The Diamondbacks entered the 2017 with perhaps the worst projected bullpen in the majors. There were question marks all over the place. Could Fernando Rodney still close? Did non-roster invitees Jorge De La Rosa, J.J. Hoover and/or Tom Wilhelmsen have anything left in the tank? How would Archie Bradley take to a new roll in relief? The outlook was bleak to say the least, but it was clear they’d need to perform if the team was going to make any kind of impact in the National League playoff picture.
And perform they have. The group projected to be at the bottom of the heap has largely outdone themselves this season. Take a peek at where the group ranks this season in a number of key statistics:
- Innings pitched: 303 — second fewest in the majors
- ERA: 3.56 — sixth best
- FIP: 3.74 — seventh best
- HR/9: 1.04 — tenth best
- K-rate: 24.4% — eleventh best
- BB-rate: 8.6% — eleventh best
- WHIP: 1.26 — tenth best
It’s hard to be upset with these marks. They’re not leading the league, but they’re solid. For a group that was pretty unpredictable heading into the season, they’ve been surprisingly good all year. Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin have been excellent. Fernando Rodney has been far better than his ERA would suggest. Before going down, Randall Delgado had been good, and since coming back, Jake Barrett and Rubby De La Rosa have been solid. Jorge De La Rosa has at least been good against lefties, and T.J. McFarland has eaten some innings. J.J. Hoover’s struggles had him sent down, but he’s still around. It’s a decent group even if they’re lacking stars outside of Bradley who’s emerging as a stellar reliever.
But relievers are a wily bunch. The projections, while they’ve been blown out of the water this season, existed for a reason. They’re based on facts. And it’s worth wondering aloud how long they can keep up the performance. It’s not to say they’re about to fall off a cliff, but could a dip be forthcoming? A dip is exactly what this team can’t afford, yet dip they’ve done.
It’s important not to overreact to one month’s worth of games from a bullpen. But there’s no doubt this team and everyone watching them would feel better if they could add at least one reliever to the fold. The non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching and a deal seems just around the corner with the clock ticking. It seems the team will look for a pitcher with late-inning experience, which does not mean they’re necessarily looking for a new closer. Unless prices fall, it seems that Archie Bradley would be next in line for Fernando Rodney’s job. He has the stuff and the constitution to get the work done, allowing the D-backs to look for depth to help stretch out the bullpen out rather than overpaying for saves.
Looking at who fits that bill, there are a number of names that come to our attention. With Andrew Chafin and Jorge De La Rosa in the fold, it seems that a right-hander may make the most sense. The team can look for a rental player or one with more team control without painting themselves into a corner, though the cost will rise with more team control. That said, a player with an extra year or two of control could be traded over the winter should the team go another direction, helping them recoup the value spent in the initial acquisition. So who’s looking good?
Addison Reed — Mets: just kidding. But he has been good…
Brad Ziegler — Marlins: now I’m really just kidding.
Trevor Rosenthal — Cardinals: the formals Cards closer is throwing harder than ever and striking out more batters than ever. After some control problems last season, he’s brought his walks back down to an acceptable level considering his strikeouts. Never one to yield many homers, he could fit well at Chase Field despite a ground ball rate that’s waxed and waned throughout his career. Rosenthal is controlled through 2018, so the price won’t be low.
Brad Brach — Orioles: a successful setup man in Baltimore for a few years now, Brach gets his strikeouts and limits the walks, but he’s given up a higher rate of home runs this season than ever before. His profile is that of a fly ball pitcher as his ground ball rate sits just under 40%. While he’s been about as steady as they come for the last few years, the homers might be a potential issue. Like Rosenthal, he’s controlled through 2018.
Joe Smith — Blue Jays: while he’s never been a full time closer, Smith is enjoying the best season of his career in Toronto as the Jays ship sinks. His strikeouts are way up and the walks are down. His ground ball rate has dipped some, but he’s not super-prone to fly balls. Smith has had injury issues this season with his shoulder, but he’s back on the mound and primed to be moved. He’s a rental player and could be on the cheaper side of things, though his health is a concern.
A.J. Ramos — Marlins: the Fish are in sell-mode and Ramos is destined to be flipped, or is at least a prime candidate to be. His walks are up again, but the strikeouts are solid. He yields plenty of fly balls, however, and is time spent racking up saves in Miami will inflate his third-year arbitration salary. He’s not the ideal fit, but may be in the discussion.
Raisel Iglesias, Roberto Osuna and Justin Wilson are other big relief names that will get continue to get plenty of buzz in the coming days, but the prices here will be quite high. With the Diamondbacks not wanting to mortgage the future too heavily, it seems unlikely they’ll be targeted by Arizona. That’s not to say that the team won’t kick the tires, but these options appear too rich for the D-backs’ taste.
It’s not clear just how much the Diamondbacks are willing to part with to acquire bullpen help. It seems highly unlikely that they’d part with any of their top prospects, but that shouldn’t be an issue. The team has some minor league depth on the position player side to deal from. A reliever with multiple years of control could cost them a good prospect, but it comes with the added benefit of that control and that may be a tradeoff they’re willing to make. It’s unclear what is going to get done, but it looks like something will transpire in the coming days. If their offers are rebuffed and the prices are deemed too steep, they could kick the can and wait until August, but that would likely be Plan B. Look for some kind of reinforcement(s) to arrive in short order.
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