Sunday, March 8, 2009

Free Agent Bullpen Options

A week and a half into spring training, and the Nationals bullpen remains a big question mark. Joel Hanrahan and Saul Rivera are the only locks (assuming they don't become WBC roadkill... why, oh why??).

Terrell Young seems to be improving his chances with a solid 5 innings of work, allowing only one run and one walk. Steven Shell meanwhile has done the opposite, allowing four runs, seven hits and two walks in his four innings of work. The left-handed reliever spot seems as wide open as ever. The team's only given Wil Ledezma one inning of work, Mike Hinckley has allowed three runs in his 3.1 innings with no strikeouts, and Mike O'Connor's not reminding anyone of this. Dark horses like Preston Larrison, J.D. Martin, and Garrett Mock haven't done squat. Jesus Colome is still in line for high-leverage innings. Shairon Martis is getting chatted up as an option in the bullpen, but if he's a starter long-term you'd probably rather keep letting him start in AAA.

It's far too early and spring training stats far too meaningless to draw any grand conclusions here, but the point is that we started camp with a lot of questions, and we still have a lot of questions.

So just for kicks, let's look at the remaining free agents out there and see if maybe the team could buy some stability. Dennys Reyes just signed for 2 years and $3 million, which is still more evidence that there are bargains to be had (Fangraphs had his fair market value in 2008 at $2.8m) Here's the list of remaining free agents, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Of that group, a couple names jumped out at me:
  • Will Ohman
Will was quite a good Ohman for the Braves last year, putting up a 3.17 FIP in 58.2 innings, good enough for 0.9 wins above replacement and $4.2m value, according to Fangraphs. PECOTA projects him at a 3.79 ERA and CHONE expects 3.88. He's best used as a left-handed specialist, but he's not so bad against righties that he can't pitch full innings, which any lefty will have to do for the Nationals given the weakness of our rotation. Talk at the start of the free agent period was that he might merit a multi-year deal, but the reporting lately is that he has several teams interested, but non willing to go much over a one-year deal worth $1 million, but if the projections are right, he'd be a steal at twice that.
  • Joe Beimel
Over the last two seasons, Beimel has given the Dodgers 116.3 innings in the 3.3s FIP, good for 1.6 wins above replacement and $2.8 million total. At 32, Beimel isn't old, and he's been effective enough against righties to be used as more than a LOOGY. He's given up just one homer over the last two years and racked up groundball rates near or over 50% since breaking through in the Dodgers' bullpen in 2006. PECOTA and CHONE both expect his ERA to regress back to around 4.00-4.10 in 2009. He should be available for one year, around $2 million, or maybe a bit less.
  • Aquilino Lopez
From the right-handed side, Lopez is the only guy who really interests me. He gave the Tigers 78.2 innings of 3.98 FIP pitching last year, good for $2.7 million in value. He's a fastball-slider guy, though one of the extreme flyball variety. CHONE projects him at a 4.11 ERA, but PECOTA is much less optimistic, expecting 4.81. Lefties hit him hard, and we already have a bunch of guys who fit this profile, but he misses bats and keeps the walks down better than Bergmann, Shell, or Colome, for instance.


Positively Half St. said...

I don't know what to think here. Middle relief really does seem to be fungible, as they say. Justin Jones (is that right?) has looked pretty good, and other middle relievers may become available later in the spring. I am not trying to save the Lerners money, but I don't know if the free agents are necessarily the best available.

Afterall, one year Ray King can live up to his name, and the next year he abdicates really early. Who can guess when a middle reliever will earn his coin?

In the meantime, is there any chance that the Yankees could be interested in Ronnie Belliard as a short-term A-Rod replacement? Kasten is unlikely to be as unreasonable as Bowden in what he asks for in return.

Steven said...

I think you might be over-learning the "relievers are fungible" lesson. A lot of guys who can't start can relieve, it's true. Take a guy from the rotation and put him in the pen and on average his ERA will shrink by a run.

But that's not the same as saying that anyone can relieve. And to go into the season hoping that five of seven slots are going be be filled by guys who have never done it before...

It's not like I'm saying we should trade Mike Burgess and Jordan Zimmermann for a closer. I'm saying $2m for a proven veteran arm would help stabilize a group that needs it.

Positively Half St. said...

It's a very defensible position you take, considering we shouldn't care how much the team spends (just ask Stan!!). I guess my point is that Ray King was in fact one of those guys only a few years ago- the established middle reliever who could be obtained late, and would provide middle relief or be a "chip" later, as JimBo used to say.

I appreciate your descriptions of the players available. I just figure that, if someone as into baseball as I am is not really aware of these guys, then they must be sort of like Ray King- a good pickup on reputation, but certainly not someone worthy of starting or closing.

In the end, given the state of our bullpen, I would welcome any of them with open arms. I just wouldn't have great security that the problem was solved.

Steven said...

Well, when Ray King came to the Nationals, he had just finished a year in which he had a 5.34 fielding independent ERA, quite a bit below replacement level. Whoever told you at the time that he didn't suck was misguided.

traderkirk said...

If the Nats could get Will Ohman to do this every game, he'd be worth every penny.