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February 6, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Bargain Bin Bullpens

by Bryan Grosnick, Eric Roseberry and Jared Wyllys



IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Signed LHP Boone Logan to a one-year, $6.5 million contract. [2/2]

It’s funny how things change in such a short time. Three years ago, the Rockies inked Logan to a three-year, $16.5 million contract and it was widely viewed as a Mile High Mistake™. After all, who pays a LOOGY that kind of cash, or more accurately gives one that many years? In the first season of the deal (2014), it looked bad; Logan posted a 6.84 ERA. Awful, right? Only, there’s some data that tells us Logan was just fine in that season, and the two that followed as well. DRA rates Logan as exactly the same quality of pitcher he was prior to his signing with the Rockies: he had DRAs of 2.59, 3.12, and 2.60 in the three seasons of that contract.

It turns out that despite the iffy ERA with the Rockies, Logan should have been (or rather, was) good with the team that got killed for picking him up in the first place. Now, the Indians are acquiring him for a similar annual salary and no one’s killing the Tribe for the deal. In fact, this is a good deal. And here’s why: context matters. Logan was exactly the type of pitcher the Rockies expected him to be after his acquisition: a mid-tier lefty specialist on a contract that expected him to keep up that level of performance. But the Rockies were a team far enough from contention for Logan’s signing to be mockable. After all, the expensive second lefty is the move a contender makes to solidify a bullpen, not the move of a floundering team on the cusp of rebuilding.

Cleveland absolutely needed to shore up the few weak points on this roster if they were to contend again and Logan is that kind of reliable lefty-wrecker. Snagging a second lefty of Logan’s caliber—and doing so at a reasonable one-year price—certainly may help Terry Francona feel a little more comfortable easing Andrew Miller’s workload before the playoffs. And if prior experience tells us anything, they’ll need every ounce of bullpen talent to make it back to the World Series. Let’s hope the Rockies learned their lesson. (Nope.)Bryan Grosnick

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired RHP Eddie Butler and international bonus slot no. 74 from Colorado Rockies in exchange for RHP James Farris and international bonus slot no. 28. [2/1]

The Cubs have spent the winter squirreling away pitchers, even those rife with injury histories and who have struggled to live up to prospect hype. They signed Brett Anderson in the hopes that he can stay healthy enough to supplement the rotation and keep them healthy for another postseason stretch. And they traded for Butler in the hopes that the 2012 first rounder can salvage some of what prompted the Rockies to take him 46th overall that year.

Little about Butler’s numbers across parts of three seasons with the Rockies would inspire tremendous optimism, but there is enough to justify taking a flier on him. His average fastball velocity sits above 94 mph, and he’s been clocked 97-98 at times. Butler pairs this with a heavy sinker and a swing-and-miss slider. Last season was a disaster for Butler, but some of that can be attributed to bad luck. The chasm between his DRA and ERA (5.45 and 7.17) points to a better pitcher than some of his outcomes, and his strikeout rate has steadily risen since his debut in 2014.

In some ways, Butler seems Jake Arrieta-esque, if he's being compared to the Arrieta acquired by the Cubs in 2013. Of course, expecting Butler to pitch at or even near the level of post-trade Arrieta is probably a stretch, but even at mere rotational depth and potential reclamation project this is a savvy addition. Butler still has a minor-league option left, so he can spend the season with Triple-A Iowa and work on getting back to what made him a top-50 prospect just a few years ago. —Jared Wyllys

CINCINNATI REDS
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Signed RHP Scott Feldman to a one-year, $2.3 million contract. [1/26]

The Reds aren’t going to be competitive in 2017. They have a handful of young pitchers who could potentially contribute when the team is ready to compete again. To help save those arms during the past few seasons, the team has looked for low-cost options who could eat some innings. Last season, those options included Dan Straily and Alfredo Simon. The Straily signing was the best-case scenario for a low-cost starting pitcher acquisition. What about the Simon signing? That turned out to be the worst-case scenario.

Now the Reds are looking to Feldman as the low-cost option who can lighten the load on their young starters. Feldman’s 2016 season was a mixed bag. He made four starts for the Astros in April, and then he was primarily used out of the bullpen. In 62 innings for Houston, Feldman held down a 2.90 ERA. However, his 4.37 DRA suggested his production wasn’t in line with his performance. He was traded to the Blue Jays in August, and the wheels came off. Feldman pitched 15 innings in relief for the Blue Jays with an 8.40 ERA. His walk rate nearly doubled and he wasn’t used after September 20.

Are there reasons the Reds should be optimistic about Feldman? A major factor in his performance in Toronto was an uncharacteristic .412 BABIP. That surge in hits allowed occurred even as Feldman upped his ground-ball rate to 66 percent. It was an odd stretch and this time his 4.62 DRA showed that he wasn’t quite as bad as some of his other stats suggested.

Feldman has spent the bulk of his career providing close to league-average production as a starting pitcher. If that’s what he gives the Reds for a season, then this signing will be worth it. Feldman will have every incentive to be productive. The value of his deal could nearly double if he’s able to hit several incentives. Zach Buchanan noted that Feldman stands to earn bonus money for every start he makes past his 10th start. If he moves to the bullpen, he can also rack up incentives based on the number of appearances he makes. —Eric Roseberry

COLORADO ROCKIES
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Signed RHP Greg Holland to a one-year, $7 million contract. [1/28]

Acquired RHP James Farris and international bonus slot no. 28 from Chicago Cubs in exchange for RHP Eddie Butler and international bonus slot no. 74. [2/1]

It’s crazy how fast time moves, how quickly we forget. It hasn’t been all that long since Holland was (part of) the talk of baseball, a dominant cost-controlled closer on one of MLB's best teams, but the Royals are already on their second closer since he started his injury-related decline in 2015. Holland tore a ligament in his elbow at some point during the 2014 season and hasn’t been the same since; first he transformed from one of the game’s best stoppers in 2014 to an average-ish relief arm in 2015, and then he morphed into a ghost who didn’t play at all in 2016. What might he be in 2017, now recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready to make a new start in the toughest pitching environment in baseball?

Well, the odds are a bit long if reports on Holland’s velocity are to be believed. When the righty was at his best, his fastball sat at 96 miles per hour, give or take. His recent showcase from November saw him sitting between 88-91, and while he’s likely to raise his velocity a bit once he’s fully recovered he needs that premium mph in order to succeed. During his down 2015 season, he saw a dramatic decrease in performance just sitting around 94 mph. Fortunately for the Rockies, even the 2015 version could be a viable reliever on this modest contract, and his name value might mean a reasonable return on a trade. The trick here will be forgetting his pedigree as a capital “C” closer, and setting the expectation more along the lines of above-average reliever.

You know that we know what we don’t know. And we don’t know much about what kind of pitcher Holland is anymore. Perhaps his velocity will miraculously return and he’ll become the elite reliever he once was. Perhaps that’s gone forever and he’ll settle into mid-‘pen mediocrity. Perhaps he’s nothing. With his pedigree, some team had to take the chance on him. For pitchers, Colorado is like New York—if Holland can make it there, he can make it anywhere. —Bryan Grosnick

In sending Butler to Wrigley the Rockies get a solid middle-relief prospect and an upgrade in their international bonus allotment. Farris has a strong mid-90s fastball and he backs it up with a slider and sinker that both get good movement and generate an ample whiff rate. His strikeout rate and True Average against have always been sterling, so there’s still the chance that he can develop into something more, but for now the Rockies have a strong medium-leverage arm.

Farris has reached as high as Double-A Tennessee and will turn 25 just as the season begins, so Colorado can afford to take their time developing him to join a bullpen that stands in need of some help. For the Rockies, this trade is probably more of a white flag being waved on Butler than anything else, and the Cubs are trusting their resources to salvage something useful out of him. —Jared Wyllys

NEW YORK METS
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Signed RHP Fernando Salas to a one-year, $3 million contract. [2/3]

Signed LHP Jerry Blevins to a one-year, $6 million contract. [2/3]

It’s hard to say that a team has a boring offseason when they sign the biggest and best free agent on the market, but the Mets may have pulled it off. Sandy Alderson and company have brought back nearly the entire roster from the end of 2016 to try and make another playoff run in 2017. The only problem is this: that roster wasn’t good enough to defeat the Giants in the Wild Card game and the Mets haven’t brought anyone onto the likely 25-man roster from outside the organization to upgrade the team. Despite the roster improvements that better health may provide—we’ll get to that more in a minute—last year’s team had holes, and bringing in fresh blood might’ve helped to address versatility and bullpen issues.

Instead, New York has acquired a seventh-inning bridge to their two-headed monster of Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed on the cheap by bringing back Salas and Blevins. They each had strong seasons with New York in 2016, but there’s also some question of whether their recent performance will continue. And even if they do pitch as well as they had last year, is that enough to supplement a bullpen that will likely be without Familia for a few months?

Maybe. Blevins is probably the better pitcher of the two, but his role is more limited than the versatile Salas. Last season, the Mets deployed him as a strict lefty specialist, appearing in 73 games but only logging 42 innings while two-thirds of the batters he faced were lefties. He thrived in the role against lefties (31 percent strikeout rate), but mostly got lucky against right-handers (.184 BABIP in the small sample). Meanwhile, Salas’ fastball/knuckle-curve/changeup repertoire allows him moderate effectiveness against both types of hitters, while his experience closing might make Terry Collins more likely to use him in high-leverage situations. Unfortunately he’s a bit homer-prone, and while his performance with the Mets was quite good late in the season that was due in part to his not walking a single batter. If you expect that to happen again ... well, don’t.

Waiting out the market seems to have turned out OK. Instead of spending big on the first or even the second tier of relief pitchers, the Mets waited for the prices to fall on a couple of dudes from the third tier. And those pitchers happened to be ones they knew pretty well. Blevins and Salas certainly aren’t the flashiest names on the block—and are faced with near-replacement PECOTA projections—but they are inexpensive, likely effective short-term seventh-inning options for a team that desperately needed them. Adding new blood to the mix isn’t the Mets’ style, but why worry about new faces when you can cover the seventh inning for just $9 million? —Bryan Grosnick


Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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