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Ernesto Frieri Rumors
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey is already helping new reliever Ernesto Frieri make adjustments, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes. “That’s why I’m here,” says Frieri. “He knows what he’s doing. He fixed a couple of guys before, and I hope I’m not the exception. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the right information and I’m going to take advantage.” The Rays have helped veteran relievers like Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth and Joaquin Benoit improve their stock, and Frieri hopes to be the next in line. The 29-year-old is coming off a terrible season with the Angels and Pirates in which he posted a 7.34 ERA and struggled mechanically. His 10.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and good velocity suggest he might have more gas in his tank, however, even if his fly-ball tendencies make him homer-prone, so he could be a bounce-back candidate if he can make the right adjustments. Here’s more from the American League.
- MLB plans to be compassionate in the case of Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton after his relapse, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi report. The league is expected to suspend Hamilton for 25 games or more, but for less than a full season, although an official decision is not close. Hamilton’s relapse violated the terms of the treatment program the league required of him when he was reinstated in 2006 following a lengthy suspension.
- The Royals will use Joe Blanton exclusively as a reliever, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports. “The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen,” says Ned Yost. “We’re not going to stretch him out.” Blanton, 34, recently signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City after sitting out the 2014 season. He has spent almost his entire ten-year big-league career as a starter.
The Rays announced that they have signed right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a one-year, Major League contract. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Frieri, a client of agent Matt Colleran, will earn an $800K base salary and can take home a total of $3.15MM if he meets all of his contract’s performance incentives. To clear roster space, The Rays announced that they have designated infielder Sean Rodriguez for assignment.
Frieri, formerly the Angels’ closer, had a down year in 2014 after posting a 2.76 ERA from 2009-13 between the Padres and Halos. He’s always missed a large number of bats and did so again in 2014, averaging 10.4 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9 in 41 2/3 innings. However, Frieri’s ERA spiked to 7.31 due to a bloated 19.3 percent homer-to-flyball ratio that is likely to dip back down toward his career rate of roughly 10 percent next season. He also saw his typically excellent strand rate plummet to 60.9 percent. The Angels flipped him to the Pirates in a one-for-one swap that netted Jason Grilli and ultimately got the better end of the deal, as Frieri would be designated for assignment by Pittsburgh after struggling there as well.
Frieri seems to be a classic buy-low candidate for a Rays team that has successfully turned around the careers of many struggling veterans in the past. He averaged a solid 94 mph on his fastball in 2014, and metrics such as xFIP (3.67) and SIERA (2.96) feel that he is an excellent candidate to return to form this season. There’s upside beyond the 2015 campaign for the Rays as well, as Frieri can be controlled through 2016 if he rebounds.
Rodriguez, also 29, batted just .211 with a .258 on-base percentage but a career-best .443 slugging percentage. The utility infielder did hit a career-high 12 homers, but the Rays apparently weren’t comfortable paying him something in the $2MM range projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
The release puts an exclamation point on a nightmare season for Frieri, who posted a 7.34 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.43 K/BB rate over 41 2/3 innings with the Pirates and Angels. He hurt himself with the long ball by allowing 11 homers this season, though the advanced metrics suggest that Frieri’s 7.34 ERA involved some poor luck — ERA predictors such as xFIP (3.69) and SIERA (2.97) indicate that Frieri was victimized by a .330 BABIP and a very low 60.9% strand rate.
The Angels removed Frieri from his closer’s job and then traded him to the Bucs for Jason Grilli in a swap of struggling ninth-inning men. While Grilli has thrived in Los Angeles, Frieri couldn’t get on track in Pittsburgh and was demoted to the minors. The righty posted a 3.86 ERA with six strikeouts and four walks in seven innings at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Frieri was a dominant bullpen force with the Padres and Angels from 2009-12, posting a 2.32 ERA in 162 2/3 IP in that stretch and earning 23 saves after he came to Anaheim in May 2012. While his ERA jumped to 3.80 in 2013, his 37 saves and prior performance earned him a $3.8MM contract for 2014 in his first year of arbitration eligibility. (Frieri is still controllable through 2016.) His rough season all but guaranteed that he would be non-tendered by the Bucs this winter, though Frieri’s past success will very likely earn him a look from a few interested clubs.
Here are the day’s minor moves …
- The Blue Jays have outrighted southpaw Brad Mills to Triple-A Buffalo, according to the team’s transactions page. Mills, 29, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Tuesday and will have the option to elect free agency rather than report to Triple-A, having been outrighted in the past. He has a 9.15 ERA in 20 2/3 Major League innings this season but a sensational 1.81 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 89 1/3 innings between the Triple-A affiliates for Milwaukee and Toronto this season.
- After clearing waivers, righty Ernesto Frieri has accepted an assignment to the Pirates‘ Triple-A affiliate, Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com reports on Twitter. After starting the season as the Angels’ closer, Frieri was dealt to Pittsburgh and then designated for assignment when he failed to right the ship. Though other clubs might have been willing to take a chance on him, Frieri’s $3.8MM first-year arbitration salary no doubt scared off any claims. It seems all but certain at this point that Frieri will end up being non-tendered in the offseason.
The Pirates have designated reliever Ernesto Frieri for assignment, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on Twitter. Frieri, 29, came to Pittsburgh in a swap of struggling closers at the end of June.
While his trade counterpart, Jason Grilli, has thrived in his new environs, Frieri has continued to struggle since the swap. Frieri has allowed 12 earned runs in 10 2/3 frames with the Bucs, while striking out ten and walking five batters. Frieri had at least shown with the Angels that he was still capable of missing bats (11.0 K/9) and limiting walks (2.6 BB/9), even if the results were still poor, but obviously those marks too have taken a downturn.
Frieri is earning $3.8MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility. This likely means two things: First, he seems fairly likely to get through waivers, and the Pirates could well welcome a claim anyway. And if he is instead stashed at Triple-A for the time being, Frieri will likely end up as a non-tender after the season.
- Angels GM Jerry Dipoto would like Grilli to establish himself as the Angels’ closer, but that will depend on Grilli’s performance, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. “Whether Jason Grilli returns to the ninth inning will have to be determined by Jason Grilli,” says Dipoto.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington says that Frieri will provide the Pirates with a “high leverage option that may pitch in the middle innings,” reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Travis Sawchik. “Ernesto is a guy we have pursued for a couple of years and haven’t been able to get him,” says Huntington. “He’s been going through a rough stretch but there’s a lot of things our scouts like, that our analysts like. We feel like we’ve had some success with guys like this in the past.”
- While many outside analysts were unimpressed with the deal for both sides, Sawchik notes that the Grilli trade has similarities to the Pirates’ December 2012 trade of closer Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt for Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel and two other players. Like Melancon, who was coming off an ugly 6.20 ERA season in Boston, Frieri’s peripherals (11.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9) are significantly better than his ERA. The Pirates have had great success with Melancon in the late innings.
- Catcher Russell Martin, who along with Grilli was a key part of the Pirates’ excellent 2013 season, says he’ll fondly remember Grilli’s tenure with the Bucs, reports Bucs Dugout’s David Manel. “To look back on it can motivate you, it can give you confidence, it can make you believe that what we have here is good,” Martin says. He adds, however, that Grilli struggled after being demoted from the closer’s role. “[J]ust like any athlete, when you’re not doing well and the team’s heading into a different direction, it can leave some sourness,” says Martin “I think Grilli still wanted to be the closer. To have that taken away can be a little frustrating.”
On its face, the deal is a swap of change-of-scenery candidates, and indeed both general managers have described it as such. But context is everything, as always. Frieri is still just shy of 29 years old, and agreed to a $3.8MM salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Meanwhile, Grilli — who is already 37 — is playing out the final year of his two-year pact, under which he is owed $4MM for this season. In sum, while the current salary obligations are a virtual push, the Pirates will also gain the right to control Frieri through arbitration until 2016, if they so choose.
Grilli had served as the Pirates’ primary closing option for most of the past two seasons before being removed from the role recently. The veteran had put together three straight seasons of outstanding pitching in Pittsburgh, tossing a combined 141 1/3 frames of 2.74 ERA ball with 12.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9. But 2014 was a different story, as he is allowing 4.87 earned runs per regulation game, with his strikeouts falling and walks rising (9.3 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9). Some of Grilli’s difficulties can probably be attributed to a susceptibility to the long ball (1.77 HR/9 and 14.3% HR/FB) that may be due for some regression.
Meanwhile, Frieri emerged with the Angels in 2012 after being acquired from the Padres in a rare early-season trade. He went on to put up two good seasons as the Halos’ 9th-inning man, notching a stellar 2.31 ERA in 66 total innings in 2012 before working to a 3.80 mark over 68 2/3 frames last year. As with Grilli, things have gone south quickly: Frieri now sports a 6.39 ERA through 31 innings in 2014. On the other hand, his peripherals (11.0 K/9 vs. 2.6 BB/9 and a 35.3% ground-ball rate that is an improvement over past seasons) suggest at least some hope for a turnaround. Indeed, both xFIP (3.20) and SIERA (2.56) could indicate that Frieri has been somewhat better than his results.
It remains to be seen precisely how the two players will be incorporated into their respective bullpen mixes. Angels manager Mike Scioscia indicated that Grilli will not jump straight into the closer’s role, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (via Twitter), who notes that the club almost certainly intends to move him there in time. “We’ll see where he fits in,” said Scioscia. Of course, subsequent moves could alter things further, as Los Angeles GM Jerry Dipoto indicated in a quote (via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, on Twitter): “This is a step toward addressing those [bullpen] needs, but I’d be surprised if it’s the only step.”
On the other side of things, Pittsburgh has deployed Mark Melancon as its closer since moving Grilli out of the role (and, earlier in the season, while Grilli was rehabbing). It would seem more likely that Frieri ends up working in a set-up capacity, unless Melancon falters. Pirates GM Neal Huntington said that Melancon will indeed be the closer, though he also made mention of Frieri’s experience in that role, reports Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (via Twitter).
We'll keep track of today's smaller deals to avoid arbitration in this post. Click here for background on the upcoming arbitration schedule and how MLBTR is covering it. You can also check in on our Arbitration Tracker and look at MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz's arbitration projections.
Today's noon CT deadline to exchange arb figures has passed, but negotiations to avoid an arbitration hearing can continue into February. The Braves are the only strict "file and trial" team that did not agree to terms with all of its arb-eligible players, meaning they could be headed for several hearings. The Nats and Indians have also shown a willingness to go to a trial and still have some players unsigned. On to today's contract agreements…
- After exchanging numbers, the Mets and pitcher Dillon Gee have agreed to settle at the midpoint of $3.625MM, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Swartz projected Gee to earn $3.4MM.
- The Cubs have avoided arbitration with reliever Pedro Strop, president Theo Epstein told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). He will earn $1.325MM next year, according to a tweet from Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. It is not immediately apparent whether the deal was reached before the sides exchanged terms.
- The Angels have reached agreement on a $3.8MM deal with reliever Ernesto Frieri, reports Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com (on Twitter).
- Mike Minor has agreed to terms on a $3.85MM deal with the Braves to avoid arbitration, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (Twitter links). The deal came before figures were exchanged, Bowman notes.
- Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the D-Backs and lefty Joe Thatcher have avoided arb with a one-year, $2.375MM deal (Twitter link).
- Nicholson-Smith tweets that the Angels and Fernando Salas reached an agreement to avoid arbitration. Salas is the first Halos player to avoid arb. Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times tweets that Salas will earn $870K, which beats out his $700K projection.
- MLB.com's Jason Beck reports (via Twitter) that the Tigers and righty Al Alburquerque have reached agreement on a deal to avoid arb. The hard-throwing righty will earn $837.5K in 2014, tweets Beck.
- Sherman tweets that the Yankees and Ivan Nova avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.3MM deal.
- The Pirates and Vin Mazzaro inked a one-year, $950K deal in lieu of an arbitration hearing, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune.
- The Royals announced that they've avoided arbitration with infielder Emilio Bonifacio. Heyman tweets that Bonifacio will earn $3.5MM in 2014.
- Sherman reports that the Rays avoided arbitration with Jeremy Hellickson and Sean Rodriguez (Twitter link). Hellickson landed a $3.625MM payday with a $25K bonus if he hits 195 innings pitched. Rodriguez will get $1.475MM with a $25K bump for hitting 300 plate appearances.
- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Brian Matusz avoided arb with the Orioles. Sherman adds that he'll earn $2.4MM in 2014.
- MLB.com's Brian McTaggart tweets that Jason Castro and the Astros have avoided arbitration. McTaggart adds in a second tweet that Jesus Guzman avoided arb as well. Heyman reports that Castro will be paid $2.45MM, while Sherman tweets that Guzman will make $1.3MM.
- The Indians tweeted that they've avoided arb with lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that he'll earn $1.375MM in 2014. Bastian adds that Scrabble will earn an additional $25K for appearing in 55 games and another $25K for 60 games.
- The Giants avoided arbitration with Yusmeiro Petit, according to MLBTR's Steve Adams (on Twitter). He'll earn $845K, according to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith (via Twitter).
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The Angels will stick with Ernesto Frieri as the club's closer next year, GM Jerry Dipoto told MLBNetworkRadio host Mel Antonen (link to Twitter; hat tip to Evan Grant). There had been some preliminary links between the Halos and back-end relievers like Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour. (See, e.g., here and here.)
If the Angels are indeed uninterested in signing a closer — or, at least, in signing a former closer to occupy that role at a premium rate — it could mean additional market pressure for an already-crowded group of 9th inning men. Per MLBTR's Tim Dierkes, as reflected in his list of the top-fifty free agents, the Angels were one of a relatively small number of teams that might have been players at the top end of the relief market. If their closer job is not open, one additional closer will presumably be forced to take a lesser deal to throw in earlier innings.
Frieri is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $3.4MM in his first trip through arbitration. Though he managed just a 3.80 ERA in 2013, Frieri threw the last pitch in 37 victories, which significantly boosts his arbitration case.
Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.
The league is full of young closers nowadays, and they all seem to be entering their first year of arbitration at the same time. There are seven different pitchers with at least 16 saves in 2013 who are entering arbitration for the first time, nearly a quarter of the entire league’s closers. Craig Kimbrel has already been discussed in a previous article and his case is far stronger than any of the other pitchers. Aroldis Chapman has a pretty unique case, if not a better one, because he has been an elite closer for two years and will be opting out of a large contract to go through arbitration. Mark Melancon is different than the others as well, because he only really was a closer in the second half of this season, and only due to injury. However, there are a number of similarities between Ernesto Frieri, Steve Cishek, Greg Holland, and Kenley Jansen, and this article will be about the cases for each of them. The model only sees arbitration salaries of $3.4MM for Frieri and $3.2MM for Cishek, while it sees $4.9MM for Holland and $4.8MM For Jansen. In this article, I will explain why the model is making these predictions and discuss whether the actual salaries will diverge this much.
For relievers, the primary determinants of their arbitration salaries are the number of saves they had in their platform season, and the number of saves they had before their platform season, as well as the number of holds in their platform season and pre-platform season. To a lesser extent, platform-year ERA and pre-platform year ERA are important as well, and innings and strikeouts all play a key role too.
Holland has the most platform year saves of the group, with 47 this past year, on top of the 20 pre-platform saves he had. This number along with his 1.21 ERA explains why he had the largest salary projection of this group at $4.9MM. Although Jansen had fewer saves than the others with 28, his 1.88 ERA was better than Cishek’s 2.33 and far better than Frieri’s 3.80 this past season. Combining that with his 2.22 ERA pre-platform (better than the other three) and his 16 holds, and Jansen is projected nearly as high as Holland, with a $4.8MM estimate. Jansen’s 34 pre-platform saves were also the highest of the four, and his 21 pre-platform holds stood only behind Holland’s 27.
Frieri did have 37 saves in 2013 and 23 more beforehand, which is definitely a good case. Although his 3.80 ERA is high for a closer, his 98 strikeouts are way more than Cishek’s 74, but less than Holland’s 103 and Jansen’s 111. Cishek had 34 saves in 2013 with 18 pre-platform. Frieri is projected to get $3.4MM and Cishek is projected for $3.2MM.
The record for closers entering their first year of eligibility still belongs to Jonathan Papelbon at $6.25MM (until Kimbrel breaks this record). His 41 platform year saves and 72 pre-platform saves puts him well ahead of this group. Even Bobby Jenks’ 30 platform year saves were augmented by his 87 pre-platform year saves, putting him ahead of this group when he got a $5.6MM salary back in 2009.
Looking for pitchers who had similar pre-platform saves as well as platform saves is important, since anyone with three years of closing will have earned more than this group of four will. Holland’s 47 platform year save count and 20 pre-platform year save count are a pretty unique pairing, so it will tough to find a perfect comparable. Everyone with over 40 saves in recent memory during their platform years had more pre-platform year saves.
Brian Wilson’s 38 platform-year saves and 48 pre-platform year saves make for an interesting comparable. In 2010, he earned $4.46MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Of course, his 2.74 ERA is far worse than Holland’s 1.21, so there seems to be a good chance that Holland could top this salary. On the other hand, if pre-platform year saves becomes important, than perhaps J.J. Putz’s 2007 numbers of 36 platform-year saves and 10 pre-platform year saves could be a floor—but he only earned $2.7MM. Given how stale that number is at this point, I don’t see Putz’s name coming up in negotiations. I think that Holland will have a hard time arguing for anywhere over $5MM, which is what John Axford earned last year after accumulating 35 platform year saves and 71 pre-platform year saves, so I think that the $4.9MM estimate is probably about right for him.
For Jansen, his 28 pre-platform saves are on the low side, but his 16 holds, 1.88 ERA, and 111 strikeouts augment his case. He also 34 pre-platform year saves and his 2.22 ERA and 236 strikeouts before his platform year are a strength as well, in addition to the 21 holds he had already accumulated. Andrew Bailey’s 2012 arbitration salary of $3.9MM could come up as a comparable for him. He had 24 saves in his platform-year but 51 in his pre-platform year, so he could be argued to be a ceiling for Jansen based on the pre-platform save total. However, his 3.24 platform-year ERA is far behind Jansen’s 1.88 and Jansen’s holds could help make up for the gap in pre-platform saves. Especially given the fact that Bailey had only 41 strikeouts in his platform season, I could see $3.9MM being a floor for Jansen.
Another potential comparable could be Chad Cordero, who received $4.15MM back in 2007. Although this is a stale number at this point, the 29 saves that Cordero had in his platform year are similar to Jansen’s 28, and even though his 62 pre-platform year saves beat Jansen, his 3.19 ERA and 69 strikeouts fall short of him. Furthmore, Jansen’s holds are really unique for a guy who has mostly been a closer and give him a small leg up on other names that keep coming up. In the end, something in the $4.8MM neighborhood could be a good bet, though I could see him ending up with less than this if platform year saves become too large of a factor.
Looking for comparables for Frieri is tricky if the high ERA comes into play. Even though he accumulated 37 saves in 2013, the 3.80 ERA that went along with them is abnormally high for a closer. In recent years, few such pitchers have met their criteria. Axford had a 4.68 ERA going into last year’s negotiations, which yielded him $5MM, but given that he had 71 pre-platform saves, that would dwarf Frieri’s 23, despite the similar number of saves during their platform years. Chad Cordero’s name might make some sense as well, when he earned $4.15MM in 2007, but his 62 pre-platform year saves are also too many to make for a good comparable and an ERA of 3.19 isn’t so bad either.
Another name that could come up in the negotiations over Frieri’s salary is Juan Carlos Oviedo, who had a 4.06 ERA in 2009. He only had 26 saves though and no pre-platform saves. These factors got him only a $2MM salary, which probably is way below what Frieri will receive. Brian Wilson keeps coming up as a ceiling for Frieri. He had 38 platfrom year saves and 48 pre-platfrom year saves, so he has Frieri on the pre-platform year saves, and his 2.74 ERA is much better as well. His $4.46MM salary will almost definitely exceed Frieri’s.
It’s hard to pick anyone who makes sense in between these numbers so really anywhere from $2MM to 4.4MM seems possible for Frieri. Of course, I suspect he’ll be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, so I think that the $3.4MM projection is about right.
Cishek had 34 saves last year, but with only 18 pre-platform saves, he probably has a weaker case than these other closers. Pre-platform year saves matter a lot for first-time eligible closers, so looking for his comparables will entail limiting this. Akinori Otsuka seems to line up in some ways, but his projection is very stale. Back in 2007, he earned $3MM after recording 32 saves and a 2.11 ERA, but he only had 3 saves prior to his platform year. Since Cishek’s ERA was 2.33, it could be that $3MM becomes a floor for Cishek. On the other hand, David Aardsma received $2.75MM in 2010 after recording 38 saves, but those were the first of his career. Given his 18 career holds are similar to Cishek’s 16, and his 2.52 ERA is also near Cishek’s, I could see the Marlins trying to hold down Cishek’s salary by suggesting this comparable.
Of course, if Cishek can downplay the importance of pre-platform saves, he may be able to sneak Brian Wilson’s $4.46MM salary into the argument. Wilson had 38 platform year saves, which is similar to Cishek’s 34, and his 2.74 ERA was higher than Cishek’s 2.33. However, I suspect the 48 pre-platform saves will make it hard to make this argument. Cishek coming in near $3.2MM as he is projected, just above Otsuka’s $3MM and Aardma’s $2.75MM seems likely.
Overall, despite the uncertainty and the difficulties in finding perfect comparables, it seems like the model is probably about right on all four of these guys. Although they each may be used as comparables for each other if one or two sign earlier than the others, drawing their salaries closer together based on the similarities between their platform year and pre-platform year saves, I suspect that the large gap in ERA and strikeouts ends up pushing them further apart, as well as Holland’s standout headline of 47 saves.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.