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Rays Free Agent Target: Matt Albers

Rays pen looks like a work in progress, and an Albers addition could be an improvement

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This time of year is an exciting time for all MLB fans for many reasons, one of which is the flurry of releases and waivers that come through as each team settles their roster’s makeup.

Some will have done well in spring training, others will have a glorious past that makes them intriguing, but in each case we pause - ask ourselves about the possible outcomes vs the costs of acquisition - and then decide whether or not they’d be a good gamble.

The Rays have already done their part in adding one such player who would have been cut by the White Sox. They could potentially use another former South Sider in Matt Albers. Here’s the latest from Ken Rosenthal:

And although he was let go by the Nats, word is he could return there if he doesn’t find a better option elsewhere.

Would the Rays be interested in bringing in a RHP RP who had a rough 2016, one that saw him pitch to a 6.31 ERA and 1.675 whip?

That’s debatable, but here’s the low-down on how he got here.

Matt Albers: A Mixed Bag

Now 34 years old, Albers has a wealth of experience to work from, as well as many miles on his arm. Once a highly touted Astros SP prospect, turned reliever by the Orioles, he now has thrown in 452 games and a total of 604 innings. But he really hit his groove in 2012, at the age of 29, when he split time between the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks.

From 2012 through 2015 (courtesy Fangraphs), Albers accomplished this:

  • 169 IP | 688 TBF | 59.3 GB% | 2.34 ERA | 1.18 Whip | 3.90 FIP
  • 16.7 SO% | 8.3% BB% | .228 AA | .260 BABIP | 82% LOB
  • WAR: 2013 (CLE) 0.3, 2014 (HOU) 0.2, 2015 (CHW) 0.4

Some key notes about those stats include the fact that they all included doing the majority of his work in the AL or in the tough ARZ environment. Also, aside from a broken pinkie that stopped him from throwing for a couple of months in 2015 (happened as he was reaching into pile trying to pull players out) he was healthy enough to pitch 60+ innings and appear in 56+ games each season.

His 59.3 GB% would have easily made him tops among the 2016 Rays pen. Of the mainstays, Erasmo Ramirez led the way with a 52.9 GB%, an indication of how many Albers induced.

So we get to 2016. The dilemma of whether or not to add Albers lies in what you believe caused his 2016 season to be such a hard one. Was it a question of usage, injury, or diminished stuff? Seems like the latter to me.

You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to realize that a velocity drop may be part of the reason Albers had issues in 2016. That resulted in hitters managing a line of .321/.382/.560 against him and both RHB and LHB feasted on him with a .924 and .979 OPS respectively.

Now you’re thinking, so why would the Rays be interested, right? Before I get into that, here’s what Dusty Baker had to say about him just before he was released:

"He throws strikes, he throws ground balls," Baker said. "He hasn't given up anything this spring. He's had an outstanding spring. We've just got to see how the numbers work out, which is always a chore this time of the year."

Albers may be able to regain enough velocity to simultaneously regain enough effectiveness to make him a solid addition to the pen. There’s also a chance that the Rays can help him better utilize his secondary stuff.

So he looked good in spring. Some may say “so what, spring training doesn’t really matter”. And while that’s true, it’s how a pitcher looks out there - particularly when trying to earn a roster spot - that matters. That ties into the more accurate question, which is: “how has he look compared to some of the current options the Rays are considering for the pen?” Having had very few moments to view the Rays relief options on television, it’s hard for us to say.

Final Thoughts

After joining both the White Sox (in 2015) and Nationals (2017) on a minors deal, and being willing to return to the Nats on a minors deal, it’s likely he’d be willing to rebuild value in that manner with the right club. Could it be with the Rays in hopes of landing a roster spot down the road? Possibly.

While he’s not going to be the set up guy or close any games, there’s something to be said for having a guy that can get the team out of jams by inducing ground outs and double-plays.

With his experience and ground ball tendencies, he could prove to be a good addition to the pen. And if not, the costs would seemingly be minimal, making this a low-risk medium-reward investment possibility.

Who knows, if he makes the team, maybe he can pinch hit in the a tie 13-inning game and do more of this: