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Dec
02
2011

Fired Up: Are Teams Throwing Caution to the Wind?

This week, Chris Carelli investigates the implications of signing players recuperating from injuries like Joe Nathan, Grady Sizemore and Jonathan Broxton.

Major League Baseball general managers are usually looking for a way to save a buck in order to spend it elsewhere. Often times there are players available in free agency who are hoping to bounce back from injuries who represent some of the better deals. Sometimes the injuries are significant, such as a pitcher going through Tommy John surgery or a speedster having knee surgery. When does the MLB general manager feel it is the right move to pull the trigger? It seems that the current Hot Stove season has already seen its fair share of reclamation projects signed to deals in which he will be relied on to be a major contributor to the team.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan was signed by the Texas Rangers on November 22, 2011 to a two-year $14.5 million contract with a $9 million option for a third year. Below are his stats with the Minnesota Twins.

 

Year Age ERA G SV IP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2004 29 1.62 73 44 72.1 0.982 6.0 0.4 2.9 11.1 3.87
2005 30 2.70 69 43 70.0 0.971 5.9 0.6 2.8 12.1 4.27
2006 31 1.58 64 36 68.1 0.790 5.0 0.4 2.1 12.5 5.94
2007 32 1.88 68 37 71.2 1.019 6.8 0.5 2.4 9.7 4.05
2008 33 1.33 68 39 67.2 0.901 5.7 0.7 2.4 9.8 4.11
2009 34 2.10 70 47 68.2 0.932 5.5 0.9 2.9 11.7 4.05
2011 36 4.84 48 14 44.2 1.164 7.7 1.4 2.8 8.7 3.07
11 Seasons 2.87 581 261 729.2 1.110 6.6 0.9 3.4 9.4 2.76
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 12/2/2011.

What we see is a top of the line closer from 2004 through 2009. He came back from the surgery in 2011 and to say the results were not pretty is being generous. He did not begin the 2011 season as the closer, but did get some save chances early on that he couldn’t convert. He was removed from the role permanently and then went to the DL for much of June. At first glance his second half was better than the first, but that is aided by an incredible July (0.79 ERA). He turned in a 6.00 ERA in August and a 3.86 ERA in September. He ended up reclaiming the closer role and converted 11 of his last 12 save opportunities.

Some pitchers perform much better in the second season removed from Tommy John surgery, but Nathan is no spring chicken. He turned 37 years old the day the signing became official. This would not have been such a big deal if he hadn’t gone through Tommy John surgery. But he did. Not all players come back the same. It would not have been such a big deal if he had a successful return in 2011. He didn’t. The fact that the Rangers signed him is not surprising. They have wanted to get former closer Neftali Feliz into the rotation for the last couple seasons. Nathan provides them with the opportunity to move Feliz. But giving Nathan a two-year deal worth $14.5 million is taking a huge risk. It may have been risky due to his age alone. With all the baggage he drags along the risk far outweighs the possible gains.

Grady Sizemore

The Cleveland Indians decided to give Grady Sizemore one last chance to return to his glory days by signing him to a one-year $5 million contract laced with incentives which could bring him an extra $4 million. Below are Sizemore’s stats.

 

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 21 43 159 138 15 34 6 2 4 24 2 14 34 .246 .333 .406 .739
2005 22 158 706 640 111 185 37 11 22 81 22 52 132 .289 .348 .484 .832
2006 23 162 751 655 134 190 53 11 28 76 22 78 153 .290 .375 .533 .907
2007 24 162 748 628 118 174 34 5 24 78 33 101 155 .277 .390 .462 .852
2008 25 157 745 634 101 170 39 5 33 90 38 98 130 .268 .374 .502 .876
2009 26 106 503 436 73 108 20 6 18 64 13 60 92 .248 .343 .445 .788
2010 27 33 140 128 15 27 6 2 0 13 4 9 35 .211 .271 .289 .560
2011 28 71 295 268 34 60 21 1 10 32 0 18 85 .224 .285 .422 .706
8 Seasons 892 4047 3527 601 948 216 43 139 458 134 430 816 .269 .357 .473 .830
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 12/2/2011.

It would be easy to lay the blame on Sizemore’s performance over the last few seasons on his injuries. Not all of his issues on the field are a result of his inability to stay on the field. His loss of speed is about the only thing that can be directly contributed to a downward trend from his production in 2005-2009. Sizemore has completely lost the ability to recognize pitches. His OBP was stellar during the all-star seasons and was downright deplorable the last two seasons. I understand that not being on the field leads to some contact issues, but I am not so sure one can completely forget how to take a walk. He has drawn 27 walks in 435 plate appearances over the last two seasons. Now his strikeout rate which has always been high is not compensated by walks.  His swinging strike percentage (w/o contact) in 2010 and 2011 was 19% and 22% respectively. This is up from a 12-14% range in his previous seasons. Of course, this has in turn dropped his contact percentage to 73% in 2010 and 70% in 2011 down from 80-83% in his better years.

It has been suggested that because Sizemore will have a full spring training under his belt this season that the Indians feel this could bring about a turnaround in his overall play. I get it, but it seems like the Indians are trying hard now to make sure they lay out all the excuses in case this experiment fails. I call it an experiment because Sizemore has just not been the same player since 2008. Even in 2009 he showed signs of slowing down. He had the lowest OBP and SLG% up to that time. I’d go so far as to allow a washing away of the 2010 season, but he had close to 300 plate appearances in 2011 and there was no change in his approach at the plate. He struck out 5.3 times more than he walked.  That is ridiculous. Would the Indians give a young player the same amount of rope? I highly doubt it. Why? Because Sizemore still brings fans to Progressive Field. Until fans stop loving him for his past success he’ll have a place in Cleveland’s heart. Unless he turns things around this season, the fans may finally give up on their fading star, because the Indians front office will.

Jonathan Broxton

Broxton was signed to a one-year $4 million contract with the Kansas City Royals to become their set-up man to closer Joakim Soria. Below are Broxton’s stats.

 

Year Age ERA G SV IP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2005 21 5.93 14 0 13.2 1.829 8.6 0.0 7.9 14.5 1.83
2006 22 2.59 68 3 76.1 1.231 7.2 0.8 3.9 11.4 2.94
2007 23 2.85 83 2 82.0 1.146 7.6 0.7 2.7 10.9 3.96
2008 24 3.13 70 14 69.0 1.174 7.0 0.3 3.5 11.5 3.26
2009 25 2.61 73 36 76.0 0.961 5.2 0.5 3.4 13.5 3.93
2010 26 4.04 64 22 62.1 1.476 9.2 0.6 4.0 10.5 2.61
2011 27 5.68 14 7 12.2 1.895 10.7 1.4 6.4 7.1 1.11
7 Seasons 3.19 386 84 392.0 1.232 7.3 0.6 3.7 11.5 3.09
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 12/2/2011.

Broxton was the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the better part of 3 seasons. Prior to taking over as closer, he had two very successful seasons as the Dodgers set-up man. In 2010, the aura began to lift off of Broxton in the second half of the season. He recorded a WHIP of 2.125 after the 2010 all-star break, which resulted in his loss of the closer role by the end of August. Last season began much where 2010 left off. His walk rate soared and his strikeout rate plummeted. Ultimately Broxton spent much of the year on the DL with elbow issues. He had arthroscopic surgery this September to remove bone spurs. During his Royals physical the medical staff was very impressed with his how his elbow looked.

The Royals clearly took a risk here. Who knows if Broxton’s elbow was an issue in 2010? It very well could have been considering such a complete 180 degree turn in performance. That said the Royals seem to have gotten Broxton for a bargain price even if he reaches incentives that will earn him another $1 million. If his elbow is truly 100% then he could be a major component of the Royals bullpen. The incumbent closer, Soria, has not exactly set the world on fire the last season or two. Soria actually lost his role as closer last season at one point only to regain it. Broxton is a good insurance policy for Soria, whether it is for an injury, poor performance or if the Royals want to trade Soria at some point in the season.

General managers have many things to weigh in their decision making process when compiling a roster. Budget is obviously a big issue. Sometimes it is worth a flyer to take on a player with the hope that he can revert back to the days prior to an injury. Signing such a player allows for paying a lesser salary and minimizing the length of the contract. Yes each of these players is receiving much less pay than they did prior to this coming season and the decrease is certainly warranted for the risk that is involved in the signing.

I have a problem with the Rangers giving two years to Nathan. Money is really not an issue to them, so why not give Nathan a bit more cash for a one-year deal, assuming he was the guy they truly wanted? Signing him for two seasons is really pushing the envelope for a 37 year-old pitcher two years removed from major surgery who had ONE good month last season upon his return.

For Sizemore, the monetary risk is pretty much covered if he can appear in 75% of Cleveland’s games. There is no denying Sizemore is still a draw. The biggest risk here is keeping Sizemore healthy so he has the chance to turn back the clock. Beyond staying on the field, the chance of him returning to form is only good if he goes back to his approach during his better seasons.

The Royals of the three teams have the most to gain and take on the least risk. The salary itself is minimal for a former top flight closer who obviously had issues that could be attributed to injury. This is true when you consider the money being thrown at closers this offseason. If the Royals’ medical staff is convinced he is healthy, he provides extra stability to a bullpen that has some pretty good arms. He also gives them flexibility in respect to how they handle Soria. In the end teams have made their selections by balancing in their minds the risks and rewards.

It seems to me that the Rangers and Indians may have had some blinders on when reviewing the two sides. The Royals reward side of the ledger has more check marks than the risk side.

Christopher Carelli writes for TheFanManifesto. He can be followed on twitter at @BaseballStance.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on facebook by clicking here.

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