PTToday: Marlins hook Reyes, Buehrle; closer carousel

Marlins land Reyes; Ramirez to 3B or CF

The Miami Marlins are following the lead of their NBA cousins by enticing free agents to take their talents to South Beach. Just days after introducing Heath Bell as their new closer, they announced the signing of ex-Met Jose Reyes (SS, MIA). His $106M/6 year contract is easily the richest for a free agent in team history.

Reyes brings exceptional base path skills (173/27% Spd/SBO) and an elite 92% ct%. His .337 BA in 2011 was largely the result of a career-best 35% h%, but even a slight 5% erosion to career norms all but promises a BA close to .300. That said, the significant number for Reyes may be 185, the number of games missed to injury the last three years. The bulk of those came in 2009 (tendinitis in right calf) but a left hamstring strain took him out for 37 games in 2011. The days of 60+ steals may be a long shot given his injury history plus normal wear and tear as he shifts into his 30s.

Miami’s accomplished incumbent, Hanley Ramirez (SS, MIA), suffered through an injury-plagued, subpar year (.243 BA and 10 HR hampered by a career-low 27% h%). His 80% ct% was consistent with past years and his 12% bb% was slightly above, so his control of the strike zone would point to a rebound. A change of positions is a certainty, but publicly the Marlins aren’t saying if Ramirez is moving to 3B or CF. In 2011, Marlins third basemen hit 6 HR with a .662 OPS; Greg Dobbs (3B, MIA) would return to part-time, pinch-hit duty if Ramirez moves there. If Ramirez supplants Emilio Bonifacio (OF, MIA) in CF, the latter would likely become a super-utility player but could struggle to repeat his 500+ AB and 40 SB.

In New York, Ruben Tejada (2B, NYM) is the in-house favorite to replace Reyes. Tejada’s 2011 was split between 2B/SS, providing good defense and producing a .284/.353 BA/OBP but with 0 HR in 376 AB. Even so, a good glove can only do so much to withstand a .335 Slg, so the Mets may still be looking elsewhere.

Miami adds Buehrle to rotation

The unrelenting Marlins also signed Mark Buehrle (LHP, MIA). Miami knows exactly what they’re getting; Buehrle has established himself as one of the most stable, durable, and projectable of pitchers and has a history of outperforming his skills.

Year     QS    W    IP    ERA    xERA    Ctl    Cmd    hr/9
====     ==    =    ==    ===    ====    ===    ===    ===
2008     24   15   219   3.79    4.10    2.1    2.7    0.9
2009     19   13   213   3.84    4.30    1.9    2.3    1.1
2010     19   13   210   4.29    4.87    2.1    2.0    0.7
2011     22   13   205   3.59    4.14    2.0    2.4    0.9

Additionally, Buehrle leads the majors in innings pitched over the past ten years, and the move reunites him with new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. A pitch-to-contact specialist, Buehrle could very well see four more seasons of similar production during his contract (ages 33-36).

In November, anticipating Buehrle’s departure, Chicago GM Kenny Williams stated his intention to move Chris Sale (LHP, CWS) into the starting rotation. Sale’s 10.0/2.9 Dom/Cmd and 50% GB% speak to his dominance as both right-handed batters (.199 BA) and left-handed batters (.208 BA) had little success against him. There is some uncertainty regarding a SP’s workload and his 3.4 Ctl needs to improve, but Sale has the goods to be an immediate asset to the White Sox rotation.

COL gains pitching depth with Slowey

The Rockies acquired Kevin Slowey (RHP, COL) for a player to be named. With Jorge de la Rosa (LHP, COL) and Juan Nicasio (RHP, COL) uncertain for the start of the season due to injuries (TJ surgery and fractured neck vertebra, respectively), Slowey gives the Rockies another SP option.

Slowey failed to win a game in 2011 and his 6.67 ERA was two runs higher than in any other year, but his 4.35 xERA and 46% FB% were better than in 2010, when he won 13 games. His typical outstanding Ctl (0.8) belied a career-low Dom (5.2), and he has now moved from the least HR-friendly ballpark to the most HR-friendly ballpark in the majors. Only 28, wrist, triceps, biceps, abdominal woes shelved him for 204 games in the last 3 seasons. Slowey will again have to dodge the injury bug to be become a contributor for the Rockies.

Active Mets retool bullpen, swap OF with Giants

The Mets came to terms with two free agent relievers: Jon Rauch (RHP, NYM) and Frank Francisco (RHP, NYM). Sandwiched between those signings was a trade with San Francisco in which the Mets acquired Andres Torres (OF, NYM) and Ramon Ramirez (RHP, NYM) in exchange for Angel Pagan (OF, SF).

The Mets will be Rauch’s fifth team in six years. He’s coming off his worst statistical campaign and an especially dismal second half (6.27 ERA, 1.66 WHIP) in which he coughed up nearly 2.5 HR every 9 innings. His fastball doesn’t have the giddyup it once had so Rauch will need to maintain decent Ctl (2.4) and reverse his fly-ball trends. Rauch was anointed the setup role as soon as the ink on Francisco’s contract was drying. Francisco has the power-closer profile (and the role at this point): 9.4/3.2 Dom/Cmd with an 81% Sv% in 2011. He does have some gopheritis issues of his own (1.2 hr/9).

The third addition to the Mets bullpen is Ramon Ramirez, acquired in the trade with the Giants. A consistent middle reliever, his 2011 campaign was his finest (2.62/3.30 ERA/xERA with an 8.7 Dom).

The addition of Torres gives them an excellent defender between Jason Bay (OF, NYM) and Lucas Duda (OF, NYM). Torres’ production suffered noticeably in 2011, when his 403 AB produced a .218-6-25 line with a 72% ct%. While more fly balls were of the routine variety, he did swipe 20 bags (26% SBO). Now 34, Torres’ 2010 mini-breakout would appear to be the exception rather than the norm.

Just months after sending Carlos Beltran to the Giants, the Mets sent his replacement to San Francisco as well. Pagan will bring more offense to the Giants, even if his 2011 season (.696 OPS, 29% h%) was off his 2009-10 campaigns (.840/.765 and 35/33%, respectively). Pagan’s annual xBA are fairly stable and although he won’t be much help in the power department, he was able to compile 30+ SB for the second straight year.

Dodgers round out rotation with Harang

The Dodgers signed their second free-agent SP in a week when they inked Aaron Harang (RHP, LA) to a two-year contract. Pitching in SD’s offense-eating PETCO Park helped Harang enjoy a renaissance year in 2011, winning 14 games (his most since 2007) with a 3.67 ERA (xERA 4.17) and peripherals eclipsing career norms (.269 OBA, 41% GB%).

With a move up the freeway, Harang will find his new ballpark to be only slightly less offense averse. Even if the slight erosion of Dom and Cmd (6.5 and 2.1 in 2011) from the previous two years continues, Harang should be a serviceable 4th or 5th starter. His signing means that prospect Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, LAD) is likely to spend additional time at Triple-A.

Bedard signed by Pirates

Erik Bedard (LHP, PIT) will make his the NL debut with the Pirates in 2012 after spending eight years in the AL. He enjoyed his healthiest year since 2007, missing “only” 31 days after triple-digit days lost in each of the last three seasons (including all of 2010). Bedard’s steady skill set, reflective in his 3.56 xERA, 8.7 Dom, and 2.6 Cmd, points to a continued resurgence. In light of Paul Maholm’s (LHP, TBD) free agency and Charlie Morton’s (RHP, FA) recovery from October hip surgery, the Bedard signing gives the Pirates some options – as long as that shadowy injury stalker obeys its restraining order.

Street is new closer for Padres

In San Diego, the Padres acquired Huston Street (RHP, SD) to become the heir to Heath Bell. After losing 79 games to injury in 2010, Street missed only 17 in 2011 and saved 29 games in 33 chances, enjoying a strong statistical season in all regards: a 228 BPV, 3.27 xERA, 8.5 Dom, 6.1 Cmd. Even though his 41% FB% was lower than past years, 14% of those left the park – a statistic that can only improve with his move to vast PETCO Park. Six years younger than Bell, Street brings a proven body of work to the Padres and buys more development time for prospects like Luke Gregerson (RHP, SD) and Ernesto Frieri (RHP, SD). Health permitting, it is not unreasonable to expect Street to equal, if not eclipse, Bell’s recent achievements in San Diego.

Those 17 games that Street missed in 2011 proved costly for him as Rafael Betancourt (RHP, COL) stepped into the closer role for COL, nailing down the job for 2012. Betancourt flashed closer-worthy stats in both 2010 and 2011 with a Dom and Cmd over 10.0. Fly-ball tendencies are a concern, as is his age (36), but the Rockies have Matt Lindstrom (RHP, COL) with endgame experience as well as promising second-year man Rex Brothers (LHP, COL) should Betancourt falter.

NL short takes

The Phillies signed Laynce Nix (OF, PHI) as a LH bat off the bench. Nix is a one-note song - exceptional power vs. RHP – and at that, his pedestrian .263/.306 BA/OBP (in 297 AB vs. RHP with WAS in 2011) can be a drag. Nix will steal AB from John Mayberry (OF, PHI) in a partial platoon and will allow the Phillies to return Domonic Brown (OF, PHI) back to AAA-Lehigh Valley for more seasoning…

Allen Craig (OF, STL) had right knee surgery around Thanksgiving and isn’t expected to return until May. Craig thumped 11 HR in 200 AB, and while his 168 PX and 18% hr/f may be outliers, he hit LHP and RHP equally well (.313/.316). Craig has played his way into near-indispensible status…

The Pirates are hoping that Nate McLouth (OF, PIT) can channel his inner 2008 with his second stint with the team. After hitting .276 with 26 HR and 23 SB that year, he was traded to ATL and spent 149 days on the DL 2.5 years there, including 89 for a sports hernia that ended his 2011 season in July. If he can stay healthy, McLouth’s age (30), bb% (14), and Spd (112) give him a fighting chance in 2012…


Toronto trades for closer Santos

The Blue Jays acquired Sergio Santos (RHP, TOR) to fill their vacant closer position. Moving from the CWS setup role to full-time 9th inning duties in April 2011, Santos racked up 30 saves in 36 chances with a colossal 13.1 Dom and miniscule .187 OBA. The 28-year-old’s Achilles heel is a wobbly 4.1 Ctl, but as a minor-league infielder in the TOR organization until three years ago, there is room for adjustments. The trade is somewhat surprising given that Santos’ modest contract is under team control through 2014, but CWS Kenny Williams told the Chicago Tribune that this is “the start of a rebuilding phase.”

In Chicago’s immediate future, the White Sox endgame duties will most likely default to Matt Thornton (LHP, CWS), who was given the 2011 closer role in April but gave it back by month’s end. After that, Thornton thrived in setting up Santos, particularly in the second half (2.26 ERA, 10.5 DOM). Also in the picture is Jesse Crain (RHP, CWS), now 30, whose collection of skills have been perceived to fall short of closer-worthiness. Waiting his turn is the imposing Addison Reed (RHP, CWS), who pitched in all five professional levels in 2011, striking out 123 batters in 86 innings (including 10 in 7 IP for the White Sox). Sorting out bullpen roles will be among the first challenges for rookie manager Robin Ventura.

AL short take

Matt Capps (RHP, MIN) has re-signed with Minnesota. With the defection of Joe Nathan to the Rangers, Capps is expected to become the Twins’ closer, the role he lost at midpoint in 2011. By year’s end, Capps’ 4.7 Dom was his career low by plenty and GB% gains over the previous years had been lost. He’ll need to reverse those trends to avoid becoming a first-half-only closer again in 2012...

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.