Joaquin Benoit Rumors

Relief Rumors: Tigers, Axford, Cubs, Mujica, Rox

Another busy day is shaping up at the Winter Meetings, and there's already no shortage of rumors regarding the relief market. The biggest news on that front is that the Orioles are considered the favorites for Grant Balfour, but here's the latest elsewhere on the bullpen market…

  • With Rajai Davis now in the fold in Detroit, the Tigers will shift their focus to bullpen upgrades, tweets ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.
  • Unless Joaquin Benoit gives up his pursuit of a closer job, the Tigers are out on him, tweets Jason Beck of MLB.com. 
  • The Indians are one team that's been linked to John Axford, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, who notes that previous reports have linked him to the Orioles, Mariners and Cubs.
  • The Cubs are in on relievers, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, but a free-agent signing is more likely than a trade. The Cubs were linked to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard yesterday.
  • MLBTR's Tim Dierkes hears (Twitter link) that the Cubs were in on Edward Mujica on a one-year deal prior to his two-year agreement with the Red Sox. Tim opines that Mujica may have been able to make more money in the long run that way — a sentiment with which I agree.
  • Last night, the Denver Post's Troy Renck reported that the Rockies are pushing to acquire a late-inning reliever, and this morning he reports that something could get done as soon as today (Twitter link).

Zach Links contributed to this post.

 


Rockies Rumors: Pomeranz, Davis, Anderson, Hammel

The Rockies haven't made any moves yet in Orlando, but they're expected to be active this week, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post. Renck passed along a few tidbits of note in a Monday piece for the Denver Post, so let's round up the highlights and check in on a few more Rockies items from other reporters….

  • The Rockies have talked to practically ever hard-throwing free agent reliever, with Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour among the pitchers they'd most like to land. However, the price tags on both players will likely preclude serious bids from Colorado, says Renck.
  • Colorado will be open-minded about moving Drew Pomeranz, particularly in a deal for another starter, Renck hears, noting within a Sulia post that the team has some interest in Wade Davis.
  • Brett Anderson is another trade candidate who interests the Rockies, but the club's talks with the Athletics are "slowly fading," tweets Renck. While Anderson isn't necessarily off the table for Colorado, there's no traction for now.
  • MLB.com's Thomas Harding reports that the Rockies are kicking the tires on Jason Hammel, who spent three seasons with the team from 2009 to 2011. Harding also confirms that Colorado has interest in Michael Morse, which we had heard about previously.

Phillies Notes: Free Agency, Morse, Ruiz, Buck

Here's the latest from the City of Brotherly Love…



AL Notes: Napoli, Tigers, Orioles, Ryan

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred testified, during the Alex Rodriguez arbitration hearing, baseball did not concern itself if Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch distributed illegal substances to minors and was only interested in possible criminal activity involving players. Today, Manfred called the report "ridiculous" telling Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his testimony was "totally out of context and mischaracterized" and accused the A-Rod camp of leaking the story. "The larger point is this: From our perspective, one of the reasons we pursue cases like the A-Rod case is we think players should be role models for kids," Manfred explained to Haudricourt. "It's almost comical that A-Rod, who already has admitted in the past he used steroids, would express an opinion on our stance on children and PEDs." The hearing will resume next month. In other news and notes from the American League:

  • Mike Napoli's strong postseason is further proof his avascular necrosis is not an issue as he enters free agency for the second time, reports MLB.com's Lindsay Berra. Napoli was frustrated by having to settle for a one-year, $5MM deal (incentives pushed the eventual value to $13MM) after a three-year, $39MM contract was scrapped because of the AVN diagnosis. "I waited seven years for free agency and then got an opportunity, and it got taken away because of something I didn't even know I had and had never had any pain from," said Napoli. "I'm a little more confident about negotiating a contract now that I've shown all year that my hips aren't an issue, but I'm sure I'm going to have to go through all the steps again, with all the MRIs and talking to doctors."
  • There are six questions the Tigers must answer this offseason, writes MLive.com's Chris Iott. Among the answers, Iott predicts Jim Leyland will return as manager, the Tigers will not re-sign Jhonny Peralta (despite his desire to remain in Detroit), but will re-sign Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante
  • The Orioles don't have a lot of inventory to deal this winter after trading away six players in midseason acquisitions, writes Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Steve Johnson head the list of tradeable players, according to Dubroff.
  • Nolan Ryan left his imprint on the Rangers, especially the pitching staff, with his attitude and focus on conditioning, opines Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
  • Ryan received a $10MM buyout (his ownership stake plus incentives) when he announced his retirement from the Rangers, Grant reports in separate article. However, according to Forbes, Ryan wound up losing money on his ownership investment. Ryan's original equity interest was valued at $13MM (6% ownership); but, dwindled to $7MM (1% ownership) because he declined to participate in various cash calls to cover his share of the losses the franchise incurred.

Free Agent Profile: Joaquin Benoit

Signed to be a setup man for All-Star closer Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit found himself assuming his former teammate's role in 2013 after the Tigers endured significant ninth inning problems early in the season. The 36-year-old didn't miss a beat in his new role, turning in the second best ERA+ of his career (209) and racking up 24 saves. Benoit will head into free agency coming off a season in which he posted a 2.01 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 67 innings.

Strengths/Pros

Like many of today's late-inning specialists, Benoit makes his money by racking up strikeouts. He's fanned 295 batters against just 72 walks over his past 259 2/3 innings at the big league level. Benoit-JoaquinBenoit maybe 36 years old, but his velocity is as strong as ever. His 94.1 mph average fastball trails only Joel Hanrahan, Fernando Rodney, Matt Lindstrom, Joba Chamberlain and Jesse Crain among free agent right-handed relievers. Unlike Hanrahan and Crain, Benoit isn't coming off a serious injury. Unlike Chamberlain, he's enjoyed a dominant season.

In addition to strong velocity, Benoit's swinging-strike rate is the best in among free agent relievers. Opposing batters swing through 13.6 percent of his pitches; his changeup is his best pitch, with hitters whiffing at the pitch 24.7 percent of the time he threw it in 2013 (a mark that best's Rodney's 23.5 percent mark).

Over the past four seasons, the only potential free agents who have appeared in more games than Benoit are Matt Belisle and Chad Qualls. Belisle has a $4.25MM club option, making it more likely that Benoit hits the market as one of the two most durable relief arms since 2010. Despite his dominance, it's highly unlikely that the Tigers make a qualifying offer and risk his salary jumping from $5.5MM to $14MM. He won't be tied to draft pick compensation.

Weaknesses/Cons

Benoit's been durable for the past four seasons, but he was out of baseball entirely in 2009 thanks to surgery on his right rotator cuff. From 2003-09, Benoit had four separate DL stints for shoulder-related ailments and two DL stints for right elbow issues. Neither joint has been an issue for Benoit since 2009, but it's tough to completely look past that type of injury history when looking at a multiyear deal for a 36-year-old reliever.

Benoit's walk rates have been great since returning from that shoulder surgery, but his BB/9 has risen each season since posting a stellar 1.6 BB/9 in 2010. He jumped to 2.5 in 2011, 2.8 in 2012 and 3.0 in 2013.

Benoit posted a 4.38 ERA in September, and he's allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings of postseason work thus far. He won't have the benefit a strong finish heading into free agency.

Personal

Benoit resides in his hometown of Santiago in the Dominican Republic each offseason. He has a daughter and is active in the Detroit community, participating in campaigns such as Tigers Dreams Come True and the Tigers Autographed Memoribilia Program.

Market

The Tigers deployed Benoit as their closer for much of the season with great success, and his departure means they'll have a void in the ninth inning. Internal candidates Jose Veras and Bruce Rondon could be looked at as cheaper alternatives, but it stands to reason that the Tigers will show interest in re-upping Benoit after three strong years with the club.

Benoit will see serious competition in the form of Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour and Rodney. Like Benoit, all three right-handers are strikeout machines with ninth inning experience that will pitch next season at 36 years of age or older. Unfortunately for Benoit, his ninth inning experience is more limited than that group of peers, and right or wrong, some teams will still pay for saves on the open market. Agent Jamie Appel of ACES can, however, point to the fact that Benoit is younger than Rodney and Nathan and offers better command than Balfour.

Expected Contract

In a recent edition of MLBTR's Free Agent Faceoff series, I compared Benoit and Balfour side-by-side, and more than 69 percent of the 5,600 respondents said they would prefer to sign Balfour. Whether or not that matches the perception among teams remains to be seen.

Benoit was in a better position before it was learned that Nathan is able to void the $9.5MM option on his contract and before Brian Wilson came back strong with the Dodgers. Despite the fact that he has more competition than originally anticipated, however, his dominant performance over the past four seasons should leave him with no problem in securing a multiyear deal.

Tim Dierkes predicted that Nathan, one of Benoit's chief competitors on the open market, will receive a two-year, $26MM pact. Benoit doesn't have near the same track record that Nathan possesses, but he figures to command a two-year deal of his own at a lesser rate, and something in the vicinity of two years and $16MM sounds right for Benoit.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Faceoff: Grant Balfour vs. Joaquin Benoit

MLBTradeRumors is firing up this year's vesion of the Free Agent Faceoff series, in which two comparable free agents are analyzed side by side. Each post will conclude with a reader vote on the value of the two players.

The free agent market for relievers with closing experience isn't exactly stacked this year, nor is it a particularly youthful crop. However, if you're looking for a solid arm with ninth inning experience that's still plenty successful in spite of his age, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour are two of the better guys to turn to.

Balfour, a native of Australia, has served as Oakland's closer for the past two seasons and was their setup man in 2011. He's thrived in both roles, posting a combined 2.57 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 37 percent ground-ball rate in 196 1/3 innings. His FIP (3.43) and xFIP (3.63) both suggest that his ERA could come up a good deal. He's averaged 93 mph on his heater in that time but is averaging an even more impressive 93.4 mph in 2013. Balfour has also shown an ability to suppress home runs throughout his career — just 7.9 percent of fly-balls against him have gone for homers. He will turn 36 years old in late December.

Benoit turned 36 in July and has similar stats to Balfour. He's posted a 2.89 ERA with 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 38.9 percent ground-ball rate in 193 1/3 innings since 2011. He throws noticably harder — averaging 93.9 mph on his fastball and sitting at 94.1 mph in 2013 — and generates more swinging strikes than Balfour (14.9 percent compared to 9.1 percent). However, Benoit has proven more susceptible to the long ball, yielding more homers in 2012 alone than Balfour has in 2012-13 combined.  For his career, 9.9 percent of the fly-balls hit against Benoit have gone for homers. Like Balfour, Benoit has outperformed both FIP (3.39) and xFIP (3.27) over the past three seasons.

Both Balfour and Benoit will pitch most of next season at 36 (Benoit will turn 37 just prior to the trade deadline). Both average a strikeout per inning or better with solid command and a fly-ball profile, and both have done well when handed a closer's job late in their careers. It can be argued that Benoit's advantage in strikeouts and walks can be offset by Balfour's stingier ways with home runs, lower ERA and slight age advantage, begging the question…



Quick Hits: Moreno, Pujols, Tejada, Benoit

Angels owner Arte Moreno is already in the process of evaluating the 2013 season and how to get the team back on track in 2014, as he explained in an interview with Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com.  Moreno said that the jobs of manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto would be evaluated as part of an organization-wide review that includes himself — "I have to look in the mirror and say, 'Am I making the right call?'" Moreno said.  The owner also discussed roster moves that backfired, stadium talks with the city of Anaheim, how the Dodgers' success impacts the Angels and several other topics.

Here are more items as we wrap up a busy Monday in baseball…

  • Albert Pujols will be shut down for the rest of the season, the Angels confirmed today.  The slugger suffered a partial tear of the plantar facia of his left foot and hasn't played since July 26.  Pujols was bothered by foot injuries for much of the year and hit .258/.330/.437 with 17 homers in 443 PA, the worst season of his 13-year career.
  • Miguel Tejada was also facing a suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal before accepting his 105-game suspension for amphetamine use, ESPN's Pedro Gomez reports.  Major League Baseball gave Tejada the choice of accepting his 105-game ban or facing further punishment for his Biogenesis ties.  Gomez notes that Tejada "insists he does not plan to retire" though given Tejada's suspension, age (39) and decline in production, it's tough to see a team signing him this winter.  After not playing in the majors in 2012, Tejada hit .288/.317/.378 over 167 PA in a reserve role with the Royals this year.
  • Joaquin Benoit in a much better contractual position as he approaches free agency this winter than he was in the 2009-10 offseason.  MLB.com's Zack Meisel talks to Benoit about how he considered retirement due to shoulder injuries that caused him to miss the entire 2009 season, but rebounded to become one of the game's better relievers and now the Tigers closer.
  • Scott Boras and Jay Z have a fundamental disagreement about the role of an agent, Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal explains.  "It is at once a clash of egos and ideas. At issue: To what extent are established agents like Boras missing out on marketing and endorsement opportunities for their clients? And to what extent should a baseball player even care?" Costa writes.  Robinson Cano, the top free agent of the coming offseason, made waves when he left Boras in April and hired CAA and Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports to handle his representation.

Quick Hits: MVP, V-Mart, Wang, Bullpens

A few stray items of note on this Thursday evening …


Quick Hits: Mortensen, Dodgers, Benoit

On this date 101 years ago Cy Young became the first pitcher in baseball history to win 500 games. We don’t pay too much attention to pitcher wins at MLBTR, but 500 of them sure are impressive. Here’s the latest from around the league…

  • Clayton Mortensen told Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post that his goal is simple: maintain a spot on the Major League roster for as long as possible. The right-hander has a 2.01 ERA through 22 1/3 innings in his first season with the Rockies.
  • An attorney for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt told Bill Shaikin of the LA Times that they aren't even thinking about selling the team (Twitter link).
  • The Joaquin Benoit deal won’t be a total waste of money, but will be a bad contract, according to Jamie Samuelsen at the Detroit Free Press. Benoit signed a three-year, $16.5M deal with the Tigers over the winter and has since posted a 7.98 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 14 2/3 innings. 
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Mets GM Sandy Alderson talk to Newsday’s Ken Davidoff about the challenge of balancing a team’s needs with personal relationships with players.

Checking In On Former Rays Relievers

Six prominent Rays relievers hit free agency and signed elsewhere for a total of $67.65MM last offseason (for reference, the Rays’ payroll has surpassed that figure exactly once since 2000). We know how the Rays' new 'pen is working out (pretty well, so far) but let’s check in on last year’s relievers:

  • Rafael Soriano – three years/$35MM, Yankees – After allowing 12 earned runs and 14 walks in 62 1/3 innings last year, Soriano has allowed 9 earned runs and 9 walks in 14 innings this year. His ERA is approaching 6.00, his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is up. What's more, he underwent an MRI on his right elbow this week. It doesn't appear that he'll need DL time, as there's only mild inflammation. Still, Brian Cashman must be shaking his head over this one.
  • Joaquin Benoit – three years/$16.5MM, Tigers – Benoit has already allowed more earned runs (10) in 2011 than he did all of last year (9). After allowing just 30 hits in 60-plus innings last year, he has allowed 17 hits in 13 2/3 frames for his new club. The spike in hit rate is no doubt related to the fact that opponents had an improbably low average on balls in play against Benoit last year (.192) that has since risen to an unusually high level (.356). His strikeout (7.2 K/9) and walk (2.6 BB/9) numbers have fallen off, though they're still strong. 
  • Grant Balfour - two years/$8.1MM, Athletics – Balfour's walks are up, but he is still striking out over a batter per inning and his ERA is under 2.00.
  • Dan Wheeler – one year/$3MM, Red Sox – Wheeler, currently on the DL, has an 11.32 ERA for the Red Sox despite an 8K/1BB ratio through 11 appearances. Wheeler appears to be unlucky in terms of opponents' batting average on balls in play (.389) and home run per fly ball rate (21%).
  • Chad Qualls - one year/$2.55MM, Padres – Qualls has replaced Ryan Webb in the Padres' 'pen and has already pitched 20 2/3 innings. The results are good so far despite a drop in Ks, as Qualls has limited baserunners and been considerably more fortunate than he was in 2010.
  • Randy Choate – two years/$2.5MM, Marlins – Choate has been excellent so far; the lefty specialist has an 11K/2BB ratio and a 1.50 ERA in his first 14 appearances as a Marlin.

The early results are disappointing, as Wheeler and Soriano are dealing with injuries and Benoit hasn’t come close to replicating his 2010 performance. The results will likely improve for Wheeler and Benoit, who have been unlucky so far. But this group probably won’t reproduce the 2010 performances that helped the Rays win the AL East. Reliever performance is simply volatile, even for pitchers who appear to be safe investments.