Scouting the Free Agent Market: Joaquin Benoit

The Yankees have approached the offseason aggressively — Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are all big money import signings – particularly now that Robinson Cano has joined the most dysfunctional team in baseball Mariners.  The team really can’t afford to stop there though, if they wish to compete in 2014.  A quality second/third baseman along with another solid rotation arm is an absolute must.  Additionally, the bullpen needs some revamping too.  Fortunately, there are several relief options and one such option might come in the form of Joaquin Benoit.  Let’s take a look.

The Pros

  • The man knows how to throw strikes (averaged 9.92 K/9 over the past three seasons) and he’s done it in high leverage situations.  Benoit’s done a good job of keeping the ball in the park as well (averaged 1.06 HR/9 over the past three seasons) which would obviously be important in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee stadium. According to PitchFX, Benoit’s fastball velocity has consistently sat around 93 miles per hour over the past few seasons.
  • In terms of overall results, in 2013 he pitched to a 2.01 ERA which ranked fifteenth among active relievers (2.87 FIP, 3.16 xFIP).  Over the past four seasons he produced a 2.49 ERA (3.13 FIP, 3.04 xFIP).  In other words, he’s been productive.
  • Benoit has averaged 67 appearances in each of the past four seasons.  Although no player is guaranteed to remain healthy over the course of the year, it’s good to see some semblance of durability and consistency – particularly from a player in a role that is notoriously volatile when it comes to health and production.
  • Despite Benoit’s effectiveness last season, the Tigers elected to not extend him the qualifying offer. If the Yankees sign him, there would be no draft pick compensation.
  • I don’t envy the man who has to take over the closer role now that Mariano Rivera has retired.  In a way, I’d rather have an “outsider” come in and face the ninth inning pressures instead of David Robertson.  It’s not that I doubt D-Rob’s ability, but we know he can excel in his current role and provide a lot of value, so why screw around with a good thing.  In any event, regardless of who closes between the two of them, some much needed depth will be provided to the relief core with the addition of a guy like Benoit.

The Cons

  • Benoit isn’t a kid anymore. Next season, he’ll turn 37 years old. That’s not exactly a deal breaker, but on a team with several older players on its roster already, it’s not exactly ideal either.
  • For what it’s worth, Benoit does not have a long history of closer experience.  Although he earned 24 saves last season in convincing fashion, he really hasn’t spent much time in the closer role for any extended period of time prior. (I do believe he’s shown himself capable of handling that job though).
  • Although there are several closers available this offseason (not to mention Jonathan Papelbon who’s apparently being shopped), Benoit’s price tag will likely wind up being expensive – both in terms of dollars and years ($8-9M / two years maybe?). Multiple years for another aging veteran might not be worth the risk. On the other hand, I suspect most of the quality relief options will require at least two years so maybe that comes with the territory anyway; I suppose the real question comes down to who do you trust out there over the course of a long grueling season.
  • Comerica Park is a pretty big stadium, and is certainly a pitcher’s paradise compared to the small confines of Yankees Stadium.  Benoit won’t turn into a pumpkin overnight, but his stats will inflate some for sure in NY (though this can be said for any pitcher coming to NY really). Fortunately, he does have good strike out stuff which should help.

The Tigers decision to not give Benoit the qualifying offer doesn’t feel like one of those situations where they know something about him that everyone else doesn’t.  I really do think it’s a matter of dollars and cents, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers ultimately try to retain his services.  As far as the Yankees are concerned, adding one more quality arm with strikeout ability to the bullpen sounds like a great idea.  I’d be all for it.

Pondering the Robinson Cano fiasco

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

I couldn’t help but laugh at the Mariners after their ten-year, $240M offer to Robinson Cano.  That’s such an obscene amount of money for a guy already in his thirties – granted, he is the best at what he does and is arguably one of the top five players currently playing in the game.  Plus, according to pundits, the Mariners organization felt that it was necessary to make a huge splash this offseason as their team has been idling in irrelevancy for several years now.  Well, they certainly accomplished their goal of making a big splash.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the Mariners overestimated what would it would take to sign Cano.  If the best Yankees offer was locked in at $175M as it evidently was — not to mention the fact that Cano was apparently feeling a bit snubbed due the team taking a hard stance with him after the Jacoby Ellsbury signing– I wonder if the Mariners could have stood their ground with a $200M deal and overcome whatever shortcomings their location presumably has.  After all, that’d still be a $25M dollar difference between their offer and that of New York’s.  Maybe Cano prefers playing in NY so much that he is willing to dismiss twenty-five million reasons not to go to Seattle.  Then again, that’s a lot of money so maybe he wouldn’t have been able to resist.

In any event, if the Mariners honestly got the vibe that $200M wouldn’t get it done for them, they probably could have upped the ante to $225 and locked in there.  By that point, there’d be a $50M gap between them and New York, assuming the Yanks didn’t change their mind and offer more which it seems like they were unwilling to do.  I’m not sure how many folks would be able to turn down an offer that was that much more lucrative than another.  The Yanks did Seattle a huge favor by stalling out around $175M and never really giving a super strong impression to Cano’s camp that they’d be willing to bridge the gap between what they were offering and what Cano was asking for.  Maybe it’s an incorrect impression, but it never appeared as though the Mariners were willing to let Cano consider just how much better their initial offer already was to NY’s.  It was as if their great offer was immediately not good enough despite the fact that there wasn’t another offer even remotely close.  If $50M additional dollars doesn’t blow Cano away, maybe that would have been a strong indication that the cost isn’t worth the reward.

Instead, Seattle basically caved in overnight from what was already an excellent offer, and was content to bid against themselves even further. The Mariners increased their offer to ten years, $240M.  Well, congrats, to them.  They obtained Robbie’s services by outbidding the next highest bid by $65M!  Not only does this strike me as a severe overpay, but it was probably an unnecessary one.  Regardless of how Cano’s camp values his abilities, the fact is, at the end of the day he’s only worth as much as teams are willing to pay.  Hypothetically, if the Mariners offered nine years, $225M, they’d still be showing a really strong interest him.  They’d still be blowing New York’s offer out of the water, and I imagine they’d still have a strong chance of winning the bidding with a $50M dollar difference.

To Seattle’s credit, they now employ the best free agent available.  The problem for them now is that their team, as it currently stands, still stinks.  Even if Cano adds ten wins to their record single handedly, which is a stretch of the imagination, I don’t think that’s enough to make them a contender.  They still have a lot of work to do to become relevant again, especially if they want to try and compete during Cano’s prime years.  Along the same lines, as much as I would have loved to see Cano in pinstripes for the remainder of his career, I don’t regret for a second the Yankees not making a counter offer that extreme.  Letting him go was a no brainer at that point.

Enter Sandman

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Mariano Rivera will conclude his remarkable career very soon. The farewell tour has basically come to an end. Unfortunately, once he leaves, he’ll take his patented cutter with him. The greatest closer of all time will presumably hang up his mitt on his own terms, and upon retirement, will instantly join the epic names of Yankee lore. The last #42 in Major League Baseball will depart from the game with dignity and grace. New York fans – baseball fans everywhere, really – will collectively mourn as a man of such notable modesty off the field leaves behind a career that can really only be defined as stellar on it. Statisticians, baseball analysts, fans, and bloggers alike will try to do Mariano’s numbers justice, but they’ll all fall short. His achievements speak for themselves at this point. Two decades of sustained dominance is simply nuts.

So, rather than dissecting Mo’s career (or even trying to digest it for that matter), I want to write about a bit of nostalgia that recently came to mind. The game I remembered occurred back in August of 2010. The Yankees were squaring off against their divisional rival, the Red Sox, naturally. I remember it being one of those dog-days of summer where it was swelteringly hot out; it was the kind of utterly disgusting heat that caused the $10 stadium beer (that should have, at the very least, been ice cold) to taste warm and unsatisfying almost immediately. Our legs felt like they were peeling off the outfield bleachers —  which not coincidentally, was right were my wife (then girlfriend) and I were sitting — every time we shifted in our seats.

A rather ineffective John Lackey started for Boston while former-rotation-stalwart, CC Sabathia, took the mound for New York. The game went about as smoothly as it could have despite the Sox taking an early 2-0 lead after Victor Martinez homered and Mike Lowell snagged another RBI.  I believe it was Lance Berkman who worked the walk and it was Curtis Granderson who brought him home. Ramiro Pena (yeah, he was still in the lineup) ultimately drove in Granderson on a ground out. It wasn’t until about midway through the game though that the combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada (yeah, they were around then too) finally broke the score open. Heading into the ninth inning, the Bombers led 5-2. Despite the blistering heat and general lack of Red Sox momentum the stadium was still full. The game wasn’t over. This was late summer baseball between divisional rivals. My wife and I waited. Everyone knew what was going to happen next.

Queue the iconic Enter Sandman riffs. My wife pointed excitedly as Mariano trotted to the mound in his usual unassuming way. I watched with anticipation as I had so many times before; I had seen Mariano take the stage for the better part of my life and he’s never failed to impress me with his calm demeanor on the mound. Moments later, Victor Martinez grounded out on what was probably three pitches. One out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop fly a few pitches later. Two outs. Boston fan-favorite, Mike Lowell, ended the game with a weak fly ball to center field. In anticlimactic fashion, the game was over. That was it.  The Yanks won 5-2. There were no loaded bases or late game two out heroics. The Yanks just exchanged a few high-fives between the pitcher’s mound and home plate as is their custom. The Sox unceremoniously slunk back into the visitor’s locker room. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York captured the speakers.

It wasn’t one of Mariano’s most notable performances by any means, nor was the game particularly critical to season’s outcome for either ball club. It was really just the opposite actually. Mariano simply notched another save. The team benefited from one more stress free afternoon, and New York fans everywhere enjoyed another day of quality Yankee baseball. Really, it all felt quite routine. But it was special for me nevertheless. It was the first time my wife experienced the new stadium, the first time she got to check out Monument Park, and the first time she saw the World Series trophies in the Yankee Museum. More significantly, it was her first time seeing Mariano pitch live. I remember her watching his performance in disbelief. Mariano dismantled the heart of the opposing team’s lineup like he’s done so many times before — that is to say, with brutal efficiency.  We loved every minute of it.

As for Mo, it was just another save for the record books. There weren’t any fist pumps following the third out. There weren’t any silly superstitious antics or rituals.  There were no invisible arrows flung into the atmosphere, excited shrieks, or violent fist pumps. There was only Mo’s humbling ability to shut opposing batters down and bring happiness to Yankees fans everywhere.  From the moment he made his presence on the field known, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was going to do his job, and do it as well as he always had. But that’s the beauty of Mo, really. He’s a security blanket like no other. He brings peace of mind to everyone. Hell, even the opponents seem to take solace in knowing that if they fail against Mo, it’ll be because they’re supposed to.  On the rare occasions where things go astray, we find ourselves more bewildered than disappointed.

Mariano Rivera, as he had done so many times before, finalized another awesome experience that afternoon at The Stadium and on that particular occasion, my wife and I got to experience it in person together for the first time. I doubt that we will ever get to see someone perform so brilliantly and so constantly in our life time again.  There have been so many memorable Mariano moments both before and after that game against the Red Sox, many of which are certainly far more significant to the team’s glorious history. That’s the one that happened to pop into my mind though, and I’m happy about that. 

Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Mariano. We’ll miss you and we wish you a happy, fulfilling retirement.

Random musings on a Wednesday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. As Mike noted in the recap, Andy Pettitte has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees for several weeks now, and it hasn’t even really been close.  On the off chance the Yankees somehow find their way into the play-in game, you’d have to give Andy the nod at this point.  Right?  It’s pretty nuts how the oldest pitcher in the game is basically the stalwart of the rotation once again, but baseball is weird like that.  Plus, as we all know, Andy is a True Yankee™ and knows how to get it done.  (Now if only the rest of the damn team were capable.)  Unfortunately, even if the Yankees manage to squeak into the playoffs, they aren’t exactly geared for a run.  Even in a crapshoot environment, having one capable starting pitcher and Robinson Cano is generally not enough to win a series.

2. I typically don’t put too much stock into a manager’s influence on a team other than the in-game decisions that he makes.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s great that some of the managers are able to deflect the media off the players or deploy a shift appropriately, but ultimately, I’ve always kind of put the burden on the players at the end of the day.  I have to give Joe Girardi some major credit this season though.  He’s had to cope with far more challenges than most of his peers I think.  The team had a disappointing offseason heading into the year, and has been saddled with injuries ever since.  Despite a (-17 run differential, 74-77 Pythag. record), the Yankees have miraculously managed to retain hope of playoff contention (though that’s rapidly fading) late into the season.  Many of us (including me) didn’t see that happening when they were having that awful stretch in August.  It’d be pretty cool if he won the Manager of the Year Award this go around.  Well done, Joe.

3. Last night on Twitter, I somewhat sarcastically stated that the team had more non-hitters in its lineup at this point then hitters.  The more I thought about it though, the more my sentiments kind of rang true.  Here was last night’s lineup along with their respective wRC+.

  1. CF Curtis Granderson (109 wRC+)
  2. DH Alex Rodriguez (131 wRC+)
  3. 2B Robinson Cano (140 wRC+)
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano (108 wRC+, 122 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay (90 wRC+)
  6. 3B Mark Reynolds (98 wRC+, 121 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  7. RF Ichiro Suzuki (72 wRC+)
  8. SS Brendan Ryan (45 wRC+, 75 wRC+ since joining the Yankees)
  9. C Chris Stewart (56 wRC+)

Having Overbay batting fifth hurts a lot, though probably not as much as the offensive void that is Suzuki, Ryan, and Stewart.  It’s tough to score runs when five of your players are below-average hitters overall.  I suppose, if there is silver lining to be seen here, it’s that some of these castoffs have been offensively revived a bit since joining the Yankees.  So, kudos to you New York for maximizing talent from sub-par or aging players.  Also, please stop putting the team in the position of having to depend on so many sub-par or aging players at once.

4. This has definitely been the season of “what ifs,” at least for me anyway.  What if the Yankees had a capable catcher all year?  What if CC Sabathia didn’t fall off a cliff?  What if Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira were around all season?  Could the Yankees have that elusive Wild Card spot locked up already if they caught a break, anywhere really?  Possibly.  Probably.  I don’t know.  Unfortunately “what ifs” are just that.  Useless hypotheticals.  That said, it’s incredibly frustrating that in spite of the circumstances, the Yankees have had more than a fair opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Rays and Rangers have gone out of their way to play miserable baseball for weeks now.  Meanwhile, the Orioles and Indians seem to be more than willing to concede their playoff berth as well as they’ve both had plenty of timely losses.  I don’t know where I’m going with this last point other than if the team winds up missing the playoffs – and they probably will – they have no one to blame but themselves.  Unfortunately, as Mike noted in his rant the other day, if they do make the playoffs, it’ll probably further mask some of the more serious underlying concerns surrounding the team heading forward.