Bullpen Fliers

Ever since Billy Beane's Moneyball Oakland team in 2002, baseball organization's have tried to maximize wins with diminished payrolls. It has worked in cases. The Joe Maddon-led Rays did a fairly good job of this between 2008-2013. Consistently in the bottom half of payroll but spitting out 90+ win seasons. But this article isn't about Joe. The Ned Yost-led Royals of 2013-2015 did the same. Clint Hurdle and the Pirates have succeeded in this manner since he took the helm in 2011. Low payroll, competitive squad. Most of us have seen the "Moneyball" movie and know the Beane belief of replacing one stud with three above average guys.

Baseball is as far from an exact science as anything could possibly be. One year it is this fad, next it is this one, the next it's this one here. As cliche at is sounds, the one consistent in baseball is that it is going to change and that Matheny is going to leave his groundball relief pitcher in too long. The belief of saving money and getting the same product isn't organic just to baseball. We do it in our daily life. We buy the store brand peanut butter instead of Peter Pan because it is $0.60 cheaper and tastes the same. Advil for $7.99 or the store brand for $5.99, give me the store brand. All because it costs more doesn't mean it is better. Clearly having the highest payroll doesn't guarantee success nor does having the lowest. You have to find that elusive mixture. You have to couple high dollar guys and some low dollar ones that well surpass their projection to achieve prosperity. It is a hard task to accomplish.

Being a mid-market franchise the Cardinals are never going to reach the payroll heights of the Dodgers, Yankees, and the Red Sox. We accept that. The Cardinals have cemented themselves into the 10-20 range. The middle third. The highest payroll the Cardinals have yielded in the last decade was in 2012 when they were the ninth highest in baseball. I wanted to look into the legitimacy of the belief that the higher the payroll, the greater the success. To some extent, there is truth to this. Clearly, the best teams each year gravitate towards to the top half of team payrolls with a few cheap, but good, teams sprinkled into the bottom half. To further research this I decided to look into what the World Series winning team payroll looked like each year since 2000.

Team Payroll Rank Inflation Equivalent
2018 Cardinals $ 117,833,333.00 6 $ 117,833,333.00
2017 Astros $ 149,964,177.00 15 $ 149,964,177.00
2016 Cubs $ 188,402,394.00 5 $ 193,627,268.00
2015 Royals $ 132,090,935.00 13 $ 137,466,706.19
2014 Giants $ 175,249,982.00 5 $ 182,598,701.97
2013 Red Sox $ 175,094,264.00 3 $ 185,395,916.16
2012 Giants $ 140,092,705.00 7 $ 150,507,795.91
2011 Cardinals $ 119,607,312.00 9 $ 131,158,662.57
2010 Giants $ 97,828,833.00 10 $ 110,663,102.30
2009 Yankees $ 201,449,289.00 1 $ 231,615,460.14
2008 Phillies $ 98,269,880.00 12 $ 112,583,398.33
2007 Red Sox $ 143,026,214.00 2 $ 170,150,162.65
2006 Cardinals $ 88,891,371.00 11 $ 108,760,973.44
2005 White Sox $ 75,228,000.00 13 $ 95,012,617.33
2004 Red Sox $ 125,208,542.00 2 $ 163,495,577.53
2003 Marlins $ 49,050,000.00 25 $ 65,754,457.34
2002 Angels $ 61,721,667.00 15 $ 84,627,301.54
2001 Diamondbacks $ 81,206,513.00 8 $ 113,167,469.58
2000 Yankees $ 92,538,260.00 1 $ 132,553,802.71
Average $ 121,723,877.42 8.58 $ 138,786,151.77

The Cardinals bill will absolutely raise in the coming months leading up to Opening Day. Whether it be through a trade, *cough* Stanton *cough*, or some lesser targeted players. It is going to rise, as will opposing teams. The Cardinals ranking sixth in payroll at the moment will inevitably change but strictly looking at today's totals they are in the preferred monetary range to go deep this upcoming season. Now that they have the big bills out of the way, sans Stanton, the Cardinals now need to look into cheaper, flier guys hoping to strike gold. A la Neshek in 2014. Here are a few guys I would be interested to see the Cardinals try a minor league deal on to try and find any resemblance of their once potential prominence.

1. Anibal Sanchez, Age 34 season. He is not going to start. Get that out of the way. Strictly a minor league deal to see if there is anything still alive. Sanchez was once an up and coming stud. A couple stellar seasons for the Marlins, a couple for the Tigers then injuries and age started adding up on Sanchez. He has had three straight awful seasons, with his ERA regressing each year, falling all the way down to 6.41 in 2017. His fastball velocity has followed the same downward trend, falling from 94.2 in 2013 to 91.1 last year. Sanchez's biggest red flag is the long ball. He had the worst homer rate of anyone with more than 100 innings last year but during his prime years he was as stingy as they come. However, here is what I do like when looking at Anibal. He posted a K/BB of 3.59 in 2017 putting him smack dab in between Yu Darvish and Gerrit Cole. His xFIP put him between Danny Duffy and the likes of Johnny Cueto and Rick Porcello. One stat that particularly draws my eye is Anibal's BABIP, Batting Average on Balls in Play. BABIP is a good indicator on whether a pitcher is having some unfortunate luck or have a poor defense behind him. Fly ball gets hit down the line and you have Matt Holliday out there, it drops in. Heyward, it is caught. Since 2012, the MLB average has set at .296 for BABIP. When a player has an abnormally high BABIP, you will likely see some regression back towards the league average of .296. Sanchez was at an astronomical rate of .354 in 2017. Part of the reason Sanchez was so high last year was due to him having the old, decrepit Tigers defense backing him up, move him into a better defensive team in St. Louis, hopefully some renewed prominence. Tigers just bought him out for $5m so a cheap minor league deal should be doable.

2. Oliver Perez, 36. Perez is like a B horror film villain. He is still just hanging around. He has seemingly been in professional baseball since the Nixon administration. I always thought he was just a kid on that 2006 Mets team the Cardinals took out. Nope, that was his fifth year. Today, Perez has been mixed bag of production out of the pen. Since becoming a full time RP in 2012, Perez has had a few sub-3 ERA seasons and as many seasons north of 4.50. Perez's best assets are his high K rates, double digit K/9 five years running, and his ability to avoid the long ball. Being a lefty, Perez knows how to get lefties out. Righties, another story. Here are Perez's numbers vs Right and Left batters the last two years.

Vs L AVG 0.693 3.63 0.64 1.15 87.8% 2.30 4.09
VS R AVG 0.839 2.19 1.45 1.70 57.7% 8.00 5.15

Right now, the Cardinals are planning to carry Cecil and Lyons as lefties next year, both capable of facing batters from both sides of the plate. On the 40 man, you have Gomber and Sherriff potentially out of the pen as well. By throwing Perez into the mix during Spring Training you're not stunting anyone's development and potentially finding a cheap LOOGY.

3. Bruce Rondon, 27. Once considered the Closer of future for the Tigers, Rondon has imploded spectacularly. Rondon has spent about equal parts in AAA the last three years as he has in the majors. Whether it be performance or attitude issues, Rondon had a tremulous time in the Motor City. Still, Rondon has serious gas. After a UCL injury costing him his 2014 season, Rondon hasn't regained all of his speed back, averaging 100.3 prior to surgery, but still averages 97 MPH on his fastball. You can't teach that type of speed. For as rocky of a young career Rondon has had, his career xFIP is just 3.78. Similar to that of his teammate above, Rondon had a lethargic Tigers defense helping him out. Trying to find a comp for Rondon the last two years and honestly, one of the closest comps is Kevin Siegrist. Here are the two the last two years.

Kevin Siegrist 9.71 4.28 1.34 0.268 34.70% 4.37 0.8 0.2
Bruce Rondon 11.6 3.81 1.04 0.314 34.70% 3.83 0.8 0.6

So it basically comes down to, would you take a right handed, gas throwing, Siegrist on a flier?

None of these guys are particularly appealing. They each have serious flaws. Two of them are in the twilight of their careers. Rondon on the other hand, maybe you can finally figure out what Detroit failed to do. At the end of the day, these guys will be cheap, "see what you got" guys. If they don't show signs of being vital additions to the 'pen, no harm. Cut ties and move on.