Are Lefty Relievers the New Market Inefficiency?
With the signing of Hong-Chih Kuo and the DFA of Mike Wilson, you can credibly claim that left-handed relievers make up a full 15% of the M’s 40-man roster. The M’s bullpen will see plenty of competition for innings amongst its lefty specialists, with George Sherrill and Kuo battling it out for the high-leverage innings, with Lucas Luetge around to face lefties in low-leverage situations (that a manager might actually bring in a situational reliever in low-leverage situations is exactly the problem Dave was talking about here), and Charlie Furbush to face lefty-heavy line-ups as the long man/swing starter. Cesar Jimenez may be there too, lamenting the fact that he learned a change-up and not a slider.
The addition of Shawn Camp is perhaps more baffling – a 36 year-old righty who’s seen his Ks drop in each of the past three seasons. There’s no question that he can get grounders, but without some luck in his HR prevention, he would’ve been replacement level last year. Now, Camp may be the latest journeyman to sinkerball his way to success in the M’s bullpen, following Roy Corcoran, Jamey Wright and David Pauley, but middle-relief wasn’t a problem last year. Not only did the M’s post a respectable bullpen ERA/FIP in 2011, they had one of the best ground-ball rates in the league.
Ultimately, I’m not concerned with these specific moves – Kuo was unbelievably, historically awesome in 2010, and Camp’s been a reliable, durable guy in the Blue Jays bullpen for years. I’m also sure it’s not a matter of consciously focusing on acquiring relievers, and that the team would say that Kuo/Camp just sort of fell into their laps. But ultimately, I’ve got two problems with that. First, it’s a horrible metaphor. Aside from the improbability of it all, what on earth would compel you to offer an employment contract to the interloper if it DID happen? Second, all of this welcome competition in the ‘pen means less competition amongst the position players. You know, where the M’s could seriously use some
Mike Wilson is probably a AAAA player, but there’s a chance he could be useful as a bench bat versus lefties. You’re absolutely right that “questionable left fielders” was the one spot more oversubscribed than “LOOGY” on the M’s roster, but frankly I’d rather see more debate and argument at that position. Sure, Wilson is something like a poor man’s Caspar Wells, but given the latter’s balance issues, maybe it’s handy to have one or two of those around. Ultimately, this is really an argument about two things. First, the automatic assumption that a team that’s not scored 600 runs since 2009 needs a seven-man bullpen. Second, that the M’s aren’t focused on wringing every run they can out of the current roster. The team correctly identified 3B as a position of weakness, and instead of picking up a Russ Canzler (who suddenly became one of the most talked about players of the off-season), they signed Carlos Guillen – someone not medically cleared to push paper, let alone Kyle Seager. Canzler may not offer much of an upgrade over Vinnie Catricala, the M’s corner-something (LF? 3B? 1B?) prospect, and if that’s the reasoning, so be it. I’m all for the M’s using guys like Catricala this year. He’s on the 40-man and Guillen isn’t. So why do I feel like the M’s might go with Guillen over Catricala and/or Luis Rodriguez?
If any team is in a position to buck the trend and go with a bigger bench, it’s the M’s. They’ve got depth in the back of the rotation, with guys like Erasmo Ramirez and Forrest Snow on hand if Hisashi Iwakuma re-injures his shoulder or if Hector Noesi/Blake Beavan falters. They have 5 very solid relievers in Sherrill, League, Kelley, Wilhelmsen and Ruffin, which doesn’t even count the electric but troubled Kuo. They also have relief prospects in the high minors with Stephen Pryor and Snow, and they’ve got some talent in SP roles who could help out if need be – Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Brandon Maurer, etc. The M’s don’t need to carry so much of that depth on the active roster, though. Instead, they could focus on match-ups at the plate – they could put some of the youngsters in a position to succeed by getting them PAs against opposite-handed pitchers, and they could deploy John Jaso, Caspar Wells, or Vinnie Catricala for a late-game pinch hitting role. Mike Wilson doesn’t seem like much, but right now the M’s have Chih-Hsien Chang, Johermyn Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Trayvon Robinson and Michael Saunders on the 40-man. I’m all for quality over quantity, but in the absence of bankable quality, can we at least have a decent quantity of hitters and not relievers?