Minor league contracts are non-guaranteed, so it is hard to find fault with the Phillies addition of Joel Pineiro, which the team officially announced Tuesday. If Pineiro impresses in spring training and makes the team, the Phillies financial commitment wont be much. Or if he fails to break spring with the Phils, they wont be on the hook for a major league salary.
When you consider that Pineiro is better, with a more polished track record than most pitchers who sign minor-league deals, backing the contract becomes even easier. The 33-year-old righty provides the Phillies with the rotational depth every team seeks, but most dont have a seventh starter as qualified as Pineiro. His 2011 was a disaster, but even during it he maintained a solid groundball rate of 48.3 percent.
Thats what Pineiro is a sinker-slider groundball-type with low strikeout numbers but low walk rates as well. In 2009, his last year in the NL before moving to the Angels, Pineiro posted a 3.49 ERA, 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio (thanks to a league-low 1.1 walks-per-nine) and an absurd ground ball rate of 60.5 percent.
Over the following two years Pineiro would experience nearly identical six percent decreases in his ground ball rate. The righthander was hit hard in 2011, when he allowed five percent more line drives than in '09 or '10. His low point came last August.
"This is embarrassing," Pineiro told the Los Angeles Times after allowing seven runs in four innings to the Twins on Aug. 3. "Im making the team, the staff and myself look bad. Ive got to turn it around. If its going to be like this the rest of the year, its going to be a long year for me.
"I wish I had an explanation, but I have no idea whats going on. Ive tried everything. Ive seen video, worked on mechanics, thrown in the bullpen. Honestly, the next thing I can do is sacrifice a live chicken."
Things didnt get much better for Pineiro from there, but at least he went out on a high note, allowing no runs on three hits over six innings in his final start of the season at home against a light-hitting Athletics team.
Had he fared better last season, Pineiro would have commanded a major-league deal. Instead, his struggles led to a thrifty purchase that has the chance to provide the Phillies with low-cost value.
If Joe Blanton doesnt come back on schedule or struggles when he does, the Phils now have two legitimate options for spot starts: Kyle Kendrick and Pineiro. Dave Bush and Pat Misch figure to be next in line.
It would be short-sighted to call Pineiro "done" because ground-ballers are a fickle bunch. Two of his last four seasons have been bad, two have been good. As a seventh starter on a minor-league deal, the Phillies absolutely should see if the Pineiro they invited to Spring Training is the low-walk, high-ground ball version.
If he is, and the need for his arm presents itself, this overlooked signing could turn out to be one of Ruben Amaro's most important off-season additions.
E-mail Corey Seidman at email@example.com.