Blue Jays Sign Jon Rauch

From Jerry Crasnick:

#BlueJays sign reliever Jon Rauch to $3.5M deal with club option of $3.75M for 2012, 

This is disappointing news for all of us that were hoping the Rays were still going to get one high-upside arm off the free agent market. Our entire wish list has now been emptied: Octavio Dotel is with the Blue Jays; Chad Qualls is with the Padres; Grant Balfour is with the Athletics, Kevin Gregg is with the Orioles; and now Jon Rauch joins the Blue Jays. He was the last reliever on the market with a solid track record; now we're looking at a collection of players with upside, but also lots and lots of question marks.

This signing raises two immediate questions in my mind: why do the Rays seemingly prefer Farnsworth over Rauch, and who else is left for us to target? Let's tackle these one by one.

Farnsworth vs. Rauch

It's tough not to immediately compare these two signings, considering that both relievers signed within the last week for deals that are nearly identical in length and money. Maybe the Rays were hesitant to sign two relievers to two-year deals, but if that's the case, then why did they prefer to sign Farnsworth over Rauch? We've been hoping the Rays sign Rauch for so long, this seems like a very curious decision by the Rays.

Farnsworth is two years older than Rauch (34 years old versus 32), but neither pitcher has a significant injury history (minus Farnsworth's freak dog bite injuries). They're both durable relievers and a near lock to pitch around 60-70 innings, but the Rays' rationale gets a little clearer when you peak at some of their peripheral statistics over the last two years:

Farnsworth

Rauch

3.79

ERA

3.38

3.08

FIP

3.46

3.54

xFIP

4.43

9.1

K/9

6.7

2.9

BB/9

2.6

43%

GB%

37%

While Rauch has put up the lower ERA over the past couple years, Farnsworth has been the better overall pitcher. He's generated more strikeouts and groundballs, while walking only slightly more batters and allowing a similar amount of homeruns.  His BABIP has been his main downfall, making his 2009 season look much worse than it should have been, but the Rays have one of the best defenses in the majors. If there's any team that can bring down Farnsworth's BABIP and ERA, it's the Rays.

Of course, this analysis centers on the assumption that Farnsworth's recent improvements are legit and that he's likely to continue producing at a similar level going forward. Normally I wouldn't buy into that - history is normally the best judge of how a pitcher will do in the future - but there are some convincing reasons why his improvements may be for real. The Rays seem to think these improvements are for real, and only time will tell if they are vindicated or not.

Who's Next?

This is the big question, and I don't have a great answer. I'm sure RJ and Tommy will shortly come up with some more names to look at, but while perusing the free agent list right now, there are no names that jump out at me. Well, that's not entirely true: there are plenty of players that might be worth a try, but none of the same caliber as Rauch. All the remaining pitchers are essentially crapshoots: injured relievers looking to bounce back, old relievers looking to hang around for another year or two, and players trying to re-invent their careers. It's not an attractive list, but if you look a bit deeper, there are some potential pieces still to be found.

Here are a couple names and some general thoughts:

  • Todd Coffey: He's probably my number one remaining target. Coffey's put up solid strikeout, walk, and groundball rates over the last two years, although he's had his success in the National League and he is susceptible to allowing homeruns. If nothing else, his 4.20 FIP last season in 69 games is pretty attractive.
  • Chad Durbin: Similar to Coffey, Durbin has posted good strikeout, walk, and groundball rates, but he's been inconsistent over the last three years. Control seems to be his biggest concern.
  • Alfredo Aceves: Sternfan1's new favorite, Aceves is a power arm that pitched well for the Yankees over the last few seasons. His main problem is control, and he also had a lower back problem that ended his 2010 season. I'm unsure of his current status, but if healthy, he'd be worth a flyer.
  • Mark Hendrickson: Jason Hanselman has you covered.
  • Kelvim Escobar / Juan Cruz: Both of these guys have had significant injury problems recently, so signing them would depend upon their current status. I haven't seen updates anywhere on them, but they'd be worth looking into for sheer upside alone.

Anyone that I missed?

The Rays could also promote reliever from within and chose not to sign another reliever for the bullpen, especially since the bullpen might now be getting a bit crowded: Farnsworth, Russell, Peralta, Ramos, and Sonnanstine are all probable locks, while Howell will be back early and McGee could join the 'pen as well. That's not a bad combination and has some good upside, especially if the Rays sign one more smaller name for back-up. While I'd feel better with Rauch in the bullpen as well, we can still get by.

It may be that the Rays didn't need to sign another big-name reliever, and are content with the core of bullpen as it stands right now. Also, it could be they really wanted Rauch, but weren't willing to spend as much on him as they did on Farnsworth. There are so many different possibilities on how this went down, and there's no way we'll know the true answer. At the very least, this makes taking guesses about our 2011 bullpen very interesting.

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