Oct 12, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) celebrates with catcher Alex Avila (13) after defeating the Boston Red Sox 1-0 in game one of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Fenway Park. The Detroit Tigers won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
According to multiple reports on Wednesday morning, the San Diego Padres and former-Detroit Tiger Joaquin Benoit have agreed to terms on a two-year deal that will pay the right-hander a total of $15.5 million.
The $7.25 million average annual value seems like steal for the Padres, especially considering some of the contracts that have been given out to relievers this offseason. Boone Logan recently got $16.5 million over three years ($5.5 million AAV) from the Colorado Rockies, and Joe Smith received three years and $15.75 million ($5.25 million AAV) from the Los Angeles Angels. Those deals are both a couple million per year short of the Benoit deal (though they both carry an extra year of risk), but neither Logan nor Smith are near the pitcher that Benoit is.
The Tigers elected to pay $10 million to Joe Nathan to take over in the ninth inning, traded Doug Fister to bring back a lefty reliever, a starting pitching prospect, and open a rotation spot for Drew Smyly, signed Joba Chamberlain, and gave Phil Coke a $1.9 million non-guaranteed deal.
They’ll pay (basically) $14.9 million in 2014 for this grouping of Smyly (rotation), Nathan, Chamberlain, and Coke (let’s assume for a moment that he makes the squad).
The Tigers could have instead decided to retain Fister , re-sign Benoit, and keep Smyly in the bullpen, which would have cost the club around $14.7 million in 2014 (depending on Fister’s arbitration deal). The current configuration contains more upside – Chamberlain and prospect Robbie Ray could both end up paying off for the Tigers – but it’s not clear that the route they’ve taken is better. In fact, it very much appears like the riskier play.
Instead of taking the safe route with a bullpen that purportedly let them down in the postseason, the Tigers have elected to buy lottery tickets. Chamberlain and Coke could end up being a very good seventh-inning platoon if their stuff translates into outs (something that hasn’t really happened for either of them in the last two years), but I’d rather have Smyly in that spot instead. It’s true that Nathan is probably an upgrade over Benoit (even if it’s only a small-ish upgrade), but it’s probably also true (or at least not obviously untrue) that Fister would have been a rotation upgrade over Smyly.
It almost seems that the best case scenario is that the whole 2014 bullpen thing ends up as a wash, but Robbie Ray ends up as a useful mid-rotation piece in a couple of years. The worst case scenario is that Chamberlain and Coke continue their respective career implosions, the 2014 bullpen suffers, and Ray’s development stalls leading to a career as a reliever.
That doesn’t really seem like a risk a team in the World Series hunt would want to take.