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Fultz and Breslow - what it is

UPDATE:  I've posted some general comments about Breslow from our sister Red Sox site in this FanPost, worth a quick read. [Jay]

One of the Nicks -- I believe it was Iron Nick, not Steel Nick -- helpfully posted a link to this Comment I made a couple weeks ago.  Many took that post as sort of a blanket defense or thumbs-up for Fultz, and I guess it's kind of the former but not really the latter.  Some may not have taken full notice of this paragraph:

Main thing to remember about Fultz is that his status is no different than it was last year, or than Oldberto's last year, or Borowski's this year or last.  He's only on a one-year deal, he's only making $1.5 million, and if he struggles and/or they have a reasonable replacement for him, they'll DFA him and never look back.

I don't see this as an awesome prediction (it isn't even follwed by a "Boo Thome"), it's just kind of stating the obvious.

My guess is that a lot of the negativity surrounding Fultz is just based on the fact that he's never impressed anyone and was a free agent signing.  Most folks here are savvy enough not to scream at Shapiro every time he makes a minor league signing, understanding that these signings are insignificant when they don't pan out, and nicely significant when they do.  We know that Shapiro doesn't envision the likes of Tyner and Elarton as centerpieces of a championship club.

But we still perhaps pin too much importance on our minor major-league free agents -- witness the vitriol sometimes directed at the likes of Hollandsworth, Rouse, Michaels, Carroll and Aaron Fultz.  These guys are just bit players, "role players" in the parlance of the game, and it just happens that role player money has gone slightly north of $2 million.  It's crazy, but it doesn't change the fact that they're role players.

What I'm getting at is that while the difference between a major league deal and a minor league deal is significant, it isn't enormous.  Julio didn't get Fultz's deal, and Fultz didn't get Borowksi's -- and none of them thankfully got Baez's deal -- but the performance differences aren't great -- obviously.  The minor league deal guys are a few good weeks away from the majors, and even Borowski is just a couple of bad months from being DFA'ed.  And every one of these guys has been more effective than Baez, who got $19 million.  (This is of course the very reason to go bargain-hunting for relievers -- the trashbin cumulatively has far more raw effectiveness left in it than the mid-tier free agent market for relievers -- but I digress.)

So that's the first broad point.  The second broad point is that we never really get a non-ridiculous sample size when it comes to relievers.  My comments earlier in the month essentially defended Fultz, but only to say, based on the numbers, there's little if any reason to hate the guy.  But how much do the numbers tell us about a sporadically used reliever?  Very little.  With samples this tiny -- including all Spring Training numbers -- you have to rely on the scouts being on the ball with their evaluations, because the numbers just can't tell you anything with even a small amount of confidence.

Fultz's option was picked up, which meant only that based on what the Indians saw out of him last season, they felt he was worth giving another very-minor major-league deal for 2008 -- nothing less, nothing more.  After the past three weeks, however, they felt they could dump him and not regret it -- but as always, the decision isn't based just on the player's performance alone, it's based on all the available options.  Part of the utility of picking up Fultz's option is, simply, we don't know that a better option will present itself, either on the free agent market, or on the waiver wires, or in a trade, or from our own minor league system, i.e., some other lefty showing up looking like the second coming of Rafael Perez.  Fultz looked terrible -- not just in the numbers, but in the eyes of the team's evaluators -- and also! a better option presented itself in Breslow.

Okay, then, Fultz is gone.  And this one part of the prediction I will take credit for:  They didn't hesitate to do it.  (And let's pause for a moment of silent appreciation that our club is run by grownups.)  (Thank you.)

As for comparing the two, I would speculate that even beyond his Spring struggles, the Indians really were not thrilled with Fultz in the specific role of LOOGY anyway.  The Indians philosophically seem more oriented toward finding all-around good relievers rather than one-out relievers, but that doesn't mean they don't want a reliever who can dispatch lefties reliably.  Given the composition of the rest of the bullpen, and specifically the desire to continue using Perez for more general late-inning work, they really need a guy with LOOGY potential moreso than just another decent lefty.

And I say this not just because of Fultz's track record but because of Breslow's.  In his brief major league career, Breslow has faced 41 lefties and struck out 11 of them.  In Triple-A Pawtucket, he racked up 14.37 K/9 against lefties in 2007, holding them to a 784 OPS despite a horrendously unlucky .455 BABIP.  A year earlier, he had 11.40 K/9 against lefties.  The two-year totals are 52 K, 15 BB, 4 HBP, and only 1 HR in about 165 PA.  Also worth noting, he apparently doesn't do it with groundballs, which given our inconsistent infield is probably a good thing.

Of course Breslow is out of options, which is irritating, but he's also cheap -- as in, cheap for the foreseeable future.  If we can put this guy back together, we've got him clear through 2013, ages 27-33, and he won't even hit arbitration until 2011.  And remember, this is a guy with some decent career minor league numbers on his résumé -- 9.84 K/9, 0.69 HR/9.  I think based on contract status alone, you probably have to take Breslow over Fultz, and eating the $1.5 million is just a small blip in that decision.

So that's my take.  They're ditching Fultz because they can, and because they always knew they could, and because a better option presented itself in Breslow.  And they like Breslow for Fultz's old job -- I think -- because they think he's going to give lefties real fits up there.  And just like a minor league deal, it's no big thing if it doesn't work, but if it does work, it could pay off nicely -- and not just in 2008.

And if it doesn't work out?  They'll DFA him, move on to the next guy, and never look back.