Many Tigers fans here have made their voiced heard that they don't like the Jose Valverde signing one bit. Who can blame them? Once you account for the draft pick we're surrendering -- which is around $5.2 million in value -- we're looking at more of a 2 year, $19 million deal with an option for a third year.
After having a fire sale that wasn't a fire sale yet still felt like a fire sale, the Tigers have used the money saved from dealing a guy who participated in 89.4 percent of all the Tigers innings since 2006 (and who was set to make just $13.75 million over the next two seasons) with a guy who is projected to pitch in 57 innings. That is a pace of just 3.9% of all innings. Even if we agree that Valverde is a good reliever, can we also agree that the impact on the Tigers season is far less than someone else we jettisoned out of town?
Before we move on to who other options could've been for the Tigers, let's take a gander at what Jose Valverde can be expected to bring to the table in 2010 for the Detroit Tigers bullpen after the jump.
The CHONE projection for Valverde is projecting a 53 strikeout, 22 walk season in 57 innings. That's good for a 3.47 ERA and a 3.87 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching; it takes defense out of the equation and is a stat I will cover in Saber 101 at a later date). Now, that is certainly above-average production from a reliever. In fact, it is projecting for about 7 runs above the replacement level reliever. Given the few amount of innings he is actually in, that's a pretty good total.
However, was it really worth $14 million? Dave Cameron at Fangraphs didn't think so and he summed it up nicely:
Seriously, in a market where everyone else is finding bargains, the Tigers pay $7 million a year for a good-but-not-great relief pitcher, and give up a draft pick for the right to do so. Were they not paying attention to the rest of the contracts being handed out? Did they not realize they were bidding against themselves?
This isn’t anything against Valverde. He’s got a good arm with a fastball that averages 96 and a knockout splitter that racks up strikeouts, but we’re not talking about Mariano Rivera here. He’s a guy who pitches up in the strike zone and has a history of giving up home runs (which, you know, can be a problem when you’re asked to protect a one run lead) and has below average command to boot (career 3.6 BB/9).
I think that about covers it succinctly. There were better options available.
Kiko Calero? Struck out 69 in 60 innings last year with the Florida Marlins while walking 30. That ratio of 2.3 K:BB isn't far off from the 2.4 K:BB that Valverde projects for in 2010. Calero's projected by CHONE to post 3.72 ERA and 43 K's, 24 BB's and an FIP of 3.99 in 46 innings. He's had injury problems over the years but that just drives down his price. Last year, when he was healthy, he proved more than capable in the 'pen, piling up 1.4 wins above replacement in 2009. He's not projecting for that, as the CHONE projection puts him at about 4 runs above replacement, about half that of Valverde's projection. Given that he made just $500K last year, he could be had for a fraction of the cost while giving, at least, half the production of Valverde.
Jamey Wright? 4.33 ERA in 65 innings in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals. He piled up 60 K's and 44 BB's in 79 innings last year, but also had a 59.1% ground ball rate -- well above-average and bordering on elite. CHONE's projecting 50 K's, 32 BB's in 67 innings and an FIP of 4.23. He made $800K last year and given the lack of interest, probably could be had for around the $1 million mark; maybe less. That CHONE projection? 6 runs above replacement.
D.J. Carrasco? 3.76 ERA in 93.1 innings (only 1 start -- Ozzie Guillen used him lots) and 62/29 K/BB numbers. CHONE's projecting 41 K's and 22 BB's in 59 innings -- good for an FIP of 4.08 and 3 runs above replacement. 2009 price tag? $440K. Oh, did I mention that some other GM already saw the potential and snagged him? Yeah, Neal Huntington picked him up for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the cost of just $950K -- and it's a minor league deal to boot.
Didn't we draft 67 relievers in the last two years?
If that's what it feels like, I wouldn't blame you. Our bullpen currently has Phil Coke, Casey Fien, Zach Miner, Joel Zumaya, Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry, Fu-Te Ni, Nate Robertson, Jay Sborz, Bobby Seay, Brad Thomas all on the 40 man roster. Then you add in Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt, as well as lesser guys like Josh Rainwater and Phil Dumatrait.
It seems to me that there is an abundance of arms -- and there's more out there -- that paying $7 million per year, giving up a draft pick, putting in an option for a third year for guys that are (1) terribly hard to project and (2) can flame out or burst on the scene without notice is not a good business practice.
The money can, and should, be spent elsewhere. Like maybe giving a big, strong, left-handed bat a look for the DH spot that's produced next-to-nothing the last two seasons? If only there was someone who could hit a baseball really, really far.