The Rays signed Joaquin Benoit after a year in which he didn't throw a major league pitch. The 32-year-old missed all of 2009 with rotator cuff surgery, so Tampa Bay was paying for promise, not performance. So far in 2010, the reliever has delivered one dominant outing after the other.
He didn't make the Opening Day roster, but struck out 15.8 batters per nine at Triple A Durham, with just 2.8 BB/9. He has yet to allow a run in six appearances since getting the call to the majors and has nine strikeouts (including all five batters who faced him last night) in 6.2 innings with just one walk.
But performance isn't everything for free agent relievers. Just ask Kiko Calero, who couldn't secure a major league deal last winter because teams questioned his health despite the 1.95 ERA and 10.4 K/9 he posted in 60 innings. If Benoit continues pitching well, his stats will convince teams that he can perform, but his agents will have to convince them that he can stay healthy if he wants a guaranteed contract.
Benoit's fastball is harder than ever, which suggests he has recovered from last year's rotator cuff surgery. If that's the case, he could ask for a guaranteed deal, like the ones some strikeout-inducing relievers agreed to last winter. Kevin Gregg ($2.75MM), J.J. Putz ($3MM) and Octavio Dotel ($3.5MM) signed deals that could become models for the one Benoit signs after 2010.