We’ve hit a lull, haven’t we?
As Hall of Fame ballots start pouring in and free agency slows to a halt, speculation begins running rampant. So we’re going to continue what we’ve been doing. Last week, several relievers found a new home. Naturally, not all would arrive without some criticism. So what do these folks bring? And, did a team overpay? The steepest guarantee that follows is $19 million, so I’m going to answer that second question right away with a: who cares?
Koji Uehara, Chicago Cubs: 1 year/$6 million
For starters, replacing Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis and now Uehara increases the likability factor of the back of the Cubs bullpen tenfold. And despite his age (42 in March), Chicago is getting a pretty solid deal. While Uehara has dealt with injuries the past two years, one would be the result of taking a grounder off the wrist. Last season he would deal with a pectoral issue, but all in all a healthy Uehara is a productive one.
Nothing compares to his 2013 season with Boston (1.09 ERA, 1.38 DRA; 12.2 K/9, 1.1 BB/9; 0.6 HR/9), but there’s plenty to like about his last two years. The HR/9 rate would spike slightly in that time (1.1), especially last season (1.5), but strikeout numbers (11.3 K/9) and control (2.0 BB/9) remain promising. Of course, these numbers would mean very little if results didn’t follow. But follow they would.
Spanning his last two years (roughly 90 innings), Uehara holds a 2.84 ERA and 3.51 DRA. That second number would also spike a bit (4.22) in ’15, but the end product is more or less the same. Plus, Koji isn’t going to be the man Joe Maddon turns to in the ninth countless times in 2017. Not ideally, anyway. That distinction belongs to Wade Davis while Uehara simply gives the Cubs another option.
And at a bargain, one could argue.
Mike Dunn, Colorado Rockies: 3 years/$19 million
Friends, the Rockies just committed $70 million over five years to a�?first basemana�? Ian Desmond. If you’re going to poke fun at them for anything, it’s that. A three-year deal for a mediocre-at-best lefty, however, is… well okay this is kind of a head-scratcher, too. But it’s fine. Really.
Dunn will be entering his ninth MLB season in 2017, and after spending his previous five in Miamia��and its pitcher-friendly confinesa��he moves to Colorado, and the unfriendliest ballpark there is to pitchers. Look, it almost doesn’t matter who you bring into Coors; the pitcher is rarely going to be treated fairly anyway. But this Dunn deal seems all sorts of strange.
In just over 350 career innings, Dunn holds a respectable 3.54 ERA to go alongside a steeper 4.29 DRA. Those totals last season were 3.40 and a scary 5.56, respectively. His career K/9 rate rests at 10.0, but last season’s mark (8.1) would become a career-low. On the other hand, his career BB/9 (4.4) would be given a boost, as Dunn would only walk 2.3 per nine in ’16a��a career-best mark.
In all, this deal is fine, if not a little excessive. Three years seems steep, and the potential vesting of a fourth is odd. But Dunn is okay. Though, you hope he handles lefties a little better in ’17 (.702 OPS this past season). If anything, this deal keeps right in line with yet another strange offseason for Colorado.
Junichi Tazawa, Miami Marlins: 2 years/$12 million
As we all like to often point out, relievers are fickle. (Is that on a bumper sticker yet?) And so after missing out on the likes Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, the Marlins would attempt to recreate one of them in the aggregate. Or something. I would argue they didn’t accomplish this, not even slightly. But they did go out and add two relievers, so here we are. Speaking of, let’s get back to their fickle nature.
If Miami is acquiring the Tazawa Boston would have from 2012-14 (2.48 ERA, 3.32 DRA; 9.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9; 0.7 HR/9), all the better. That said, let’s look at those last three numbers from his past two seasons: 9.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9; 1.2 HR/9. Sure this shows a decrease in his strikeout rate (if we’re being extremely technical) and increases in both walk and home run rates, but none of these represent a dramatic shift. You don’t want those last two numbers to go much further south, but neither of them are too worrying.
It’s just that the results, despite his solid stuff, have not been there the past two years. From 2015 through 2016, Tazawa would finish with a 4.16 ERA and 3.94 DRA. While he isn’t a great reliever by any metric, he is definitely capable of being a very good one. We’ve seen it, and his peripherals back it up.
Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins: 2 years/$16 million
Miami would also go on to add the 36-year-old Ziegler. We continue to use this word, but if there’s one that describes his past nine years in MLB, it’s solid. This past season would be the best of them all. Fangraphs would confirm as much (1.3 fWAR), as Ziegler cracked that 1.0 threshold for the first time since 2011.
The results are certainly there (2.44 ERA and 3.02 DRA over roughly 600 career innings), but his stuff will not overpower you. Instead, Ziegler relies on grounders (67 percent career rate) in order to do most of his damage. His career strikeout (6.1 K/9) and walk rates (3.1 BB/9) leave plenty to be desired, but again, results. He produces them. Not to mention, his home run rate (0.3 HR/9) is immaculate.
And maybe, just maybe his brief stint in Boston this past season will show a slightly different pitcher going forward. While his aforementioned peripherals would remain nearly identical, a surge in strikeouts would present itself. Ziegler would flash a 7.7 K/9 in ’16, thanks in large part to his 9.4 K/9 rate over roughly 30 innings with the Red Sox. It is far likelier this was simply an aberration, but even though strikeout numbers jumped, he was relatively the same pitcher results-wise. If anything, results were slightly better.
But again, and say it with mea��relievers are fickle. And yes, these two moves certainly don’t make Miami a powerhouse. But there’s no such thing as having too much relief. In Tazawa and Ziegler, the Marlins have two good ones.
Going forward, you’re going to see more lucrative deals for ordinary relievers. Obviously this trend is already well underway. And really, none of these moves jump off the page as being bad. They also don’t strike me as moves for the sake of making them. Sure Colorado seems to strive to be different, but we’ll let them have that. (Also, what really good pitcher wants to call Coors his home?)
But as the market continues to stall, remember: you’ll always be able to complain over multi-year, a�?big moneya�? contracts for relievers. Even when this becomes the norm.