|Feliciano Injury No Surprise||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on April 09, 2011
Each offseason, relief pitchers are hot commodities. A team's bullpen usually plays a major role in that team's success or failure. From the closer to the long reliever, each player is expected to perform his role to the best of his abilities.
It's not too unusual for a closer to sign a multi-year contract, but it's quite rare for a setup man or middle reliever. There's so much turnover among those spots from year-to-year that teams are overly cautious in committing too many years.
However, sometimes after a reliever has an incredible season, a team may be willing to take a gamble. This offseason in particular, teams jumped at the opportunity -- and in some cases overpaid -- to shore their bullpen.
Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Rafael Soriano each signed three-year deals with their new respective teams. That's a long time to commit for a reliever, especially since there's always a chance of injury. In fact, injury risk may be further increased, since the team wants to use their investment as much as possible.
Speaking of overusing a pitcher, lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano of the New York Yankees made headlines after making his first career trip to the disabled list in his nine-year career. He strained his rotator cuff and won't make his Yankees' debut for at least three weeks.
For the past three seasons, Feliciano had been a workhouse for the New York Mets in the bullpen. He was ready to go consistently, and the Mets did not hesitate one bit in bringing him.
The Mets were in a tough situation the last few years. Feliciano was one of their only reliable relievers, so when the team actually had a lead, it called on Feliciano to maintain it. He led the National League each of the last three seasons in appearances with 86, 88 and 92, respectively.
Despite his workload the past few years, the Yankees signed Feliciano to a two-year, $8 million deal, with a third year option, to be their lefty specialist. With the addition of Feliciano and Soriano, the Yankees sported one of the top bullpens in the league -- at least on paper.
Recently, Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman accused the Mets of overworking Feliciano, which played a role in the lefty's recent injury. However, these statements were unwarranted for several reasons.
First off, as a general manger, Cashman's job is to review a player's injury history and workload throughout his career. Feliciano made his Mets' debut in 2002 and never spent any time on the disabled list, so he seemed like a logical choice to lock up to a two-year deal.
But while Feliciano proved his durability, his age and recent string of overuse should have been red flags for Cashman. At 34, how much longer can he be expected to produce at a high level? He appeared in a league-high 266 games over the past three seasons. If Cashman failed to realize this, then it's his problem for signing Feliciano for two years, not the Mets'.
Also as a general manager, Cashman needs to better understand the track records of relievers. One year a reliever can be great, and the next he can totally flop or go down with an injury. It's easy for Cashman to place the blame on the Mets, but he should only be blaming himself for not researching the situation properly.
Hasn't Cashman seen the extreme turnover in relievers that past few years? That five relievers signed three-year deals this winter is an anomaly. The only reason they each received the third year is because their new team was desperate for a shut-down arm coming out of the pen.
In response, Mets' pitching coach Dan Warthen claimed that Feliciano asked to pitch every day. Warthen understood Feliciano's overuse the past three years, which may have played a role in the Mets seeking other bullpen options. The Mets also did not have the finances this offseason to throw $8 million at a lefty specialist.
Most teams these days are constantly trying to develop relievers in their minor leagues. Starters are sometimes converted to relievers just to fill spots. Regardless of the handful of multi-year deals for free agent relievers this offseason, committing just one year to a reliever is the safest option.
After witnessing the Feliciano situation, general managers will be sure to do their homework before adding a second or third year to a contract offer. As such, the itinerant nature of bullpen pitchers will remain the norm.