The Cleveland Indians have a pretty great bullpen. Maybe not the flashiest, and maybe not the best, but considering the ludicrous contracts being given out to middle-of-the-road relievers this offseason, this bullpen deserve some recognition for being assembled without breaking the bank.
A couple weeks ago, Waiting For Next Year’s Michael Hattery broke down precisely how the Indians changed the landscape for relievers when they acquired Andrew Miller at last season’s trade deadline.
The Indians did not sign Miller to his unimaginably low four-year, $36 million contract — that credit goes to the New York Yankees — but they knew it was time to sweep in and deal a boatload of prospects away last July to get him.
Striking when they did provided them with a huge advantage then, and it gives them an even bigger one now. As Hattery wrote:
The Cleveland have the best reliever in baseball, as well as top-20 reliever Cody Allen, locked in on unbelievably favorable contracts. The result: Other teams are chasing the same advantage. The difference, of course, is that other organizations will have to shift the proportion of assets expended on bullpen improvements while the Indians are now seeking other pieces.
They could have waited, like many other teams did, until the offseason when arms like Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Brett Cecil, Mark Melancon, and Boone Logan would be free agents. But they didn’t. They didn’t even trade for one of those guys in their last half-season under contract with the assumption that they could grab someone else in the offseason.
No, they went after the relief pitcher that was 1) the most talented and 2) under contract for another two season. When the trade was made we thought No. 1 was the biggest factor, but it’s really No. 2 that made dealing away Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and a pair of relievers worth it.
But I want to get away from Andrew Miller for a minute. Yes, he is the greatest and yes his bargain contract is what makes the Indians bullpen so valuable as a whole. But it’s not just him. Many other Indians relievers, if on the free agent market in this offseason, would quickly shoot out of the Indians’ price range as well.
Brett Cecil that started all this offseason reliever inflation when he signed a four-year, $30.5 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s been a fine — no, hell, let’s say pretty gosh darn good — reliever over the last three seasons. In that span he has a 2.93 ERA and a 2.67 FIP with a 31.6 percent strikeout rate and a measley 7.9 percent walk rate. That’s a pretty solid reliever heading into his 30-year-old series theres no way anyone other than Andrew Miller could match him — oh, wait, no here comes Cody Allen riding in a white horse.
Over his own last three seasons as the Tribe’s closer, Allen has eye-opening numbers of his own: 2.52 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 33.4 percent strikeout rate, 9.4 percent walk rate. So he walks a few more batters in more crucial situations — they have been very similar pitchers in the last three years. The biggest difference here is that the Indians will be paying Allen about half of what the Blue Jays will be paying for Cecil next season — $7.7 million as projected by MLB Trade Rumors.
These kind of comparisons can be found all over the landscape of relievers signed this offseason. Mike Dunn, who just signed a three-year deal worth $19 million with the Colorado Rockies? Bryan Shaw has been better across the board over his career and MLBTR estimates he will get around $4.5 million in arbitration. We can take this Mike Dunn comp even further down the line, as Keven Dean so graciously has on Twitter:
Mike Dunn, 2014-2016: 3.58 FIP (3.14 versus left-handed hitters), 25.9 K%, 9.5 BB%— Kevin Dean (@kvnbsbl) December 15, 2016
Crockett, 2014-2016: 3.09 FIP (2.02), 22.6 K%, 8.3 BB% https://t.co/iRkDfFFX0Y
Oh and by the Kyle Crockett is still under team control and has the baby-smooth face of a newborn. Indians 1, Rockies 0.
Marc Rzepczynski (Marc Rzepczynski), a guy who has bounced around nearly half a dozen teams in the last three years, signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Seattle Mariners. Meanwhile, Zach McAllister — who has had his ups and downs but turned around in the last two years and averages out to about the same production — will be lucky to make $2 million in arbitration next year.
The crazy part is, this reliever market is not even done yet. Boone Logan is still on the board and you can bet there will be a lot of interest in him, even if he waits until the New Year to make a decision. I would not expect the Indians to be in Logan, or any other big reliever free agents (or trade targets), but they don’t need to be anyway.
Eventually the Indians are going to unleash Shawn Armstrong for more than a week at a time and we will have another name to add to this list. A list that did not even include Dan Otero because I was being moderate and not including his small, one-season sample size of greatness in the mix. Including those two, the Indians have at least five or six relievers that would bring in huge deals on the open market but they are under contract, either through team control or arbitration.
Bullpen is one of the few areas the Indians are reportedly interested in addressing this offseason, but that need is not huge. The idea that they “need” a left-handed relief pitcher is a myth, and I expect they will be perfectly happy with throwing a bunch of spring training invites against a wall and hoping one of them peels off looking like mirror-world Dan Otero for a year.