The fun part of every off-season is speculating what players that the club may or should bring in. Everyone has a couple of free agents, whether big time or small time, that they would love to see in their favorite team’s uniform. Since this is a Seattle site, it is time to look at some free agents that the Mariners could use. Perhaps one could say that this post is somewhat working backwards. The bullpen was a real strength of the Mariners in 2012. However, it is unknown whether the Mariners will tender a contract to Josh Kinney (not to mention that Shawn Kelley’s arbitration case looming, which will be my next article here) and Oliver Perez will be a free agent. These 3 pitchers could possibly be Josh Kinney or Oliver Perez alternatives on the minor league free agent market.
Dan Wheeler is a veteran with 640.2 MLB innings under his belt and has been semi-effective with a career 92 ERA – and 96 FIP -. He started 2012 with the Indians but was sent to AAA after 13 disastrous outings (12.1 innings) in which he put up some really laughable statistics. To his credit, he threw 42.2 solid innings in AAA, in which he outperformed his peripherals (4.00 FIP and 4.44 SIERA to a 2.32 ERA).
Before this season, he had been a really consistent bullpen piece for a few different organizations, with above replacement seasons every year since 1999 (he was replacement level in 17.2 innings in 2001). His peak was in 2005 and 2006 with the Astros, and while those days are gone, he was very solid for the Boston Red Sox in 2011 with a 89 FIP – in a tough division, striking out an acceptable 19.4 % while only walking 4 % of the batters he faced. Fangraphs’ pitch classifications on Dan Wheeler are just a mess, but he did seem to have a velocity drop in 2012. He has never been a hard thrower, averaging 91.13 MPH on his fastball in 2007. In 2011, it averaged 89.90 MPH and then dropped to 89.03 MPH in 2012. When I went back and watched him in the minors from earlier this year (against Durham on August 8th since they have a radar gun on their broadcasts), he hit (got down to 87 MPH) 89-90 MPH (up to 91 MPH) on his fastball and it isn’t straight, with a little bit of tail. This year, according to Brooks baseball, he started going to his splitter more and his curveball less as well. He was also more predictable in his pitch selection in 2012 than he was in 2011:
Roman Colon is a 33 year old right-hander that pitched in the Royals organization this year but spent most of it in AAA (67 innings) as he threw just 8 MLB innings in 2012. Overall, he has thrown 187.1 MLB innings (almost exclusively out of the bullpen, with 7 starts in 2005 and 1 in 2006) and has put up some bad numbers (119 ERA -, 116 FIP -). He has really struggled to miss bats in that time. However, he was throwing 94-95 MPH on a fastball and a sinker when he was brought up, with a slider, curve, and change. He is mostly a sinker/slider guy (Brooks Baseball conflates everything to basically 4-seam and slider, insisting that 90 % of his pitchers are one or the other).
In 2010, he spent some time in Korea as a starter and wasn’t overwhelming.
In AAA this year, he was solid in the hitter friendly PCL with a 3.92 FIP and 4.00 SIERA. He didn’t strikeout a ton of hitters (20.7% with too many walks at 10%), but he survived by keeping the ball on the ground (49.5% and 13.4 LD%).
Tim Wood has 58 pretty forgettable MLB innings under his belt with the Marlins and Pirates. The 29 year old right-hander (notice that all 3 are right-handed, left-handers are tough to find, so the Mariners really need to make sure that a guy like Bobby Lafromboise is ready for the Majors if they are unable to sign Perez) was originally drafted in the 44th round by the Marlins back in 2002, but has a better fastball than you would expect from such a late draft pick, averaging 94.5 MPH on it in 2011, his last stint in the Majors. He has spent the last two seasons as the Pirates’ AAA (which is confusingly named the Indians) affiliate’s closer (I don’t think that means much, other than he has been effective enough that they didn’t stop using him in that role) and in 114.1 innings has a FIP in the 2.60s (but a SIERA closer to 4.00) with a decent strikeout rate and a workable ground-ball rate (all while avoiding homers and a reasonable walk rate). He has done a good job of limiting power, as the 488 hitters he has faced in the minors over the last two years have a .095 ISO. Out of the 65 strikeouts he got this year, 55 of them were swinging and he threw strikes at a 64.5% clip.
While he throws a fastball or sinker (it was hard for me to see a difference, as he was usually throwing the fastball high) 67% of the time, his slider is also important, as he throws it 22% of the time. It is a hard slider averaging about 87 MPH and he really likes to throw it when ahead to right-handed hitters. The changeup (88.23 MPH, one of the harder changes you will see, King Felix obviously having the hardest one) is throw almost exclusively against lefties. When I went back and watched him, the change looked good with some good vertical drop. The slider looks mediocre, breaking only downward and is not very sharp even though it reached up to 89 MPH. The change is the better pitch, and you would think he will be able to keep his platoon splits down with it. He keeps the ball low with his off-speed pitches and was throwing 94 MPH with his fastball (but mainly was using off-speed pitches).
These guys are all flawed (notice that none have great strikeout totals), but that is exactly what a minor league free agent is. It is a guy with low upside, but no risk. Remember that Oliver Perez (while better than these 3 pitchers) was rightly viewed as a train-wreck before the 2012 season and Josh Kinney was an afterthought. Two of the three have good fastballs (in at least velocity terms) and the other one has had a good track record of MLB success. All 3 performed at least reasonably well in AAA this season, one of them in a pretty hostile environment. I am not saying that they will have success in the Majors next year (they may all get a chance and suck, or they may all be stuck in AAA or possibly go to another country like Colon did in 2010.), I was just outlining a few guys that are already available that the Mariners could take a look at.