Andrew Friedman is market driven. He said so himself. The idea of examining the market and acting accordingly is not just a throw-away quote from an article written a half-decade ago, but the way he approaches his job. His actions this winter prove it.
The Rays had several areas to improve upon this winter; however, the bullpen was not necessarily one of them. The group of relievers assembled for the 2012 season might have been the best Tampa Bay has seen as a franchise. Heading into the off-season, Friedman knew he had four of those pieces (Fernando Rodney, Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Burke Badenhop) under his control. He also knew Joel Peralta was eager to return and did soon after free agency began. Only free agents J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth seemed like flight risks.
Yet, as we head into the new year, bullpen help is now near the top of the list of things that need to be addressed before opening day. How did this happen? Because the market called.
Much like their performance year-to-year, the market for relief pitchers can be volatile. It only takes one general manager to hand out a contract above what is perceived to be the norm to set things out of whack (think Joaquin Benoit after the 2010 season). This winter, we have seen similar instability when it comes to the contracts of relievers. Brandon League snagged a $20-plus million while Koji Uehara settled for a lesser years and guaranteed money than Randy Choate. Typically, the Rays tend to sit out this portion of the off-season, choosing to feed off the scraps left over; however, the current supply and demand for relief arms may have factored into some of their recent moves.
Although this year’s class of free-agent relievers is largely void of elite talent—Rafael Soriano notwithstanding—there is both quantity and quality when sorting through the available names; especially on the right-handed side. Perhaps it is just serendipity, but Friedman has already traded away two right-handed relievers for different reasons (and resources) and will now likely look to the market for replacements.
The trade of Burke Badenhop seemed financially driven. Badenhop was due for a raise, but does not have a particularly exclusive skill-set. Instead of paying the merit increase, Friedman traded him for a potential future asset, and may be able to find a Badenhop-equivalent or better on the open market at a similar or reduced rate.
Wade Davis was shopped as a starter, but it was unlikely he was to crack the Rays’ rotation without some help. Friedman was able to move was would have likely been his third-best right-handed reliever in a bigger trade that netted some lofty chips for the future.
In years’ past moving two key pieces of the bullpen might have seemed like a risky move, but there is still an influx of talent to be had. And as the calendar shifts toward January, the price of that talent also shifts toward the Rays’ favor.
Surveying the list of options names like: Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Francisco Rodriguez, Jon Rauch, Matt Capps, Jose Valverde, and former Ray Kyle Farnsworth are all available at various prices. Rodriguez, Valverde, and Capps may cost a bit more because of past history as closers, but Lyon, Lindstrom, and Farnsworth should come at a reasonable prices and have shown the ability to succeed at the back end of bullpens. All three also have experience in the American League East. On a lower tier: Kameron Loe, and and Scott Atchison have each had success— the latter within the ALE—and may not require guaranteed contracts.
Replacing half of your already productive bullpen—partially by choice—in a few months’ time may seem overwhelming and risky. However, when you take stock of the market, there is the potential for Tampa Bay to supplant each name with similar or better talent for less money. Overhauling the bullpen may not have been on Friedman’s to-do list, but when the market comes calling, he’s probably going to answer it.