Kiko Calero’s a Minor League Signing I Can Get Behind

You probably remember the string of non-roster invites and minor league signings over the winter, most of which caused me nausea. John Koronka? Nick Green? Angel Berroa? It’s not that there was any guaranteed money tied up in these guys, so the invites couldn’t be that disappointing, it’s just that most of them were never any good in the first place, so it seemed like a waste of time. Or worse, Garret Anderson.

Today, the Dodgers signed another mid-30s veteran to a minor league deal, reliever Kiko Calero. The difference is, Calero’s actually worth investing an AAA roster spot in. Over his seven-year career spent with St. Louis, Oakland, and Florida, he’s struck out more than a man per inning (9.6/9) with a 1.196 WHIP and a 3.24 ERA. The fact that his career FIP is nearly identical – 3.29 – shows that he’s done that without a ton of luck, and that he’s performed just about how you’d expect.

Even better, unlike the other guys who hadn’t been good for many years if ever at all, Calero had one of his best seasons in 2009 for the Marlins, striking out 10.4 men per 9 with a sparkling 1.95 ERA in a career-high 60 innings. Now, he wasn’t quite that good, since his BABIP was an unsustainably low .259, leading to a more reasonable but still excellent 2.56 FIP.

“So,” you’re probably asking, “if he’s that good, why was he a free agent willing to take a minor league deal this offseason?” Well, quite simply, it’s because he’s had a history of shoulder injuries, causing teams to be wary of investing in him – not that it stopped him from succeeding last year. He signed a minor league deal with the Mets, and the results weren’t pretty – a 10.59 ERA, though still striking out nearly a batter per inning, before being released last month.

The Mets, as we all know, are desperate for pitching, and if they didn’t think there was anything here worth salvaging, it’s probably not a good sign. That said, this is the perfect kind of player to be signing to a minor league deal; one who’s been successful both throughout his career and as recently as last year. If he goes to ABQ and he’s cooked, well, no harm done. But if he’s anything like the pitcher he was just last season, you might have a find, with the only investing being whatever pennies a pro-rated AAA contract is for half the season, or one session with a Russian mystic. Well done.

*****

In the same dodgers.com article which noted the signing of Calero, Ken Gurnick notes that Calero will be taking the roster spot of Brent Leach, who has been sent back to AA to try to convert into a starting pitcher. I’m not sure if it’s a great idea or not, but Gurnick notes “the club believes with his four-pitch repertoire he might be able to make the switch”, so it’s worth noting.