Signs that the uneventful portion of the offseason is upon us: Eric Hacker stole the spotlight for about an hour’s span yesterday. There are a lot of starting points in most acquisitions, but not here, as the protagonist is a virtual unknown. One could say that Hacker’s offseason job is forest ranger and nobody would know any better. His onseason job is starting pitcher and more relevant to the discussion at hand.
Hacker is a short righty originally drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002. The Yankees traded Hacker to the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 2009 for Romulo Sanchez. Hacker made a trio of relief appearances with the Pirates during the 2009 season before eventually hitting free agency and signing with the San Francisco Giants. That major league stint left some pitchfx residue in its wake, allowing us to confirm his low-90s fastball and usage of a mid-80s slider and mid-70s curveball.
Why is he relevant? Because the Minnesota Twins made a questionable decision yesterday by signing Hacker to a big league deal – a contract that places him directly onto the 40-man roster.
The prevailing explanation as to why is that Hacker won 16 games in the minor leagues last season. If explaining once again why major league win totals are a ridiculous method for evaluating pitching talent is insulting, then explaining why minor league win totals are a ridiculous method for evaluating pitching talent is like a string of obscenities. Although that explanation seems more reasonable than looking at his 4.51 earned run average, 4.67 FIP, or 2.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Rather, read this little ditty on Hacker by Marc Hulet:
Eric Hacker falls in the realm of ‘great results but lacks great stuff.’ Like Garcia, Hacker’s career has also been sidetracked by both elbow and shoulder surgeries, after originally being drafted out of high school in 2002. Those surgeries have taken a toll on his stuff and the right-hander now relies on command/control and the ground ball (58 GB% in High-A). Beginning the 2008 season in High-A ball, Hacker allowed 38 hits in 53 innings. He also posted rates of 1.53 BB/9 and 5.26 K/9, with just one home run allowed. Upon his promotion to Double-A, Hacker allowed 83 hits in 91 innings of work. He continued to show good control by posting a rate of 2.76 BB/9, along with 8.28 K/9.
If there’s any organization in the land that would find that skill set attractive, it would be the Twins. They love pitchers who throw strikes and get grounders. After all, the Twins found nearly 70 relief innings for Brian Bass in 2008. They found more than 30 for Luis Ayala in 2009 and so on. What seems more plausible than the Twins catching gaga eyes over Hacker’s minor league win total is that he fits what they look for in pitchers and that he has options remaining. Such a combination makes him a potential back of the bullpen arm who can eat innings in low leverage situations. That’s not a glamorous job description by any means, but one Hacker seems equipped to perform.
As for the 40-man roster spot, well, it is what it is. There are a finite amount of spots on a major league roster and affording one to a low-upside player this early in the offseason would be more concerning for a team without Minnesota’s amount of talent. The Twins are going to make some more moves this offseason which will quickly bury Hacker in the latest transactions blurbs and everyone will forget why they were skeptic to begin with.