Ever since Alex Colome moved to the bullpen after failing as a starter he has been a very good reliever. With the news that two months of Aroldis Chapman brought the Yankees a consensus 25-30 overall prospect in Gleyber Torres and some other respectable prospects, should the Rays be willing to move Colome? Is the price of all relievers sky high?
The life of a reliever is a fickle one and trying to peg the value of Colome isn’t very straight forward. For a position player or starting pitcher it might be easy to project out how much surplus value a player has and try to convert that to prospect values to get an idea of a reasonable expectation. The problem is relievers are more like prospects than proven commodities.
A typical reliever will only throw 60-75 innings a year should they remain healthy. The variance that can occur in such a short window is more akin to those prospects that either can bring great value or be damn near worthless.
Going back the last three seasons (2014-16) there are only two relievers who appear in the top 10 of RA9 WAR and they are Wade Davis and Zach Britton. Relievers with great reputations that only appear once on the list include the Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and our old friend Jake McGee.
If you expand it out to top 25 RA9 WAR for the last three seasons (2014-16) there are only five relievers who appear in all three. Wade Davis and Zach Britton are joined by Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Mark Melancon. (For further context: Dellin Betances avoids making the top 25 this year after leading the league the last two seasons as his 2.52 ERA is well above his 1.18 FIP)
Some guys fail to make it due to injuries and others it’s some bad luck or bad performance. Or in the case of Will Harris or Roberto Osuna they weren’t in the majors in 2014 but make the list for both 2015 and 2016.
The elite guys are elite because they perform at a high level with consistency.
In the reliever market there just aren’t that many and you could argue that Wade Davis and Zach Britton have been the best and that guys like Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Dellin Betances make up that next group of really great relievers.
But if so few relievers are elite, why are teams dropping top dollar for closers? And what's our best comparison for closers with five seasons left on their contract?
The Astros gave up a lot to get Ken Giles
Because of team control this is probably the first place your mind would lead you if you think about a potential Colome deal, because of the years of control.
When Ken Giles was traded this off-season he had five years of control remaining and presently Colome has four years a couple of months remaining. The difference in a couple of months is likely offset by teams needing reinforcements this time of year and you get them for the same amount of playoff runs should your team make it in.
The Astros gave up RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Thomas Eshelman, and RHP Mark Appel.
Velasquez was the prize of the trade as he was a back end top 100 prospect before reaching the majors at age 23. His MLB production was hit or miss as is normal with a young pitcher and whether he could stay in the rotation was in question. Mark Appel is the former number one overall pick from the 2013 draft, but has struggled since signing out of Stanford. Thomas Eshelman was the Astros second round pick in the 2015 draft. Brett Oberholtzer was a back of the rotation innings sponge.
That is quite the haul for a reliever that is expected to throw 60 or so innings a season. But how does Giles compare to Colome?
Ken Giles body of work is clearly superior to Colome’s. Colome has been good, but he losses out on strikeout rate, earned runs, FIP, and homers allowed. The only area Colome has the advantage is in walk rate, but it’s not significant.
Since WAR is a counting stat if you scale it to per 60 innings Giles is the clear favorite as Colome comes in at 1.5 fWAR/1.5 RA9 WAR per 60 innings whereas Giles came in at 1.9 fWAR/1.7 RA9 WAR per 60.
Furthermore, the package the Phillies received looks much better today as Velasquez has been a beast in the rotation. The rest of the prospects the Phillies still have time to become something, but don’t look like significant contributors moving forward as none are currently in their team’s top 10.
What would a team give up for Colome?
I don’t think Ken Giles is a great comp, so even if a team went all-in for Colome I wouldn’t expect a deal that large. I think if a team is really interested you likely get a top 100 prospect and a lottery ticket or two. That seems to be the going rate to get a deal done in general.
While you would think that the long term control would have great appeal for other teams it’s really hard to look out even one or two years in the future for a reliever.
Colome has been a really good reliever, but he’s not elite. I think his league minimum year next season has more value to the Rays if they want to try to reload and try to compete.
If he continues to perform, though, his value a year from now will likely not be much different than today unless he self destructs. That’s always possible with a reliever, so I don’t think it’s a bad idea to sell high on one, but his value is likely more tangible to the Rays on the roster in 2017 than on the trade market in 2016.