed in 2000 at the age of 32 -- have come back strong, which bodes well for Pavano and Jake Westbrook. And Indians general manager Mark Shapiro is quick to point out that Pavano has already returned. "This is not a guy you're guessing is going to come back," Shapiro said. "He made seven starts [in August and September] last year, with no problems." But the bigger question is just what is Pavano, who is guaranteed a spot in the rotation, coming back to? Injuries robbed Pavano of the opportunity to prove his worth after signing a four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees in 2005. When he came back last season, only one of his seven outings met the "quality start" requirement. Pavano's exorbitant contract was given to him on the strength of what were his only truly impactful seasons in the big leagues -- 2003 and 2004 with the Marlins. Pavano had put together four and a half uneven seasons with the Expos before he was traded to the Marlins in 2002. He went 12-13 with a 4.30 ERA during the regular season in '03 before really making his mark in the postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA in eight appearances (including two starts) for the World Series champs. Pavano followed that up with his best season in '04. He went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA, racking up a career-high 222 1/3 innings. The odds, then, of getting not only a healthy but also an impactful Pavano would seem to be stacked against the Tribe. What this acquisition really boils down to, then, is the addition of a warm body to potentially eat up innings and avoid the risk of having one too many youngsters -- plucked out of a pool that includes Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Dave Huff, Scott Lewis and Zach Jackson -- in the starting rotation at the outset of the season.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.