It took longer than expected for Glen Perkins to live up to the expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick from his team's home state, but once he did — as a reliever, rather than a starter — he rewarded their patience by becoming one of the league's best. Now the Twins have rewarded the 30-year-old lefty with a new longterm extension, via which he'll make $22.5 million from 2014-17, with an option for 2018, in a deal that locks in the top-flight closer at a team-friendly rate.
Born in St. Paul, Perkins was chosen by the Twins out of the University of Minnesota with the 22nd pick of the 2004 draft. He reached the majors in September 2006, and ranked No. 66 on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, but struggled to establish himself at the major league level amid a string of shoulder and elbow injuries. After a respectable 2008 rookie season in which he made 26 starts and threw 151 innings with a 4.41 ERA (95 ERA+), he was tagged for a 5.87 ERA with a pedestrian 4.5 strikeouts per nine in 18 starts and 13 relief appearances over the next two years, and even filed a grievance against the team over his handling amid shoulder woes in 2009. Though that matter was settled when he was credited with an additional seven days of service time, it suggested he wasn't long for the Twins' organization.
After shuttling him back and forth between roles and up and down between levels, he team committed to Perkins as a full-time reliever in 2011. Thanks to a velocity boost into the mid-90s, he found a home, handling both lefties and righties and delivering a 2.48 ERA with an eye-opening 9.5 strikeouts per nine in 61 2/3 innings. He took over closer duties from the injured Matt Capps in 2012 and saved 16 games, cutting his walks and boosting his K-rate to 10.0 per nine; his strikeout-to-walk ratio shot from 3.1 to 4.9. As a full-time closer for the first time in 2013, he saved 36 games with 11.1 strikeouts per nine and a 5.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a performance that earned him a trip to the All-Star Game in New York.
Taken together, Perkins' 54 saves and 5.5 Wins Above Replacement are the second-most of any lefty reliever over the past three seasons behind Aroldis Chapman. His 2.45 ERA across that span ranks a close second to Chapman (2.43) among those with at least 150 innings, while his 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best of the bunch by a solid margin, with Darren Oliver and Chapman both at 3.3, and his 10.2 strikeouts per nine ranks fourth. Over that span, Perkins has stifled lefties at a .213/.268/.270 clip, with righties hitting .225/.287/.368.
Perkins signed a three-year, $10.3 million extension in March 2012, covering the 2013-15 seasons with an option for 2016. Via that pact, he was scheduled to make $3.75 million this year and next, with a $4.5 million option for 2016. His new deal boosts his 2014 salary to $4.025 million, then climbs to $4.65 million in 2015, $6.3 million in 2016, and $6.5 million in 2017. The Twins hold a $6.5 million option on him for 2018, with a $700,000 buyout, but if he's traded, it becomes a player option; he can block deals to three teams via the contract.
Even at its peak, those are bargain-basement salaries for a pitcher who has more than six years of major league service and deserves to be considered among the game's top relievers. Closer salaries have fallen in recent years, but 13 relievers (all closers save for Brian Wilson and Heath Bell) currently have contracts with average annual values of at least $7 million, and 26 will make at least $5 million this year. Perkins didn't exactly scoff at the notion that he granted the Twins a hometown discount. From MLB.com's Rhett Bolinger:
"I'll take a $22 million discount any day of the week," Perkins said. "I want to be here and that's the most important thing. That's more money than I'll never need. It's not about that. It's about being here and being home ... I grew up in Minnesota and there's nowhere else I want to play ... So now hopefully this is something where I can play here my whole career."
The Twins are a ways off from contending, but their future appears bright. Not only does their farm system feature the game's consensus top prospect in centerfielder Byron Buxton, but Baseball Prospectus also placed an MLB-high eight in their Top 101 Prospects list and ranked their system first among the 30 teams; ESPN ranked them second and Baseball America third. Thanks to Perkins' club-friendly deal, there's a good chance they'll have their closer in place as those prospects reach the majors. LEMIRE: Winter Report Card: Twins building toward the future