Thursday, January 24, 2008

Relief Package

As news that Rafael Betancourt and the Indians have avoided the ugly process of “exchanging numbers” and the ensuing negotiations by buying out Senor Slo-Mo’s arbitration years, to the tune of a 2 year deal worth $5.4M, as well as the Indians holding a club option ($5M) for what would have been Betancourt’s first year of Free Agency (2010), the Indians have further cemented their roster going forward by ensuring that Betancourt remains in the fold for at least another 2 years.

In light of the recent deals meted out to relievers on the Free Agent market (and realizing that a the situation of a player like Betancourt, who was under the club’s control for two more years even before this deal due to his Major League service time, is completely different than a player on the open market), the real coup in the deal is the CLUB option for the 3rd year for only $5M. The protection that the Indians retain in the chance that Betancourt’s effectiveness wanes in the first or second year (knocking firmly on wood) is something that cannot be undervalued in the highly volatile world of relievers, much less elite set-up men.

To wit, realizing that the “Hold” is a fairly new statistic (wherefore art thou, GW RBI), it does measure the ability of a reliever to “hold” a lead and transfer to a closer. While better, more complicated, measures of relievers exist; for our purposes, consider the top hold leaders from just the last few years:
Brandon Lyon – ARI – 35
Heath Bell – SD – 34
Derrick Turnbow – MIL – 33
Jon Rauch – WAS – 33
Jonathon Broxton – LAD – 33
Rafael Betancourt – CLE – 31

Scott Linebrink – SD – 36
Scot Shields – LAA – 31
Joel Zumaya – DET – 30
Aaron Heilman – NYM – 27
Juan Rincon – MIN – 26
Scott Proctor – NYY – 26

Scot Shields – ANA – 33
Tom Gordon – NYY – 33
Scott Eyre – SF – 32
Ryan Madsen – PHI – 32
Julian Tavarez – StL – 32
Bob Howry – CLE – 29

Tom Gordon – NYY – 36
Akinori Otsuka – SD – 34
Ray King – StL – 31
Chris Reitsma – ATL – 31
Salomon Torres – PIT – 30
Guillermo Mota – LAD/FLA - 30

Octavio Dotel – HOU – 33
Brendan Donnelly – ANA – 29
Jason Grimsley – KC – 28
Paul Quantrill – LAD – 28
LaTroy Hawkins – MIN – 28
Tom Martin – LAD – 28

The lists, which contain few of the same names from year to year, illustrate how relievers remain a volatile commodity and one that really can’t be counted on from one year to the next. The problem with giving these players long-term deals (which is what they’re demanding now on the open market…even the marginal ones) is that if they do regress, they are virtually unmovable and simply take up a spot in the bullpen that could be filled by a more promising youngster cashing a much smaller paycheck. It speaks to the importance of developing your own players (whether they be relievers or otherwise) into MLB players, as opposed to potentially overpaying for an extremely unstable commodity.

Overpaying, you say?
How about the fact that the Brewers committed a combined $23M to Eric Gagne and David Riske, while the South Siders gave Scott Linebrink a 4-year deal for $19M and Octavio Dotel a 2-year deal for $11M this off-season in an attempt to fortify their bullpens. All are decent pitchers, but none jump out as legitimate closers or even are would be guaranteed to be viable set-up men for THIS season. However, with the Brewers and White Sox bullpens being major question marks, with no internal alternatives to exhaust, Milwaukee and Chicago simply obtained the pitchers that they felt would best help their team, regardless of cost.

Conversely, with the Indians boasting the likes of Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, and Tom Mastny (with more young arms on the way), it would seem that the Tribe will finally see some permanent help for their bullpen coming up from the farm to stay, which puts them in the enviable position of not having to explore the FA market as they have in years past with…shall we say…mixed results. Having those youngsters fill the pipeline at known salary numbers and with options remaining in case of a regression is a luxury that cannot be underestimated for a team that knows all too well what a Jose Jimenez or Roberto Hernandez can (or more accurately, cannot) do.

But back to the impetus for the discussion, the deal for our presiding judge of the bullpen (you know, because “Betancourt is in Session”) and the importance of the length of the deal. Some may argue that the Indians should have included another option year or guaranteed the 3rd year with a 4th year club option. However, it is important to remember that Betancourt is no spring chicken due to his career starting as an infielder (he was a 21-year-old SS for the Michigan Battle Cats), spending some time in the Pacific Rim, and overcoming arm injuries before finally settling in with the Tribe.

Betancourt will be 33 this year and 35 in the club option year, meaning that the Indians would have been guaranteeing that 4th year to a 36-year-old in 2011. To give that some proper perspective, consider that everyone’s favorite whipping boy, that “washed up, over-the-hill” closer of ours, The Big Borowski, turned 36 this past May. Given the volatility of relievers and the variables that seem to affect relievers more than most, the 4th year is simply unnecessary.

But don’t let that explanation of why including the 4th year in the contract overwhelm the fact that the Indians re-signed (arguably) the most effective reliever in the AL last year, locking in a set salary for his two arbitration years and possibly buying out his first year of Free Agency. The deal further solidifies the bullpen, as well as the whole roster, for the short-term and the long-term as the Indians lock in another piece to the puzzle for the foreseeable future…and at a very reasonable price.


Cy Slapnicka said...

how great would it be if the indians started a tradition at the jake, where they announced "all rise, betacourt is now in session" and you heard a gavel strike. a great way to get the fans up and out of their seats to start the 8th inning.

Paul Cousineau said...

What if they had Rusty the Bailiff from the People's Court do it, preceded by:
"What you are witnessing is real. The participants are not actors. They are actual baseball players in a game pending at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Both parties have agreed to dismiss their court cases and have their disputes settled here, in our forum: The People's Court."

If Doug Llewelyn could be worked in, I wouldn't be opposed to it either.