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Rays sign reliever Shawn Tolleson to $1 million guarantee

Incentives could more than double that amount for the former closer.

Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Rays have agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with free agent right-handed pitcher Shawn Tolleson, who was previously the closer for the Rangers in 2015 and into 2016. He has a chance to earn an additional $1.15 million in incentives.

Tolleson is an excellent reliever who fell on hard times in 2016, missing time away from the sport with an ailing father, and pitching with mixed success.

A groundball pitcher by type, Tolleson utilizes a fastball/slider combination with a late breaking change, pitching to contact (90.1% Z-contact rate!) with an intent to burn worms (50%). He was also mixing in a cutter last season, but it’s not clear that’s a permanent addition. We can say he’s a pitcher with feel, but it’s hard to determine much more from his 2016.

Tolleson saw only 4.1 IP in the second half; late 2016 numbers will not be our guide, but what we can see is that his stuff still works, with a 94 mph fastball with at least 10 mph separation to his change. This is something the Rays will be sure to utilize, as they have harnessed with Brad Boxberger and Danny Farquhar.

Tolleson struck out 23% of batters in 2014 and then 25% of batters in 2015. That same season he walked only 6% of hitters, and replicated that mark in his 2016 season. The results weren’t there overall last year, but it was essentially a “lost season” for the otherwise promising reliever.

It’s possible that Tolleson fell apart last season for baseball reasons instead of narrative reasons, and if so he has options remaining from his rookie deal. But on the flip side, if he does perform well, there is also one more year of arbitration left on his rookie contract, which can keep him in a Rays uniform through 2018.

This is exactly the sort of signing the Rays needed to make to populate the bullpen with high-leverage quality arms if they want a competitive 2017.


The Rays will pay Tolleson a $1-million salary, with the potential for another $1.15 in incentives. Here is a breakdown, terms obtained by the Tampa Bay Times:

35 games: $50,000
40: $75,000
45: $75,000
50: $100,000
55: $150,000
60: $200,000
65: $250,000
70: $250,000