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February 27, 2015

Transaction Analysis

The Bad Bullpen Teams Get A Little Less Bad

by R.J. Anderson and J.P. Breen

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal worth $1 million with up to $500,000 in incentives; designated RHP Chad Smith for assignment. [2/25]

Regardless of your feelings about Dave Dombrowski's bullpen-building methods this winter (that Sam Miller covered well here), getting Chamberlain back at this cost is a bargain. Sure, there are concerns about Chamberlain—that's why he's signing in late February. You can question his durability, increasing reliance upon secondary offerings, unwillingness to shave, second-half struggles, and so on. You can do all of that while still finding enough reason to like this deal. For instance, Chamberlain finished last season with a better FIP than Luke Gregerson, Darren O'Day, and Jason Grilli, each of whom will close or set-up for their teams. FIP isn't everything—again, this signing takes place in late February for valid reasons—but Chamberlain should help the Tigers without hurting their budget.

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Claimed LHP Edgar Olmos off waivers from the Mariners; moved INF-S Jurickson Profar to the 60-day disabled list (shoulder surgery). [2/24]
Signed INF-S Elliot Johnson to a minor-league deal. [2/23]

The Rangers add a pair of replacement-level talents to their camp roster.

Olmos changes teams for the second time this winter, having previously been claimed off waivers from the Marlins by the Mariners. He's a tall southpaw who offers good velocity and little indication he'll ever locate well enough to pitch in a consistent big-league role. Arms like this always receive opportunities to break out until their fastball dips a grade or two, and Olmos won't be an exception. Yet barring a Mike Maddux-performed miracle, Olmos' realistic upside might be as a second lefty, where he can put his heater, closed landing, and long levers to good use.

To put Johnson to good use, Jeff Banister will need to keep him away from the plate and the left side of the infield as much as possible. Johnson swings and misses too often for a player whose speed dwarfs his power. He does have experience across the diamond (last season he played three positions in seven games with Clevelnd), however, his arm is stretched on the left side. Johnson will compete for Adam Rosales' job in spring before heading to Triple-A to serve as organizational depth. Such is his life.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Chad Gaudin to a minor-league deal. [2/25]
Signed RHP Dustin McGowan to a one-year deal worth the league minimum, with up to $2.5 million in incentives; transferred RHP Brandon Beachy to the 60-day disabled list (Tommy John surgery). [2/23]

These guys have a type, and it's not members of the 2005 Blue Jays.

Gaudin threw 97 quality innings for the 2013 Giants, then sat out the 2014 season after failing a physical with the Phillies. His medical history is lengthy and includes wrist, elbow, and shoulder issues—no surprise to those who considered him too short, or his arm action too ugly to start. The Dodgers don't seem to be in either camp just yet. as Farhan Zaidi has described Gaudin as rotation depth. Perhaps Zaidi is providing lip service and little more, but don't be surprised if Gaudin makes it to the majors at some point; likely in a mop-up role, where can throw low-90s fastballs and sliders to his heart's content.

McGowan's injury history makes Gaudin wince. He's missed so much time over the years that he failed to top 50 big-league innings five seasons in a row. He snapped that streak last season and, most impressively, did it without snapping anything else. True, McGowan's performance was nothing special. But look again at the cost; how can you argue with giving a power arm, even an oft-injured one, the league-minimum? You can't. Here's hoping McGowan starts a new streak by finding a way to top 50 innings again.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Francisco Rodriguez to a two-year worth $13 million with a club option. [2/26]

Of course. The surprise here is Rodriguez receiving two years. On one paw, you'd rather not commit too much time or money to a non-elite reliever whose employment options are limited due to his shaky past. On the other paw, it's not a budget-busting amount and these two probably would've hooked up for another one-year deal in 12 months' time. This way just saves everyone time.

Fantasy impact

Francisco Rodriguez

Anytime a reliever slides into a closer’s role, his fantasy value skyrockets. The right-hander saved 44 games for the Brewers a year ago. He owned a 3.04 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning. Fantasy owners forget that strikeouts matter for closers. It’s not just about the save statistic, and K-Rod has had a swinging-strike rate over 10 percent in each of the past two seasons. His split-change is nasty when he’s ahead in the count, which leads to ample strikeouts versus lefties and righties.

The problem is two-fold: (1) in the past two years, K-Rod has the fifth-highest home-run rate (1.65 HR/9) of any pitcher who has thrown at least 100 innings; and (2) his .216 BABIP from last year is clearly unsustainable. Both reflect his underwhelming fastball, which gives him a small margin for error. When his commands his fastball and gets to his changeup, he’s crazy effective. When he falls behind and has to come in with his fastball, he gets absolutely crushed. That leads to homers, decreased strikeouts, and stretches of general ineffectiveness.

Still, he’s a closer who misses bats on a team that projects to at least hover around .500. He should be owned in fantasy leagues. Unlike top-tier closers, though, K-Rod has obvious warts that inhibit him from being a game-changer.

Jonathan Broxton

Sympathies to all those who drafted Broxton in leagues with early drafts. He’s now an afterthought in almost every fantasy format, aside from those that heavily reward holds. The strikeout rate isn’t lofty enough to warrant ownership if he isn’t closing out games.

Will Smith

A popular sleeper candidate for saves, Smith is now (at least) third in the pecking order for the Brewers. He struck out 30.1 percent of opposing hitters -- so the strikeout rate remains attractive -- but unless the walk rate decreases and he can figure out how to consistently retire righties, he’s no longer worth stashing. J.P. Breen

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
J.P. Breen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see J.P.'s other articles. You can contact J.P. by clicking here

Related Content:  Milwaukee Brewers,  Detroit Tigers

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