Signed C-R Drew Butera to a two-year, $3.8 million contract. [11/18]
You can never have too much relief pitching, and the Royals are testament to that policy. After years of gathering relievers with top potential, there appears to be something of a drain happening at the back of the team’s bullpen. While Kelvin Herrera is as good or better than ever, Greg Holland is missing in action and Wade Davis is now in Chicago. So in steps Butera, who could finally get his chance to shine in the Royals’ ‘pen. Though Butera lacks substantive big-league innings, there’s more than a chance that he could fill in admirably in the middle frames, though it seems unlikely that he’ll ever pitch in high-leverage situations. He’s only a two-pitch thrower, featuring a low-90s heater and a changeup in the mid-70s. He’s struck out a batter per inning in his limited sample--four innings, total--and the last time he walked someone was in 2012.
Butera also brings something to the table that no other Royals reliever does: he’s a pretty bad, but serviceable backup catcher. Though he has provided below-replacement value in almost all of his big-league seasons--he’s a poor framer and an awful hitter--he saw an unprecedented burst of offense in 2016. Given that he’ll work behind Salvador Perez, one of the heaviest-used backstops in the game, there’s not too much worry about how bad he could be if his offense drops back to normal. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed LHP Marc Rzepczynski to a two-year, $11 million contract. [12/3]
Rzepczynski’s last name is so long that many print newspapers simply neglect to mention him, which is one reason why he doesn’t come up all that often around the family dinner table. Other reasons may include his status as a mid-tier LOOGY, his constant changing of addresses (the Mariners will mark his sixth team since 2013), his good-but-not-great career cFIP of 90, and Donald Trump’s dominance of modern-day dinner table discussion.
Rzepczynski’s done a decent job of being a LOOGY all the same. Since 2013, he’s posted a 4.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio vs. same-sided hitters while surrendering just three home runs. When used out of turn (i.e., against anyone batting right-handed save for maybe Alexi Amarista), however, he falls apart. Rzepczynski walked 23 and whiffed just 15 of the 102 right-handers he faced last season, his worst K/BB ratio against righties in a career of pedestrian performance against the species. Rzepczynski’s the rare bird who’s probably more valuable with less playing time.
For the Mariners, this move fits with Jerry Dipoto’s overarching bullpen strategy. Whereas other teams have tried to build Super Bullpens of late--and ridden them to great postseason success--the Mariners have approached the addition of relief help a bit more judiciously, adding an Evan Scribner here and a Rzepczynski there. The emergence of homegrown flame-thrower Edwin Diaz certainly helps buoy the plan, giving the Mariners at least one elite bullpen arm without having to pay for it in dollars or prospects. There’s less margin for error behind Diaz, of course, but there are more resources available to help the team elsewhere when Rzepczynski qualifies as a big bullpen get. —Dustin Palmateer
Signed C-R Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $12.5 million contract. [12/6]
Are you ready for a sneak peek into how the sausage is made here at Baseball Prospectus? For the past several months, I’ve been tasked with investigating the Rays for their player comments in the upcoming BP Annual. I’ve done this previously for the Marlins and Indians, but the Rays are interesting and different in that out of the whole host of comments I wrote up, there was a disproportionate number of catchers. In fact, there were nine of them. I penned comments or lineouts for nine Rays catchers. And none of those were good. (The catchers, not the comments. The comments are fine.)
Bobby Wilson, Hank Conger, Luke Maile, Curt Casali. Those are the four catchers the Rays cycled through most often last season. All of these men are extremely talented athletes; none of these men are particularly interesting baseball players. All are flawed, either lacking standout offensive or defensive talent. Conger and Casali were meant to be a pretty viable platoon tandem at the start of the season, but by September they were viable only for the Durham Bulls. Wilson was a mercenary brought in to provide adequacy, but quickly moved on. Maile is boring, even for a catcher.
The last interesting Rays catcher was John Jaso, but finally the Rays have a viable potential star at the position ... sort of. Ramos had a superlative coming-out party in 2016, earning an All-Star nod on the strength of a bonkers .307/.354/.496 batting line. His .305 True Average ranked 34th in baseball, ahead of every player who suited up for the Rays last year save part-timer Steve Pearce, and was roughly equal to his highest-profile former teammate: Bryce Harper. Not content just to do violence upon baseballs, Ramos also showed no mercy to umpires and basestealers, stealing 7.4 framing runs and 1.7 throwing runs to add to his value ledger. He finished the season with a 5.3 WARP--22nd among position players and far surpassing the Rays’ team leader, Evan Longoria--but also with a ruined knee that will hold him out to start the 2017 season.
This is the only reason the Rays could possibly acquire an All-Star via free agency; Ramos’ price is lower than it has any right to be because the Rays are likely only getting a year-and-a-half of work. Even that may be with depressed value, as after Ramos returns in June or July he may be limited to DH duty thanks to his recovering ACL and meniscus. There’s a non-zero chance that the devastating injury could have a cascade effect: less value or time at catcher, depressed offensive numbers, less time on the field overall. But the Rays desperately need a catcher, and they were as thirsty for a viable option at the position as they are for surplus value. Ramos, meanwhile, has $6 million worth of incentives built into his contract, and ample motivation to repeat his 2016 prowess. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed C-R Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $4 million contract. [12/2]
It’s possible that no move this offseason is more emblematic of a major front-office shift than Mathis signing with the Diamondbacks. Gone is Dave Stewart, longer gone is Kevin Towers, and in place is Mike Hazen, formerly of the Red Sox. With Hazen comes a focus on the leading edge of baseball knowledge, a change from an Arizona baseball operations department that seemed stuck in the past when it came to acknowledging changes in the way players are valued.
And so, Mathis. A player once the target of so many snarky posts about the “correct” way to analytically value players, Mathis has seen a second life in the eye of analysts with the advent of a way to quantify catcher defense more accurately. He’s got the chops of a good framing catcher, having been worth 5-10 runs above the average in many of his seasons. Prior to BP’s framing metric revolution, Mathis was mostly known for his unquantified rep as a great defender and for his awful hitting. With his .206 career True Average, the veteran backstop isn’t much better than a pitcher at the dish, and has the reputation as one of the worst batsmen of the past decade.
But hitting isn’t everything, as we know better today. For a team that has focused entirely on the bats of their backstops over the past few years--even going so far as to employ the framing disaster named Jarrod Saltalamacchia--Mathis provides a new opportunity for the Diamondbacks. Finally, the team can help their young pitchers advance by bringing in not just a solid framer to help steal extra strikes and wring advantage out of the umpires, but also a player with a history of plaudits for his game-calling and staff management. Last year, the Snakes were a bottom-five team by framing runs.
Does Mathis make this Diamondbacks team better in the short-term as an upgrade over Welington Castillo? Perhaps, but there’s a chance that he doesn’t. Maybe he just shifts the calculation from run scoring to run prevention on a per-win basis. And with his history of extreme offensive inadequacy, maybe he posts another ugly .195 True Average and gives back every inch of defensive value by being such a cipher on offense. But last year was a surprising offensive season, with the numbers being merely bad--.238/.267/.333--instead of hope-destroying. Perhaps the Diamondbacks see something that we don’t in the offensive numbers and hope that Mathis has turned a corner. But at least it’s now unlikely that we see something the Diamondbacks don’t. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed RHP Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. [12/6]
After a stellar 2015, the now 39-year-old Benoit finally showed some signs of his age last season in Seattle, battling shoulder inflammation and sub par performance through most of the first half. A trade to Toronto sparked another revitalization--down the stretch with the Blue Jays, Benoit regained his control, shuttered home run issues, and improved his FIP from 4.91 with Seattle to 2.77 with Toronto. A torn calf muscle from a late-September brawl ended the turnaround story, but Benoit did enough in 24 post-trade innings to earn at least another season in the majors and a healthy paycheck to boot.
While the Phillies don’t necessarily seem like a natural fit for a one-year rental reliever, Benoit instantly becomes one of the best options in a bullpen that posted the fifth-worst DRA in the majors last season, and he hardly takes anything away from the rebuilding process. The Phillies aren’t ready to compete yet, but with a comparatively impressive starting rotation revolving around Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Aaron Nola, maybe the Phillies owe it to those youngsters (and the fans) to at least try to lock down the games when they do grab an early lead. Benoit also serves as obvious trade bait come July. —Dustin Palmateer