It's becoming conventional wisdom around baseball that it's foolish to commit too much money to closers and/or set-up men since most relievers see their effectiveness vary wildly from year to year. While this logic may be sound, it can also leave a team's hands somewhat tied (and its fans frustrated) when the present bullpen isn't producing.
Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic spoke to Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes about the Snakes' relief woes. Going into Friday's play, Arizona's staff ERA from the seventh inning on stood at an NL-worst 5.71 in such situations, and right-hander Esmerling Vasquez is the only D'Backs reliever with an ERA under 4.63. Most of the attention has focused on closer Chad Qualls, who has blown two saves already and has a 7.36 ERA in 13 appearances.
Byrnes said changes could be made if things become dire, be it calling up "guys in the minors; [or] maybe we make a trade." But Byrnes also preached patience, noting that "it's hard to stay the course with it, but sometimes that's the best thing to do."
Byrnes told Piecoro that "as far as major trade or a major expenditure [for a reliever], [it's] probably something we want to be very careful about." Piecoro notes that the club considered acquiring the likes of Matt Capps, Rafael Soriano and former D'Backs closer Jose Valverde over the winter, but the price for Soriano and Valverde was judged to be too high, while Capps would only sign if he was guaranteed the closer's job. The Diamondbacks instead picked up Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman, which MLBTR's Tim Dierkes was "not enthused" about, and chose to keep Qualls as the closer after his solid 2009 season (24 saves and a 3.65 ERA in 51 appearances). These moves look ripe for second-guessing at the moment given that Qualls, Howry and Heilman have all tough starts while Capps, Soriano and Valverde have pitched extremely well.
Arizona has a 14-15 record but is just four games behind the division-leading Giants. Given that a hot two weeks can put a club on top of the tightly-stacked NL West, Byrnes might be forced to roll the dice on another reliever should his club still have a shot at first place come the summer. D'Backs fans demanding that the Snakes blow up their bullpen and bring in reinforcements, however, should be careful what they wish for. The team's last midseason deal for a reliever saw them pick up Jon Rauch in July 2008 and he subsequently put up a 6.56 ERA for Arizona that season.