The second half of this week hasn’t lived up to the hype of Super Tuesday, but has still seen a number of moves, including a run of reliever contracts I’ll break down here. They include:
- Edward Mujica signing a two-year, $9.5-million deal with the Boston Red Sox;
- Brian Wilson signing a one-year, $10-million deal that is, in effect, actually a two-year deal worth $20 million or so;
- Ryan Webb signing a two-year deal worth a bit more than $4 million with the Baltimore Orioles;
- Ronald Belisario heading to the Chicago White Sox for one year and $3 million; and
- Wesley Wright agreeing to $1.0425 million on a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Mujica to Boston
In a strangely fitting but also counterintuitive move, the Red Sox bolstered their middle relief by adding Mujica. Near the nadir of his value after a late-season implosion that took him from star-level closer to non-entity during the Cardinals’ playoff run, Mujica is a solid candidate to outperform this contract. His skill profile is near-unique—the only guy that really matches Mujica’s off-speed-dominant approach with much success is his new teammate, Koji Uehara.
This is a strange skill set to duplicate in a bullpen. When reliever Jose Smith, whose delivery is one of the five weirdest in baseball, signed with the Angels last month, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus raised the possibility that having a relief corps rich in different looks might have an extra edge. That sure isn’t what the Red Sox are going for. It seems to me one wouldn’t want an opposing batter to see both Mujica and Uehara in one game. Boston, though, is betting on the terrific stats Mujica posted for the first five months of 2013, and not worrying too much about 10 bad innings to close the season or about how he fits the bullpen stylistically.
Wilson to Dodgers
While billed as a one-year deal with a player option for 2015, this amounts to a two-year contract nearing $20 million in total value to Wilson. The term ‘player option’ has become all but obsolete. A player option is simply part of the contract, only the player has the right to opt out if the market for him looks good. The semantic difference may matter when it comes to luxury-tax calculation, but it’s otherwise negligible. In this case, the option acts as a second year. It’s an inducement, something the Dodgers could offer that the teams with whom they were competing for Wilson could not.
It’s too rich a deal for Wilson, the actuarial asset. He’s not that far removed from his second Tommy John surgery. He only faced 49 batters in 2013, and 12 in 2012. In his last full season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a tepid 1.64 and he struck out barely 22 percent of opposing batters. He’s not good enough to be making an eight-figure salary, based on the numbers.
There are two explanations for this, not alternatives to one another, but complements:
- The Dodgers have too much money for it to matter. If they want a player, they take him. They wanted Wilson. He’s marketable, and therefore profitable, and the expenditure is a drop in the bucket for them.
- Wilson looked very good during his Dodgers stint in 2013. It was a tiny sample and it’s tough to extrapolate too much from it, but his nasty stuff seemed intact. The Dodgers are betting, in part, that the drop in strikeout rate just before Wilson went down with his injury was the result of diminished stuff, stuff he has regained now. His playoff performance (six baserunners in six innings, no runs, eight strikeouts) supports that supposition.
Wilson is unlikely to live up to this deal, but he doesn’t need to. I view this as a positive addition to a contending bullpen, and that’s as far as analysis of Dodgers moves should go right now.
Webb to Orioles
This is the kind of savvy low-level dealing that allowed Baltimore to sneak up on everyone and win the AL Wild Card in 2012. Orioles GM Dan Duquette has a real knack for bullpen-building, and he flexed that muscle here.
Webb will cost roughly 25 percent of what Jim Johnson, who saved 101 games for the O’s over the past two seasons, will, and Webb offers an extra year of team control, with this deal signed. He’s not appreciably different from Johnson, though, from a pure skill-set standpoint. Both are right-handed ground-ball pitchers (fairly extreme ones). Both have below-average strikeout rates. Both have good-not-great control.
The Orioles maintain interest in John Axford, or so they say. Still, the addition of Webb deepens a solid relief corps, and he comes so cheaply that it just can’t help but help the Orioles build a winning roster.
Belisario to White Sox
Webb had been available because he was (somewhat inexplicably) non-tendered by the Miami Marlins on Monday. Ronald Belisario got the same rough, undue treatment from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the White Sox pounced.
Belisario did have an iffy 2013 season, but he was never going to be an expensive piece. His strikeout rate went through the floor in 2013 (from roughly 25 percent to the wrong side of 20 percent), but he also brought his walk rate under control. He’s another right-hander with strong ground-ball tendencies (six homers allowed the last two years, a number that U.S. Cellular Field will inflate, but the skill set still has value), and a fine addition to a team that can either hope he’s part of a surprising contender or (more probably) swap him for some minor asset of a similar sort in July.
Wright to Cubs
Make it three straight non-tendered arms who rely on keeping the ball on the ground. Wright is the worst of the lot, a lefty with below-average platoon splits who doesn’t do anything at an elite level. He’s still a solid middle-relief option, though, and could make James Russell expendable—or become trade fodder himself at mid-season.
The Cubs are the last of the rebuilding teams, with the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Twins, Mets and Mariners all getting aggressive—many of them a bit out of turn. They don’t need Wright to blow the doors off. His solid strikeout rate works, and he walked only three of 48 batters faced after being dealt mid-season to Tampa Bay. If he brings some of those skills to his new team, Chicago will be happy to have him—and happier to turn him into a decade-younger version of himself in late July.Next post: Robinson Cano Changes Clothes and Goes to Seattle Mariners
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