Checking In On Former Rays Relievers

When you consider what happened last offseason, it's not overly surprising that few bullpens in baseball have a worse strikeout rate, walk rate or ERA than the Rays. Six prominent Rays relievers hit free agency and signed elsewhere for a total of $67.65MM (a figure that the Rays’ payroll has surpassed exactly once since 2000). 

When I checked in on former Rays relievers in May, I wrote that the early results were disappointing, but that Benoit and Wheeler would likely bounce back from poor starts. Nearly three months have passed, so we have a much better sense of whether former Rays pitchers are living up to their new contracts…
  • Rafael Soriano - three years/$35MM, Yankees - Soriano, who missed two and a half months with inflammation in his right elbow, has ugly numbers 16 innings into his new deal: a 5.06 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 6.2 BB/9.
  • Joaquin Benoit - three years/$16.5MM, Tigers - Benoit recovered from a slow start to post more respectable numbers. His season stats (4.62 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9) aren't nearly as impressive as they were last year, however.
  • Grant Balfour - two years/$8.1MM, Athletics - Balfour has been an excellent addition to Oakland's pen, putting up similar numbers to the ones he had with the Rays last year. The 33-year-old has a 1.88 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 43 innings into the season.
  • Dan Wheeler - one year/$3MM, Red Sox - Wheeler has a 4.54 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 for the Red Sox. He spent time on the disabled list in May and has recovered from his slow start.
  • Chad Qualls - one year/$2.55MM, Padres - Qualls, who was unlucky in 2010, has cut his ERA in half to 3.23 this year thanks to some improved fortune. He has posted 5.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 53.0% ground ball rate in 53 innings.
  • Randy Choate - two years/$2.5MM, Marlins - Choate, the Marlins' lefty specialist, has a 1.66 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9 this season. He drew interest at the trade deadline, but the Marlins held on.

The Yankees surely regret Soriano's contract and the Benoit deal still seems like a coup for his representatives at ACES. The four smaller deals for Balfour, Wheeler, Qualls and Choate have worked out relatively well so far. Would Tampa Bay's bullpen be better with some of these relievers? No question. Worth $67.65MM for the low-budget Rays? No way.

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