Yesterday Buster Olney wrote at ESPN.com ($) “Rival executives expect the Rays to trade Drew Smyly or Chris Archer, as well as closer Alex Colome, who had 37 saves last season.”
For Rays fans the expectation that Drew Smyly or Chris Archer will be moved isn’t surprising. The Rays have starting pitching depth and somebody will have to be moved. Alex Colome is a different story.
He was by far the most dependable arm in the bullpen for the Rays last season, a general weakness for the team, and he’s still making league minimum. What gives?
Why Colome stays
Alex Colome was the Rays best performer in a bullpen that was below average. In 2016 Colome threw 56.2 innings of 1.91 ERA while collecting 37 saves. He struck out 31.4% of batters while walking only 6.6%. He was deserving of being named to the All-Star Team as the Rays representative.
Since moving to the bullpen in July of 2015, Colome has become one of the best relievers in baseball. He’s thrown 97.1 innings with a 2.22 ERA and 2.44 FIP. He’s struck out 29.6% (10.63 K/9) of batters faced and walked 5.7% (2.03 BB/9) faced. In this time he’s put up 2.5 fWAR and 3.2 RA9 WAR which both rank twentieth among relievers over the last two seasons despite only being a reliever for a year and a half.
2017 will be his last year before he is eligible for arbitration in 2018-2020. His cost and production is invaluable to the Rays if they believe this team can truly be a contender in 2017.
Every other move they have made gives reason to believe the Rays front office believes they are in it to win it. Trading Colome goes against the Rays trying to stay competitive in the AL East.
Then again, why Colome goes...
Everybody is for sale at the right price. It appears the only one they have really said could truly be unavailable is Evan Longoria. If somebody comes along with a ridiculous offer the Rays will be forced to take it.
All the reasons the Rays want to keep him make him an attractive asset to other teams.
The free agent market is deep with two of the top five relievers in the game available in Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, but Colome would slot in either third or fourth best in the market either just ahead or behind Mark Melancon. He’s clearly been better than the rest of the available arms.
Furthermore, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen will push the market price for elite relievers. The largest contract given to reliever is 4/$50MM to Jonathan Papelbon following the 2011 season and the largest per year contract were given to Mariano Rivera at $15MM a year for several of his final seasons with the Yankees in a series of short term contracts. Both those numbers are sure to blown away as they are the most talented relievers to be free agents and significant inflation of salaries around the league has yet to touch the reliever market.
After these deals players like Colome, who are cost controlled and are essentially on three one-year team options in arbitration, will have much more perceived value than a free agent signing.
For small market teams that can’t afford to give out a potential $100MM guaranteed contract for Chapman or Jansen might just find themselves making a call to Erik Neander trying to acquire the Rays closer.
Last winter the Phillies were blown away and traded their young relief ace Ken Giles to the Astros for a haul. The real prize was Vince Velasquez, who had a promising rookie campaign for the Phillies in 2016 and some other real prospects that could impact them for years to come, including first overall draft pick Mark Appel.
If some team made a similar offer with a potential stud headlining a deal, the Rays will strongly consider it. Relievers have great value until they don’t. That can change at a moment’s notice.
I find it difficult for the Rays to be a better team in 2017 without Alex Colome in the bullpen, but if another team comes out and blows the Rays away with an offer for their All-Star closer the Rays should consider taking it.
After all, if the Rays aren’t listening to offers they aren’t doing what’s best for the franchise.