Signed RHP Ryan Cook to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. [1/7]
There are two strategies for building a bullpen that fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. One basically goes like this: acquire good reliever, then acquire really good reliever, then acquire better reliever. It's currently in vogue and it's for the big spenders of the baseball world—the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, etc.—and it involves lots of money and/or prospects, but it also makes it pretty easy to replicate a Royals-like 'pen without breaking into Kauffman Stadium to find the potion.
The other strategy boils down to acquiring discarded relievers in bulk, for not much in resources, and hoping some of them turn into good things. It's for Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners, apparently. Sure, the Mariners did pick up Joaquin Benoit from San Diego earlier this offseason, and he cost them a couple of minor leaguers and 7.5 million bucks, but they've also nabbed Anthony Bass (since released), Justin De Fratus, Evan Scribner, Steve Cishek, and now Cook.
Furbush-to-Benoit-to-Cishek doesn't quite have that Uehara-to-Smith-to-Kimbrel ring to it, but the Mariners entire bullpen might only cost $15 million or so, giving Seattle added financial flexibility to improve the team in other areas. Plus, it isn't a bad bullpen—if a couple guys break the right way, maybe it turns into a team strength. There's plenty of depth anyway.
Oh, Cook. The one-time A's mainstay spent time with three organizations in the 2015 calendar year (the A's, Red Sox, and Cubs), but he pitched only 8 2/3 innings in the big leagues last season, surrendering four homers and 19 runs allowed. He's dealt with injury issues and corresponding declining velocity of late, but he did throw 42 2/3 innings in Triple-A in 2015 and he's still only a couple years removed from being a solid late-inning option in Oakland. The Mariners are gambling he can stay healthy and re-find that form, and if he doesn’t, well, they've got plenty of other guys around. —Dustin Palmateer
Signed LHP Cesar Ramos to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training [1/6]
This has to be a joke, right? A decent left-handed pitcher—a guy who has put up a consistent half-win or so by WARP over each of the past four seasons—like Ramos gets picked up on a minor-league deal while Tony Sipp gets $18 million and Jerry Blevins gets $4 million? Of course, Ramos isn’t quite as good as Sipp, and he doesn’t profile as your traditional lefty specialist due to his four-pitch mix and lack of a big split.
At the same time, Ramos is capable of eating serious innings in low-leverage work or as a swingman. He doesn’t have a lights-out strikeout rate (19 percent over his career) or sexy peripherals, but he’s kept both his ERA and FIP under 4.00 for his career, and is coming off the best full season of his big-league run. Sure, it’s not the most dramatic or high-upside acquisition of the offseason, but the Rangers just picked up a serviceable bullpen arm for a song, the kind of move that grants a team extra flexibility to make other choices. Jon Daniels and staff may deserve a small, left-handed pat on the back here. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed UT Kelly Johnson to a one-year, $2 million contract, plus incentives [1/6]
Coming home after a long time away can feel weird. Over the last two decades, I’ve moved around a lot, and often when I go to a new place, I eventually come back to one of the old ones to visit. The places I return to always feel different—everything is blurry with nostalgia, the storefronts have all changed, and a surprising number of things have been painted.
Johnson probably feels the way I do. After years sojourning about the big leagues (including a complete tour of the AL East), he’ll be returning to Atlanta for a third stint with the Braves. Even a few of the stalwarts from his last go-round with the team are now gone, with Andrelton Simmons, Shelby Miller, and Christian Bethancourt off to greener pastures. There really aren't too many holdovers from his last time suiting up for the Braves, which is especially strange given that it was in July.
With so many question marks on the Braves’ roster, Johnson best profiles as a failsafe in case incumbent third baseman Adonis Garcia has a tough time and a bench backup. Surprisingly, Johnson doesn’t have a particularly large platoon split, over his career, but he got lucky (.381 BABIP) on his few PA against lefties this past season. Versatile by reputation, Johnson has the ability to play multiple spots on the diamond, but probably needs to be locked into corner spots in order to keep from costing the Braves too much on the defensive end.
As a possible platoon partner and veteran break-in-case-of-emergency starter at third base and left field, Johnson certainly fits a need for this team. However, the Braves’ current roster looks like Swiss cheese. Johnson may fill a couple of holes, but he certainly doesn’t make this team Gouda. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed RHP Brandon Beachy to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, plus up to $2.75 million in incentives [1/6]
If it’s true that injured pitchers are the new market inefficiency, then consider the market cornered. The Dodgers have re-signed Beachy to a one-year deal with incentives, and we can only assume that they’re hoping he pulls a full Brett Anderson and returns to some semblance of the hurler that posted about 4.0 WARP back in 2011 and 2012. After two Tommy John surgeries and various other elbow maladies, it’s heartening just to see him show up and cash a paycheck.
With Atlanta, Beachy was awfully good for a hot minute, but in his brief stay with the Dodgers last season it was evident that he had lost some zip on his fastball. His heater seems to have gone from about 92 miles per hour during his best seasons to 90 today. Perhaps more distressing than his cruddy FIP and ERA from his miniscule major league innings were the numbers for Triple-A Oklahoma City; he threw 47 innings down there, but walked 11% of batters faced, a sign of things to come later in the year in L.A.
The odds of Beachy putting in a substantive number of big-league innings this season are not great, as it’s tough to come back from consecutive Tommy John surgeries period—tougher still to remain effective. His walk rate is very discouraging, but command can take a while to come back after the zipper, and he has at least shown some real success when working for Atlanta all those years ago. If you’re going to sign a pitcher who’s not terribly likely to pitch much in the major leagues, I suppose Brandon Beachy is one of the best ones to sign. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed RHP Neftali Feliz to a one-year, $3.9 million contract, plus incentives [1/6]
It seems like ages since Feliz was the cannon-armed young pitcher who disappointed saberists everywhere when he was assigned to the Rangers’ bullpen, rather than the rotation. Since 2010, so much has changed: his strikeout rate took a permanent dip, Texas tried him in the rotation with some success, there were injuries, and we arrive finally at his 2015 ineffectiveness.
We should get this out of the way first: that 2015 ERA (6.38) is really ugly. And while his peripherals tell the story of an average-ish reliever, not an awful one, Feliz hasn’t been a strikeout wiz in years despite his high-90s velocity. That velocity made a pretty nice comeback towards the middle of 2015, as he transitioned from the Rangers to the Tigers, and by September he was back throwing 96+.
The trick for Feliz to improve in 2016 will be to 1) stay healthy, and 2) manage hard contact. Feliz is a freak when it comes to BABIP—his career .241 mark is bonkers, and that takes into account his .349 BABIP from 2015. Feliz historically gives up a lot of soft contact, a skill he shares with almost the entirety of the 2015 Pirates bullpen. Check this out: among the 160 big-league relievers with 40 or more IP in 2015, the Pirates had the seventh- (Mark Melancon), 16th- (Tony Watson), 21st- (Arquimedes Caminero), 31st- (Jared Hughes), 36th- (Antonio Bastardo), and 37th- (Joe Blanton) best soft contact percentages in baseball. Feliz was 25th.
The Pirates are as likely to “fix” Feliz as any team, as Ray Searage gets all the credit in the world for repairing broken pitchers. At a moderate $3.9 million investment, the Pirates may be able to rehabilitate Feliz into some modicum of the star closer for the Rangers. Though his high velocity numbers haven’t always translated to strikeouts, the Pirates appear to care more about weak contact in their bullpen than anything else. If Feliz’s background comes back to the fore, he’ll be exactly what they want. —Bryan Grosnick