Type-A Relievers: Death To Value

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte
Prospect Profile: Manny Banuelos

As much as baseball needs instant replay, the Elias free agent ranking system is perhaps in need of even more help. The rankings are generally laughable, and if you happen to be dubbed a Type-A free agent as a reliever, your value generally plummets once (if) your old club offers arbitration. We saw this two years ago with Juan Cruz, a guy that had posted 12+ K/9’s for consecutive years but couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to give up a high pick. I actually wrote a post imploring the Yankees to sign him since, at the time, they would have only surrendered a measly fourth round pick because of their first three picks were gone already, but that’s an extreme case.

Now that we know which players have been offered arbitration and will require draft pick compensation, we can cross them off our winter wish list…

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Grant Balfour

The Rays are going to be swimming in draft picks next year; they have seven ranked free agents including three Type-A’s, meaning they could come into ten extra picks if they all sign elsewhere. One of those Type-A’s is Balfour, the hard-throwing Australian that has done fine work out of Tampa’s bullpen over the last few seasons. He’s struck out 234 batters in 203 innings with the Rays, getting his walk rate down to just 2.8 per nine last season. He is a fly ball pitcher, which would have been a bit of a problem in Yankee Stadium, but when you factor in the draft pick compensation, any chance of the Yankees pursuing him just went out the window.

Frank Francisco

(AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)

Francisco, 31,  was just about the only reliever I identified this winter as a potential buy low candidate for the Yankees. He’s coming off a strained rib cage that kept him out from the end of August right through Texas’ World Series run, so his stock is on the low side just because of that. His numbers have been nothing short of fantastic over the last three years, however. Francisco has struck out exactly 200 batters while walking just 54 unintentionally in 165.1 innings since 2008 thanks to his fastball-splitter combo, but the big drawback is that he can be homer prone (18 HR allowed during that time). I didn’t have him in mind as the undisputed eighth inning guy, just another high strikeout reliever to add to the bullpen.

The Rangers have a ton of hard throwing relievers in their bullpen, plus the newly minted Rookie of the Year at closer, so Francisco seemed like a slightly expensive luxury they could afford to let walk. He earned $3.265M last season, a nice chunk of change for a reliever, and an arbitration hearing could push him up to $4M. I didn’t expect Texas to offer him arb yesterday, but they did. The required draft pick compensation takes him completely off my radar. For shame.

Jason Frasor

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Yankee fans have seen enough of Frasor during his time with the Blue Jays, and in fact they’ve seen him pitch in just about every relief role imaginable; long relief, middle innings, setup, ROOGY, closer, you name it. The 33-year-old finally found his way as a strikeout/semi-ground ball pitcher over the last two seasons, making the jump from solid to very good. Frasor has struck out just about a batter per inning (121 in 121.1 IP) and has kept the walks down (34 unintentional) during that time, and his grounder rate jumped to 43.4% in 2010. He had been just north of 38% before that, which isn’t all that bad either.

Toronto offered the Type-A free agent yesterday, so once again a team will have to surrender a high draft pick to sign a fungible reliever. For super-elite performers like Rafael Soriano, that’s fine. For anyone less than that, it’s a legit deal-breaker. Frasor earned $2.65M last season and is certain to get a bump up and over the $3M hump, which is fine on a one-year deal, even if you include a club option, but once you add in that draft pick, it’s just not worth it.

* * *

Arbitration offers, and really the broken Elias ranking formula, killed the free agent value of Balfour, Francisco and Frasor. Unless a team has multiple first round picks or has already surrendered their top pick for signing another free agent, chances are they’ll look at these three and realize that there are some comparable arms out there that don’t require free agent compensation. The system’s broken and needs to be fixed, but we all know that already. There’s a good chance that all three of these righties will accept their team’s offer of arbitration, simply because the market won’t offer them much.

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte
Prospect Profile: Manny Banuelos
  • Accent Shallow

    I can see someone overpaying Balfour, but I think the other two are stuck.

  • YankeesJunkie

    The Yankees should just stick to using the guys from the minors and cheap pick ups and deals at the deadline. I would not be surprised to see a Banuelos or Brackman coming up in late August or September to give the Yankees some bullpen help down the stretch as they will be reaching the end of their season and Banuelos will be close to 120-140 IP will be close to be shut down for the year.

    • http://soxandpinstripes.net Angelo

      I wouldn’t really bank on ManBan or Brackman to reach the big leagues AND pitch well at that. It’s completely possible, but I doubt the Yankees would bet on it. Either way, they’ll probably just pick up some cheap guys here and there and just stack some guys in Triple-A. That recipe has seemed to work decently well in recent years.

      • YankeesJunkie

        I think there is an outside shot of one them getting time especially Brackman. He will most likely spend most of 2011 in AAA and if he can pitch well in AAA I would not be surprised if they give him a few innings in the majors to see what he can do at the very least.

        • Johnny O

          I could see Brackman getting about 8-10 IP in September but that’s it. Honestly, I’d rather see a recently drafted college RP, someone like Tommy Kahnle, race through the system and get a few innings.

          Why rush ManBan? Dude won’t be 20 until March. No need to risk anything with our number 1 pitching prospect just to see him in the 6th inning of a blowout against Toronto in mid September.

          • Not Tank the Frank

            This. No need to mess with the top guns. Arms like Noesi and Phelps are closer to the bigs and should contribute to the pen.

        • http://soxandpinstripes.net Angelo

          Yeah, like I said, it’s completely possible. I expect Brackman to pitch a few innings at the major league level, but I wouldn’t bank on him pitching well and I doubt the Yankees are.

  • Thomas

    We saw this two years ago with Juan Cruz, a guy that had posted 12+ K/9?s for consecutive years but couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to give up a high pick. I actually wrote a post imploring the Yankees to sign him

    Luckily, the Yanks didn’t sign him, because he just fell off a cliff when he got to KC. In his first year, his K/9 dropped to 6.8 with walks staying over 5 per 9. His ERA and WHIP ballooned to 5.72 and 1.49, respectively. Then last season, he was hurt pitching only 5 innings.

    The thought process was good, but it just wouldn’t have worked out. Again, this just shows the volatility of relievers and why you shouldn’t go and sign big name relievers.

  • yankees1717

    i was thinking about relievers and draft pick compensation, and i came up with an idea.
    say we used a stat like WAR to determine draft-pick compensation? say the system was like this
    4+ WAR: Type A
    2+ WAR: Type B
    I think this would be fair. Relievers’ markets would not be hurt, the top players would still cost picks, it works out for everybody. Thoughts?

    Also, i know WAR has flaws. it’s more the idea of WAR than the actual stat itself.

    • Hughesus Christo

      WAR isn’t an absolute? Wouldn’t know here.

      • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

        You’re bitter towards 90% of the commenters at a site you freely choose to comment on? Shocking!

      • yankees1717

        WAR isn’t absolute, it’s just the best we’ve got to determine a player’s value vs. other players that don’t play the same style or position.

    • sleepykarl

      And then the great debate of fWAR vs bWAR will come to a bloody end.

  • Chris

    Unless a team has multiple first round picks or has already surrendered their top pick for signing another free agent,

    I think this is key, and why the Yankees may end up with one of these guys. Assuming they sign Lee, they’ll already have given up their first round pick and giving up a late second round pick (probably around pick 80) isn’t nearly as much to give up. If they’re still on the market in late January/February, I could see Cashman swooping in and picking up one of these guys on a cheap deal.

    • Matty Ice

      Not to mention losing our second round pick will hurt a lot less now that we have the supplemental pick from the Vazquez situation.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Any way if the Tigers signed one of these guys the Sox would get a 2nd round pick for V-Mart? I’m guessing not but I’m not 100% sure how the ranking system works.

    If that did (or could) happen, I’m sure ESPN would petition MLB to change the rules.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      VMart has an 87.054 rating. The only players rated higher are: Jeter, Lee, Soriano, Werth. So if they signed Werth, Philly would get their 1st pick and Boston would receive their 2nd round.


      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        That’s what I figured. The system is so screwed up as is, I was hoping it was even further screwed up.

        • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

          There’s still hope Tigers sign Werth though, 50m off the books so Dombrowski isn’t done spending yet.

  • Oliver Queen

    Would it be possible to make all free agent relievers simply Type B’s? That way, teams are still compensated for losing them, but the reliever isn’t thrown under the bus by a flawed system.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      Teams would then complain about getting the same compensation for [Established Closer] as [Middle Reliever]; which seems flawed as well.

      • Oliver Queen

        Well, right now teams get about the same compensation for Rafael Soriano [established closer] and Grant Balfour [middle reliever].

        I don’t mean every free agent reliever is awarded Type B status, only the ones that would have qualified for Type A or B in the first place.

        • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

          Yes MRs sneaking into Type A is a problem, but forcing elite guys like Soriano down to the level of Choate, Dotel, Durbin, Feliciano, Fuentes, Gregg, and Aaron Heilman isn’t a better system.

          • Chris

            Yes it is. Soriano is closer to Choate, Dotel, etc than he is to Cliff Lee.

    • A.D.

      Just don’t make relievers have type A status, or include them in pitchers as a whole, so if a reliever puts up a great season he gets status.

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S

      Joaquim Soria/Rafael Soriano/Mariano Rivera/Neftali Feliz >>>> Scott Downs/Grant Balfour/Jason Frasor/Frank Francisco

      • Oliver Queen

        But Joaquim Soria/Rafael Soriano/Mariano Rivera/Neftali Feliz =/= Cliff Lee/CC Sabathia/other Type A starters.

        And the current system says they are.

  • vin

    No mention of Scott Downs? He’s obviously not a buy-low candidate since he’s been so good, and is left-handed. However, in a perfect world, he would absolutely be on the Yanks’ radar if they didn’t have to give up a pick (to a division rival no-less).

  • Slugger27

    the fact that guys like arthur rhodes, aj pierzynski, and miguel tejada have the same free agent compensation as cliff lee is just sickening.

    let that sink in. our system assumes there should be no compensation differenc between losing cliff lee and miguel tejada

    • Hughesus Christo

      That’s not really the case. The system establishes a maximum compensation that begins to be awarded at a level beneath Miguel Tejada and includes anyone above him–Cliff Lee being one of those people.

      I’m not sure how to handle relievers fairly. Placing them in the general pool with starters probably ends up underprotecting a number of SPs (who also get paid more). Tightening the criteria for Type A status might work on relievers only, but that feels unfair as well.

      • Slugger27

        The system establishes a maximum compensation that begins to be awarded at a level beneath Miguel Tejada and includes anyone above him–Cliff Lee being one of those people.

        right, exactly. that’s what the problem is.

        • Hughesus Christo

          How is that a problem? Unless you’re proposing an uncapped ceiling on compensation combined with case-by-case evaluation of each free agent, that’s a fact of life. There will be a point at which maximum compensation begins, and every above that point will demand the same amount in exchange for signing.

          Miguel Tejada is on the top compensation tier because he provides his production at a weak position.

  • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

    As bad as the save statistic is, it drives up demand for relievers. Perhaps they could make a minimum amount of saves be required to achieve type A status. Teams will always sign guys who got, say, 20+ saves the year before.

  • pete

    I still can’t believe that there’s an actual pitcher in the Majors – one who struggles with command, no less – named Balfour. Good one, cosmos.