Righthander Joaquin Benoit is one of the few bright memories in the void that has been the Detroit Tigers' bullpen in recent years. From 2011 to 2013, Benoit recorded 68 holds and 28 saves for the Tigers, along with 2.6 combined fWAR in 199 innings. Unfortunately, he's best remembered for serving the meatball that [you don't actually want me to keep going with this], but for the most part was a very solid pitcher during this stretch.
Unfortunately, the Tigers weren't willing to pay Benoit closer money after 2013 and he departed to join the San Diego Padres, who gave him a contract worth two guaranteed years and a team option. They recently picked up the $8 million team option for 2016, but are apparently not opposed to trading him, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
As Benoit's biggest fan of all-time, I'm all aboard the train to bring back Joaquin. Let's take a look at how he's done since moving to the West Coast.
Who is he?
Benoit, a 38-year-old righthander from the Dominican Republic, was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Texas Rangers way back in 1996. He slowly made his way through their minor league system as a starter, and made his debut in a disastrous outing against the Tigers on August 8, 2001. He made 54 starts over the next four seasons, but allowed a 6.06 ERA and 1.70 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His numbers improved when he transitioned to the bullpen, including a 112 ERA+ from 2006 to 2008.
Benoit missed a good chunk of the 2008 season with shoulder trouble, which resulted in him having rotator cuff surgery that offseason. He missed all of 2009, but came back in a big way with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, allowing a 1.34 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. He has been a much better pitcher since the surgery, allowing a 2.35 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 379 innings from 2010 to 2015.
Why should we care?
Benoit's 2014 in San Diego was maybe his best as a professional. He posted an incredible 1.49 ERA and struck out 10.60 batters per nine innings while also racking up 11 saves and 16 holds. He followed that up with a 2.34 ERA this year, his fifth sub-3.00 ERA in six years. He has been a model of consistency over the past six years that even the Curse of the Tigers' Bullpen couldn't break.
That's why it seems like such a no-brainer that the Padres would pick up Benoit's option. At $8 million, it's certainly not cheap, but he'd most likely get more on the open market. There aren't many quality relief options available in free agency right now, and the Padres -- who already have Craig Kimbrel holding down the ninth inning -- can afford to seek out a quality prospect or two in exchange for Benoit.
Why should we stay away?
Trading for Benoit, however, is not such a no-brainer. For starters, $8 million is a lot of money and would basically eat back up the money saved by declining Joe Nathan's option. It's hard to imagine that a team still needing two starting pitchers and possibly an outfielder is going to be able to devote much more than that to their bullpen; if Benoit is their fix, he's probably their sole fix.
And unfortunately, money isn't the only way Benoit's situation relates to Joe Nathan. Benoit is going to be 39 next season. You know, the same age Nathan was when Detroit brought him in to be their bullpen savior. Signs of decline are already showing up in Benoit's numbers. His 24.8 percent strikeout rate in 2015 was his worst since becoming a lockdown reliever with the Rays in 2010. The same goes for his 9.1 percent walk rate. All of this led to a 3.35 SIERA for 2015, making it arguably his worst season by fielding-independent measures in almost a decade.
Will he end up in Detroit?
With all of those key stats trending the opposite way and age not on Benoit's side, it seems like perhaps the wisest thing to do would be to avoid him. It's worth remembering though, even with his decline in 2015, Benoit's FIP would rank him third in Detroit's bullpen (minimum 30 innings) while his ERA would sit just a hair behind Alex Wilson in second. If he's the gamble the Tigers take to be a lockdown presence in the back end, then that price tag might just end up looking pretty cheap.