The 2015 Seattle Mariners weren’t sunk exclusively by their bullpen, though it’s hard to think of a single other element of the team that was more instrumental in their demise. The M’s had an excellent ‘pen in 2014, then brought back almost the exact same group and were burned for it. Amidst a sea of heels, none was worse than the aging and suddenly ineffective Fernando Rodney. With that guy in mind, maybe you’re less-than-stoked on today’s news of a trade for Joaquin Benoit.
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Yes, Joaquin Benoit! The Mariners traded two minor leaguers of minimal significance to the San Diego Padres today in exchange for the right to pay a 38-year-old setup man over $7 million dollars in the last year of his contract. The age and the money immediately conjur up images of Rodney, and you’d be forgiven if you find yourself picturing Benoit with his hat to the side. But this is different. I swear.
First let’s look at what Benoit did a year ago. As a member of the hastily constructed and hugely underwhelming 2015 Padres, Benoit threw 65.1 innings of 2.34 ERA ball. FIP pegged him for a 3.75 mark, seeming to suggest he vastly overperformed his peripherals. Those peripherals, for reference: 8.58 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 11.9% HR/FB. Good numbers, but not great numbers. The strikeouts were the fewest and the walks were the most he’d generated since 2008, when he had a 5.00 ERA with the Texas Rangers. The home run rate was the highest since his near-replacement 2012 with the Detroit Tigers.
But in 2014 he was worth 1.3 WAR. In 2013, 1.4. 1.1 wins in 2011, 1.6 in 2010… this is a guy with a track record of excellence out of the bullpen, and not just some long-lost excellence that’s gone the way of his youth. Even in his two “down” years since his ’10 Tampa Bay resurrection, he posted ERAs of 3.68 and 2.34. When the peripherals go south, Benoit still excells at run prevention. And when the peripherals are strong, he posts ERAs that start with a one.
Benoit’s 2015 was a “down” year, yet it was also a year in which he outperformed nearly every member of the M’s bullpen. Pitchers are weird – relievers especially – and sometimes things like late-career renaissances come and don’t go. Benoit, as far as we can tell, is more likely than not to give the M’s another strong campaign in 2016. It’s all he’s done for the last six years. Age has yet to slow him down.
Fernando Rodney, of course, didn’t have this kind of consistent track record to lean on. An on again, off again type, Rodney was especially concerning because his main weakness was, is, and always has been walks. Benoit’s got a career 3.63 BB/9, and he’s been in the bigs since 2001. He’s no control freak, but free passes have never really hindered him.
Joaquin Benoit isn’t another old guy on the verge of a breakdown – he’s a consistently productive right-handed relief option who belongs at the back of a bullpen. His 2016 salary is substantial, but he’s exactly the kind of arm the Mariners should be targeting. And they did target him, and now he’s here. He could close or he could be a bridge. Either way, the team is better because he’s here.
If this is the year Benoit’s production finally falls off, his salary will be a hard bullet to bite. But the team just ate Rodney’s salary a year ago, so it should be at least a familiar hypothetical. And besides, the odds of a Benoit collapse aren’t nearly what the odds of Rodney’s demise were. He’s a safer bet. As far as old guy relievers go, he might be the safest bet.
Welcome to Seattle, Joaquin Benoit. Jerry Dipoto‘s offseason has been fun so far.