The market for relief pitching took an interesting, pricey turn for teams still trying to fill out their bullpens. Following a long line of questionable deals for specialists, the Colorado Rockies have signed Boone Logan to a three-year contract, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
What makes this deal stand out, aside from the fact that it's yet again a three-year deal for a matchup lefty, is that the Rockies had been doing a solid job rebuilding their pitching staff without overpaying in trades and free agency.
I was a huge fan of their winter meetings' trade with Oakland that brought Brett Anderson. LaTroy Hawkins, even though he's 40, isn't a bad investment for one year and $2.5 million dollars.
Logan's deal, while not necessarily wiping all that goodwill away, does change a lot of things that happened this offseason.
It's already been a strange winter for relievers. Take a look at some of these notable deals already signed.
|Boone Logan||Colorado Rockies||3 yrs, $16.5 mil|
|Javier Lopez||San Francisco Giants||3 yrs, $13 mil|
|Edward Mujica||Boston Red Sox||2 yrs, $9.5 mil|
|Joe Nathan||Detroit Tigers||2 yrs, $20 mil|
|Joe Smith||Los Angeles Angels||3 yrs, $15.8 mil|
|Brian Wilson||Los Angeles Dodgers||1 yr, $10 mil|
Joe Nathan's contract, while pricey, isn't exactly a surprise because he comes with that "proven closer" label, and the Tigers had huge holes in the back of the 'pen that needed to be filled.
Edward Mujica was on the same boat that carried Shelby Miller away from the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2013 postseason, but he has been an effective reliever for the last five years.
I would poke fun at the Dodgers for giving Brian Wilson and his beard $10 million for pitching just 13.2 innings during the 2013 regular season, but that team is operating on a different financial planet than any others right now.
The three contracts for relievers that will dictate everything else that happens the rest of the offseason are for Logan, Javier Lopez and Joe Smith.
Smith has evolved in the last three years from a right-handed specialist to someone capable of getting hitters from both sides out, though he still has a decent-sized split against lefties (.717 OPS, compared to .605 against righties in 2013).
Lopez and Logan are one-dimensional pitchers who are getting paid more than $4 million and $5 million per season, respectively, for the next three years to do that one thing.
|Player||OPS vs. RHP||OPS vs. LHP|
Both players have cracked the 50-inning barrier once since 2010, but if you want to defend their track records, you can say they have been about as durable as any relievers out there. Lopez has three consecutive seasons with at least 69 appearances, while Logan has appeared in at least 50 games during the last four years.
Using the limited innings for Lopez and Logan as the barometer, free agents such as Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney would seem to benefit greatly from those signings.
|Player (Age For 2014 Season)||Games||Innings|
|Joaquin Benoit (36)||139||138|
|Grant Balfour (36)||140||137.1|
|Fernando Rodney (37)||144||141.1|
Logan, just 29 years old, does have the advantage of youth that Lopez, Balfour, Benoit and Rodney don't; however, given the volatile nature of relief pitching, age doesn't help Logan as much as you might think.
Benoit, Balfour and Rodney also have the advantage of holding the "proven closer" label for which teams will pay.
Balfour and Benoit reportedly have contract offers on the table, though these deals were put out there before Logan signed his deal with the Rockies on Thursday night.
Baltimore, in need of a reliever after trading Jim Johnson to Oakland, is one of three teams with a two-year contract offer for Balfour, according to Eduardo Encina and Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun.
The Orioles have competition in the quest to sign Grant Balfour. They are one of three teams who have made the 35-year-old free-agent closer a two-year offer, according to an industry source.
Among the three offers Balfour is considering, one includes a vesting option for a third year. That option is not from the Orioles, according to a source.
Benoit, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, has two offers on the table for $14 million over the next two years from San Diego and Cleveland.
Indians and Padres both in on Joaquin Benoit at two years, $14M+. Padres source says their deal may include a third-year option as well.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 12, 2013
You get the sense that if any team goes to three guaranteed years, Benoit and/or Balfour will have a new home, but it's easy to see teams in these particular markets not wanting or willing to do that because they understand relievers rarely age gracefully.
Unfortunately for teams such as San Diego, Baltimore and Cleveland—the latter two having playoff aspirations next year—Logan's deal will likely hinder their efforts to bring in the pitchers they want.
Agents are smart enough to know which way the market winds blow.
Scott Boras will demand seven years for Shin-Soo Choo because Jacoby Ellsbury (also a Boras client), a superior defensive player but inferior hitter, got seven years from the New York Yankees.
Choo is 14 months older, which hurts his negotiating power, but he has been more durable over the last five years—playing at least 144 games four times—than Ellsbury.
Logan has value as someone who can destroy left-handed hitters. When agents see a player like him getting three guaranteed years, they'd think that benefits pitchers who can get out any hitter and have track records of pitching in the ninth inning.
Which pitcher will suffer the most from Boone Logan's deal?
Therein lies a problem trying to figure out the relief market, though.
The idea of a "proven closer" is, to me, ridiculous. Paying a player because he happens to pitch in the ninth inning when there could be more at stake in the seventh or eighth inning is a waste of money.
Teams have caught on to this trend in recent years, at least to a certain extent. There was a time when a player like Chris Perez, who saved 123 games the last four years, would net something on the trade market.
Instead, the Indians decided to release Perez after the 2013 season because he was so terrible in the second half (5.60 ERA, 33 hits, seven homers in 27.1 innings). His salary would have spiked in arbitration this winter after earning $7 million last year, since it is nearly impossible for a player—no matter how bad—to lose money in arbitration.
Sometimes a team ignores the warning signs with relievers, as the Rockies did with Logan and San Francisco did with Lopez, because they are desperate to help themselves. This changes the market—usually in a bad way— for teams in need of relief pitching.
Don't be surprised to see teams such as Cleveland and Baltimore explore different options now based on the (likely) reactions of Benoit and Balfour. Those clubs can't afford to allocate three years and, say, $20 million to $25 million for a bullpen arm.
It also hurts the likelihood that Benoit, Balfour and Rodney, as well as other relievers on the market, find new homes before the new year. If superior players are seeing these deals being handed out, it's their prerogative to ask for more years and/or money.
Logan's deal, while it may help Colorado in the short term, will slow down the market for relief pitching.
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