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The Insane Market For Relievers

By Mike Silva ~ December 18th, 2010. Filed under: Mike Silva.

The biggest surprise of the offseason has been the amount of A level spending on B and C level talent. Put aside the contracts of Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, but focus more on the bullpen, which I believe is the most risky commodity in baseball. It was just last year that Houston GM Ed Wade was roundly ridiculed for handing out a 3 years/$15 million dollar deal for Brandon Lyon. When the 2010 hot stove season ends, Wade will have plenty of company for bad middle reliever deals.

So eleven relievers have received multiyear deals:

Scott Downs (Anaheim) 3 years/$15 million

Randy Choate (Florida) 2 years/$2.50 million

Pedro Feliciano (Yankees) 2 years/$8 million

Jose Contreras (Philadelphia) 2 years/$5.5 million

Joaquin Benoit (Detroit) 3 years/$16.5 million

Jesse Crain (White Sox) 3 years/$13 million

Matt Guerrier (Los Angeles) 3 years/$12 million

J.J. Putz (Arizona) 2 years/$10 million

Bobby Jenks (Boston) 2 years/$12 million

D.J. Carrasco (Mets) 2 years/$2.4 million

Mariano Rivera (Yankees) 2 years/$30 million

Other reliever like J.P. Howell (injury) and George Sherrill (poor performance) received guaranteed one year deals. Not all those deals are bad, but a large majority are perplexing, more so in length than dollars. In recent years Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, and Hideki Matsui had to settle for one year deals despite solid seasons. I realize that might be comparing apples and oranges (reliever market vs. 35+ crowd), but I believe the financial risk is virtually no different.

With innings limits and the five inning start in vogue bullpens are important, but how can one justify some of the deals mentioned above? Howard gave a great analysis of how there is very little difference in performance between D.J. Carrasco and Matt Guerrier, despite Guerrier signing for a year and about $10 million more. J.J. Putz, someone with closer experience, is only making $1 million more than Guerrier and Crain, neither who will close ballgames for their respective teams. Putz actually might be the best “value deal” thus far with his 2 years/$10 million dollar contract. Even the injury prone Kerry Wood would have received a two year deal if his heart wasn’t so invested in Wrigley Field.

This is where baseball loses credibility when it comes to salaries. The last two years they have haggled over spending where some quality players have waited past the New Year to sign a one year deal for far less than what they expected. This year everyone who posted a decent season in middle relief is rewarded multiyear deals. The “feast or famine” mentality is why the owners get very little sympathy from the Players Association come contract time. Teams can’t afford to stay in business, but can give Jesse Crain a multiyear deal? This isn’t a knock on Crain, he’s a solid pitcher, but don’t you think David Robertson or Bobby Parnell could produce as good, if not better, for the league minimum? In many ways Joba Chamberlain is no different than Bobby Jenks, and probably will get only half of Jenks salary in arbitration. You can’t build a flexible roster by overspending for one inning performance in the sixth through eighth innings, regardless of its importance.

The point is that minor league systems are flush with failed starters who probably can be inexpensive relievers (see Parnell). Eric Gagne had one of the best closer seasons in history, and he was a terrible starting pitcher. That’s why Yankees fans shouldn’t cry about losing out on Jenks or Wood, since there are plenty of young hard throwing arms they can call upon (see Joba Chamberlain in 2007). Personally I wouldn’t have given Feliciano the 2 year/$8 million dollar deal when other equally good pitchers such as Tim Byrdak, Will Ohman, and Joe Beimel are still available, and I suspect will cost far less.

I realize the value of a bullpen, but no team has come from a multiyear deal for middle relievers feeling good about it. The real winners this winter might be the agents for the still unsigned bullpen arms.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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4 Responses to The Insane Market For Relievers

  1. Jed Weisberger

    Very good point about starters in the minors. Few are bred as relievers - Mark Melancon and Huston Street come to mind. Most, like Jon Papelbon, are former starters.

  2. Stu B

    Now Dan Wheeler, as mediocre as they come, gets $3 mil from the Red Sox…and so it goes…

  3. 86mets

    The money these relievers are getting is ridiculous. But it usually starts with one team making an insane offer to get the ball rolling. This year it was Detroit and Joaquin Benoit. Once that market is set, it’s all but impossible for the next team to sign a reliever for a reasonable amount of money. And I’m not sure that D.J. Carrasco was such a bargain for the Mets. For what they signed him for they could’ve had Randy Choate to replace Feliciano (Choate signed an almost identical deal w/ Florida as Carrasco did with NYM). But that’s just me. Hopefully Alderson will be able to land a decent lefty before ST, because all we have now is Pat Misch and that, frankly, scares me a little bit.

  4. Stu B

    @86mets: The Mets are looking more toward competing in 2012 than in 2011, which makes middle relievers a relative non-issue…

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