Scouting the Market: Relief Pitching

We’ve looked at the underwhelming crop of starting pitching available for the stretch drive; now it’s time to turn to what may be an even bigger need, the bullpen. Ronald Belisario‘s return is still unknown, and Joe Torre clearly trusts only Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo (and I suppose Jeff Weaver, but not in the same way.)

There’s actually some decent arms here, but the challenges in finding a reliever are many. Jon Weisman has already explained that trading for relievers isn’t always worth the trouble, and we’ve all seen how that worked out with George Sherrill this year. Besides, only teams who are woefully out of the race will be willing to move bullpen arms, but lack of said arms is in large part how they got to be so far out in the first place. Take a look at Baltimore’s bullpen, for example. Is there really anyone there who interests you? There’s quite the argument to be made that simply adding a James McDonald or Kenley Jansen to the bullpen (assuming that McDonald isn’t the 5th starter first) is the best course of action; there’s a quite larger argument to be made that there’s no way in hell the Dodgers will actually do that.

Either way, the Dodgers aren’t looking for a closer, the way some teams are. So if they are going to get someone, it’ll either need to be a pitcher who isn’t already a closer, or one who would accept the fact that he’s not coming to LA to usurp Broxton.

Scott Downs
Kevin Gregg
Jason Frasor
(all free agents after 2010, though Gregg has team options)

All three have been placed on the trading block by the Jays. I’ll take a break and let MLBTR cover these guys for me:

Gregg’s one-year, $2.75MM deal with the Blue Jays seemed curious in February, but he was installed as the team’s closer in April when Jason Frasor struggled.  Gregg has a 3.67 ERA, 9.7 K/9, and 4.7 BB/9 with three home runs allowed in 34.3 innings this year.  He’s saved 20 of 23 and bumped his groundball rate from last year.

After the season Gregg’s team can choose to retain him for zero, one, or two years.  His club option is for $4.5MM in 2011 or $8.75MM for 2011-12.  He currently profiles as a Type B free agent, and an arbitration offer seems possible.  Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos figures to aim for more than the value of one supplemental draft pick if he trades Gregg now.  Gregg has $913K remaining on his contract, plus a potential $750K buyout on the option.

Frasor’s control has slipped this year, especially against lefties.  He’s getting more groundballs than last year, though more hits have dropped in too.  Frasor has been better lately and remains a useful arm.  He has $1.21MM remaining on his contract.  At the moment, he profiles as a Type B free agent after the season.  Downs, meanwhile, has trimmed walks and hits compared to ’09.  The lefty is owed $1.83MM.

All three can be free agents after the year (Gregg, as noted, has unlikely team options), but if I had to choose, I’m definitely going with Scott Downs. Not only is he the most effective, he’s also a lefty, which is crucial with Kuo’s workload limited and Sherrill’s utility destroyed. He’s also the most expensive, though I’d hate to think that even under current circumstances, $1.8m for the rest of the year is a deal-breaker.

Of course, the Dodgers are hardly the only team in on relief help, since River Ave. Blues has the same idea for the Yankees:

I’m a big Scott Downs fan, so I’d prefer him over either Gregg or Frasor, but I’m not sure if Joe Girardi would be open to using him as a normal reliever instead of just having him face lefties. Gregg is the better of the two righthanders, given his long track record of missing bats. I’m always skeptical of trading for relievers given their penchant for sucking at the drop of a hat and for no apparent reason, but if the Yanks are going to make a move for bullpen help, these three probably represent the best available options.

(picture of Downs from the excellent Drunk Jays Fans.)

David Aardsma
Brandon League
(Each are under team control for ’11 and ’12.)

With the Mariners in full-fledged sell mode, the vultures are already circling around Aardsma and League. Now, since each are under control for two more seasons, the Mariners don’t necessarily have to trade either, which may increase the cost. The well-traveled Aardsma was seen as All-World in 2009 (2.52 ERA) and a massive disappointment in 2010 (5.40 ERA), but his FIP shows that he was neither as good as he was last year nor as bad as he is this year. I wouldn’t want him as my closer, but as the third or fourth arm in the pen you could do worse than his experience, 9.1 K/9 career rate, and 94.3 average fastball heat.

As for League, I mostly just added him here because I’ve been making the “Dee Gordon for Brandon League” joke for a few weeks now. I don’t actually like him all that much; his K rate has tumbled since last year (9.16 to 6.70) while his BB rate has risen (2.53 to 3.25). No thanks.

Added packaging bonus: Russell Branyan‘s a masher who hit 31 homers last year and has had only one season (2007) in the last decade with an OPS below .800, yet he’s also a lefty bat who can (sort of) play first, third, and the outfield corners. He’s got less than $1m coming to him for the rest of the year, and a $5m mutual option for 2011. He’s already been traded once this season and is supposedly back on the market; tell me how replacing Garret Anderson with Branyan wouldn’t be an enormous improvement both in power off the bench and roster flexibility?

Kerry Wood
(2011 team option for $11m)

I look at Wood in much the same way that I do Aardsma, in that I wouldn’t want him anywhere near the 9th inning, but between his heat and his experience he could be a decent arm to add to the mix. He does have about $5m coming to him for the rest of the season, so the Indians would have to kick in some help.

His horrendous 2010 ERA (6.30) is in large part due to one brutal May outing (5 ER in 0.1 inning). Since then, he’s done much better (a .691 OPS allowed in 18 games) and the Indians seem motivated to get what they can for him and install Chris Perez as the closer. He’s nowhere near the pitcher he once was, but he’s still pumping out 95 MPH heat and I’d rather see him come in in the 7th inning than Justin Miller.

Octavio Dotel

Dotel has a little over $1m coming to him for the rest of the season and a $4.5m mutual option for 2011, but he’s been surprisingly effective for someone who’s been kicking around for so long. I know, the 4.89 ERA doesn’t seem like much, but that’s in large part due to a horrendous April (ER allowed in six games in a row). Since May 1, he’s saved 16 of 19 with a 2.81 ERA and a .184 batting average against, while striking out more than 10 per 9.

The perpetually rebuilding Pirates have All-Star Evan Meek and former Dodger Joel Hanrahan ready to take over in their bullpen, so you wouldn’t think they’d be dying to hold on to the 36-year-old Dotel all that badly.

I have to be honest, I don’t really hate the idea of tossing Dotel in for the late innings, assuming the price was reasonable.

Kyle Farnsworth

The mere thought terrifies me, but there are rumors that he’s available. I can’t think of a concievable scenario in which seeing pr0FF3ss0r_F4rnsw0rth in Dodger blue is okay. In fact, in lieu of actually analyzing him, I’m just going to present the Wikipedia description of his character from the online series “The Dugout”:

Known for his role in several bench-clearing brawls, Farnsworth’s Dugout character is ignorant, egotistical and vulgar, to the point that other characters have pointed out those traits, including his habit of calling players racial slurs for the wrong race. He types in all lowercase, with frequent misspellings and use of chat speak. Farnsworth has been the subject of a number of side stories, including a journey to fight the character King Triton from Disney’s The Little Mermaid when the Dugout “upgraded” to AIM Triton, and an Animal House-style attempt to watch the United States women’s national softball team sleepover with then-fellow New York Yankees reliever Scott Proctor” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Proctor”>Scott Proctor (DoctorProctor), which got them both hurt, but enabled Farnsworth to start an oft-troubled “relationship” with pitcher Cat Osterman (Gato). Farnsworth is considered to be the most popular Dugout character.

Aaaaaand the “Incidents” section from his own Wikipedia page

Farnsworth was involved in a brawl that occurred in the 2003 season when his former team, the Chicago Cubs, were playing the Cincinnati Reds. Reds pitcher Paul Wilson stepped out of the batter’s box after an inside pitch, and started to yell at Farnsworth. Farnsworth then met Wilson a short distance from home plate and speared him to the ground. He was suspended three games for his actions, but MLB reduced the suspension to two games.[4]

In the 2004 season, Farnsworth angrily kicked an electric fan in the Cubs’ dugout after an outing in which he gave up six runs in one inning to the Houston Astros. Farnsworth ended up severely bruising and spraining his knee in the process, and was placed on the disabled list as a result.[5]

Farnsworth was involved in a bench-clearing fight in the 2005 season while playing for the Detroit Tigers, against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. After order appeared to have been restored, Farnsworth charged Royals pitcher Jeremy Affeldt and tackled him to the ground in a similar fashion as he did with Paul Wilson. He was ejected from the game.[6]

On April 17, 2008, Farnsworth threw behind Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez. While Farnsworth claimed that the ball slipped out of his hand as a result of trying to throw the ball as hard as possible, Ramirez was skeptical and surmised that the pitch was retaliation for Alex Rodriguez being plunked the prior night after hitting a home run in the game. Following Farnsworth’s pitch, the umpire issued warnings to both dugouts that any ill-intentions from that point forward would result in ejections.[7]

On June 17, 2009, Farnsworth’s left, non pitching hand was bitten while breaking up a fight between two of his American bulldogs — Strike and Rambo. The cuts to his hand from the bites were deep enough to reach, but not cut, a tendon. Farnsworth later taped his finger, tucked it into his glove, and went to practice telling manager Trey Hillman that he could pitch. When asked which of his dogs bit him, Farnsworth replied: “I don’t know,” Farnsworth said. “I reached in there and started grabbing dogs and throwing dogs. And one of them got me. One of those things that happens. It’s never pretty. I’ve had to do it a few times and it’s ugly.”

If you simply must know about his on-field performance this season, Baseball Prospectus notes that “He is having his best season in five years with a 1.98 ERA and 0.714 WXRL in 30 games for the Royals, though his SIERA is 3.77.”  So there’s that. But still. No.