Ask and you shall receive. After months of clamoring for Joaquin Benoit, the Rays have delivered, signing the right-hander to a minor league deal. Way back on October 7, I made the case for Benoit as a target. Here are some highlights from then...
Benoit, 32, is one of those fastball/slider combo relievers that we see having success all over the league. While he isn't the extreme slider pitcher that Michael Wuertz is (over 60% last two seasons), he throws his fair share. He also isn't as fastball conscious as Grant Balfour or David Aardsma thanks to a nice little change up in his arsenal. Despite the lack of a plus plus heater, a person with knowledge of the Rangers system and Benoit described his slider as a "true slider" that has enhanced his K rate as a reliever. They also mentioned he has "good stuff to keep you interested, but can frustrate you." Sounds a lot like the aforementioned Balfour, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball the past two seasons.
Benoit is not the answer if you're looking for an opening day closer, but over the course of the season he could be an above average piece with experience in the back-end of games that would mesh well with the nucleus of J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier and even Dan Wheeler, if he's around. After talking to some other people around the Rangers, some feel there is a chance he can even be brought in as a non-roster invitee. If the Rays could swing that, I would be ecstatic. Speaking with a person with front office experience, he said "Bullpens are crazy. It's a crap shoot; see what sticks." Tell me about it.
I mentioned in my original post that I would be ecstatic with Benoit as a NRI...ecstatic it is. Still recovering from major arm surgery, there is a decent chance that he isn't 100%. That said he could start the season in the minor leagues until at full strength; however, when healthy, Benoit is a legit 3.5-3.75 FIP candidate in the bullpen. He gets strikeouts at a decent clip and has swing-and-miss stuff. A fly ball pitcher, he shouldn't have a problem working well with the talented Rays outfield. For a more in-depth look at Benoit, check my post from October. As the 5th or 6th option in the Rays pen, a healthy Benoit would be a huge addition.