Bullpen Targets for the Indians in 2014
With the departure of Chris Perez there will be a lot of discussion on who will be the Indians “closer” in 2014. Will it be someone in-house like Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw or will the Indians go out on the open market and sign a closer?
Steve Kinsella and I see the investment in bullpen arms differently and have hashed it out over the last few winters. Rather than have a back and forth on philosophy, Steve and I are going to present a few bullpen options for the Indians and explain why they fit.
Yesterday, Steve explained what he desired in a back-of-the-pen arm (using the term “reliever extraordinaire,” which we both will often shorten to ‘RE’) and I wrote a manifesto on why I don’t believe in paying relievers, and you can find that post here. Today, we will both present a list of five relievers we think the Indians should take a look at, and why we’re intrigued by them. These may not exactly be ‘sexy’ names but we will explain how or why they’d fit as a RE. Neither Steve nor I saw each other’s lists until they were done, and we will post blind responses to each other later this week. Feel free to leave a comment on any players in our lists, but please read our intro post to know our thought processes first!
(Author’s note – because Steve and I did not give each other input on our lists until they were complete, they are formatted slightly differently, with Steve giving the player’s age and the salary he’d offer right at the beginning and me preferring to make you work for it. Apologies)
1) Francisco Rodriguez (33 years old in January) – 1yr/$3M – He is my top choice and hopefully the Indians will be attractive enough for him to bypass a natural offer that I feel is going to come from the Tampa Bay Rays (relationship with Joe Maddon may be reason as well as any). Rodriguez is the type of reliever who has become unattractive because of more off field issues more than the ability to get hitters out. One reporter in Baltimore said that during home games he was the last to arrive and the first to leave. After the Rays signed Fernando Rodney prior to the 2012 season Eric Neander a member of the Rays front office was asked what he and the staff saw in Fernando Rodney? He simply said…”a live arm who was in a bad situation”. That pretty much sums up K-Rod’s 2013 season. Stuck on a non-competitive Brewers team before being shipped off to a Baltimore team run by a not so warm and fuzzy manager in Buck Showalter. In 2013 K-Rod worked 46.2 innings and still averaged over a strike out per inning with 54 and only issued 10 non intentional walks.
2) Kevin Gregg (36 in June) – 1yr/$2M – Gregg was signed to be the closer for the Baltimore Orioles but began to lose his grip on the job toward the end of 2011 and was pushed back in the pen with the emergence of Jim Johnson in 2012. He was released by the Orioles in mid-September of 2012 and was not signed by any team in the offseason. He finally latched on with the Chicago Cubs in mid-April and ended the season with 33 saves. Ignoring the saves total we find Gregg’s true worth as despite his 33 saves he once again had difficulty commanding the strike zone as demonstrated by his 4.6 BB/9 (His strike out rate was still a respectable 8.1 K/9). Gregg will remind Indians fans of Bob Wickman, Joe Borowski, and Chris Perez. He will get the job done more often than not but he will provide many moments of heart burn as runners will get on base against him.
3) Jose Veras (just turned 33) – 2-year $7M Veras is a mercenary pitcher. He split the 2009 season with New York and Cleveland before joining the Marlins in 2010, the Pirates in 2011, the Brewers in 2012, and split time between the Astros and Tigers in 2013. It may be time to approach Veras’s agent with a 2-year offer in the neighborhood of $7M. He did sign a multi-year offer with the Astros but the second year included an option which the Tigers declined. Besides being able to pitch the ninth inning he is able to slot back in the bullpen and fill in as a set-up man. In his career he has been near neutral versus RHB and LHB.
4) Fernando Rodney (37 in March) – 1-year/$5M + option – Fernando Rodney’s reputation may be tarnished trying to live up to the amazing 2012 season he had and many may look at his body of work in 2013 as a negative. Despite a poor month of May where he blew 5 saves he was very strong down the stretch. He does have a habit of putting too many hitters on base and will give fans heartburn wherever he lands. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he may be worth 2-year/$16M but I’m going to hedge that his age and fear that he may be sliding toward his pre-2012 form will push his value down slightly. If he lasts on the free agent market the Indians would be negligent in not entertaining bringing him on board.
5) Jesse Crain (33 in July) – 1-year/$2M + plus option – Crain had a fantastic beginning to his 2013 season – making the All-Star team – but suffered a shoulder injury that lingered through the rest of the 2013 season. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays and was activated near the end of September but something flared up in the shoulder and forced him to shut it down.
Crain’s medical reports will be a concern to any team that signs him. If his medicals are cloudy they are going to cause some teams to hesitate. The Indians should examine the possibility of signing Crain to a low base/incentive laden deal in 2014 and tack on an option for 2015 which could include a buyout of some sort to increase the overall value of the deal. Again, this is not the ideal player to target, but with the Indians fiscal position this is the end of the pool they have to play in.
1) Joel Hanrahan – he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery, which shelved him after 7.1 fairly-rough innings in his first (and likely only) season in Boston. Acquired to be the Red Sox “closer” (which led them to finding a guy who I guess did the job pretty well), he was kind of the NL’s comparison to Chris Perez in terms of stats with the Pittsburgh Pirates, only with much better stuff. He pitched in at least 63 games from 2008-2012, and his lowest K/9 rate in that span was 8.0. After he was traded from the Washington Nationals to Pittsburgh, he cut down on his walks drastically and was much more effective. It’s unclear if he’d be ready to go by April, let alone spring training, but as we’ve noted the Indians are willing to try reclamation projects like Blake Wood. He would cost a bit more than Wood did (assuming he makes it back and actually pitches), but I don’t think some form a of a two-year deal would be a bad idea – either a guaranteed two-year, $2 million total or, if he’s down, a yearlong minor league or major-league-minimum deal for 2014, with a vesting option for somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.5 million for 2015, depending on how many innings he pitches. Admittedly, this doesn’t solve the immediate problem, but it’s someone they should consider. He’s ugly for 2014, but gets ruggedly handsome for beyond next year, though he will pitch all of the 2014 regular season at age 32.
2) Carlos Marmol – He had a bad first half with the Chicago Cubs, and he had been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years. Chicago paid $2 million of his absurd $9.8 million salary to get the Los Angeles Dodgers to take him.
When the electricity goes out, the Dodgers light money on fire to see in the dark. That said, he actually walked fewer per 9 innings with the Cubs (6.8 with Chicago compared to 8.0 with LA) but he had a better H/9 ratio with LA (8.5 with Chicago compared to 5.9 with LA). So it’s possible a lot of the improvement in LA was luck. I’m not sure what MLB teams see here, as it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but his slider is still effective. I’d toss him a one-year $1-1.5 million dollar offer to be the Indians’ RE and entice him to pad saves with the Indians in 2014 and then go make bank from some other team because of it in 2015. But I think someone overpays him in the hopes that he turns back the clock. Marmol is 31.
3) Kyle Farnsworth – Farnsworth is 37 and was released by the Rays in early August. He latched on with the Pirates and pitched sparingly for them (albeit in a crowded bullpen). He’s an ugly signing, and possibly about to fall off the cliff. That said, his BABIP with Tampa Bay in 2013 was absurdly high (.337) and it would be likely cheap to gamble on him (a guaranteed deal with incentives might do the trick, but no more than $1 million). I’m sure Steve will explain why Farnsworth is done in his response, but I suspect a lot of the reasons for his release were tied to performance clauses and the Rays having better bullpen options anyways. Still, might not be a terrible idea for the Indians to give him a call and see if he’s interested in another season. Plus, glasses.
4) Mike Gonzalez – this is a bid of an odd one, as he is a 35-year-old LHP who murders left-handed batters, but right-handed batters don’t have as much trouble with him. He wasn’t always thought of as a LOOGY, and actually signed a big contract with the Baltimore Orioles before 2010 to close, before a shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the season. When he came back, Baltimore used him in the familiar lefty setup role. He still strikes out a ton (10.8 K/9 rate) and that .350 BABIP should come down, right? He made $2.25 million with Milwaukee in 2013, but I’d be willing to go out of my comfort zone here and offer a $1 million dollar deal with an easy vesting option and probably tie said option to his innings, with the rationale being if he’s more effective as a LOOGY, he won’t hit the option kicker, but if he’s effective against righties as well, he can get a little more in 2015. This is actually the pick I’m least confident in, not because he could be bad but because he could just be a LOOGY in the end.
5) Darren Oliver – It’s getting late and I still haven’t hit on anybody, time to go home with someone ugly. Oliver is old (he would play 2014 as a 43-year-old LHP), and he only pitched in 49 innings last year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s never really been a “closer,” induces a lot of ground balls (52% rate in 2013) and gives up the long ball (6 HRs allowed in 2013). That said, he’s been effective in limited doses against both righties and lefties and doesn’t walk guys (2.8 BB/9 rate in 2013). I could actually see a team taking Oliver home well before he falls into a price level I’d be comfortable with, but I’d be stoked to land him on (you guessed it) for a million in 2014. Now that you think of it, he is quite ruggedly handsome.
Conclusion/Final rationale: With the exception of Marmol, you don’t really need to guarantee any of these guys the ninth inning, and could theoretically afford Farnsworth, Gonzalez, Oliver and either Hanrahan or Marmol. Also, Joe Smith could theoretically re-sign and any of these guys could still be in the Indians price range.
Check back tomorrow for my response to Steve’s list. While you wait, feel free to pursue our updated Offseason Targets list.