On the eve of Free Agency, the Cubs made a pair of moves involving relief pitchers.
First, the Cubs re-signed LHP John Grabow to a two-year contract reportedly worth $7-7.5 million dollars. If you're asking yourself why they would spend that much money on a player who has accumulated -0.1 WAR over the past three seasons, then you're in the right place.
Grabow is a serviceable relief pitcher, but he is nothing special. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and like a lot of other relievers, he mixes in sliders and change-ups. His change-up has proven to be a plus pitch, but overall he doesn't generate a lot of swings and misses (8.1 swstr% in 2009).
Results wise, Grabow has benefited from a shiny ERA, and that's probably why he got the contract he did. In 2008, he posted an ERA of 2.84 for the Pirates and followed that up with a combined 3.36 for Pittsburgh and Chicago in 2009. Advanced metrics, however, see past the ERA screen and rate Grabow about average. His FIP in 2008 was 4.54 and only slightly better in 2009 at 4.20. That's not terrible, but I'm not giving him $7 million dollars over two seasons to basically be replacement level--especially not the day before the market is flooded with cheaper, and in many cases better, options.
The difference in FIP and ERA looks to come from high walk rates. For his career, Grabow has a BB/9 of 4.15. This past season, that rate was a whopping 4.98, while he only struck out 7.09 batters per nine. He can thank a friendly BABIP of .279 (.251 in 2008), and a begging-to-be-regressed HR/FB% of 5.7 in 2009 (nearly half of his career average) for the stellar ERA numbers. Unlike most lefty relievers, Grabow has shown the ability to get out right handed batters, but for a guy who has been worth just $5.3 million dollars since 2003, it's just silly to hand him $7 million dollars.
The other move for the Cubs involved trading away another reliever, Aaron Heilman, to the Diamondbacks for two prospects. Heilman, like Grabow, was merely serviceable out of the Cubs bullpen in 2009, and he remains unspectacular. His 4.37 FIP was slightly above his career average of 4.13. Nothing in his BABIP or batted ball rates would suggest fluke, so it would seem his 2009 season is pretty indicative of what to expect going forward. He made $1.6 million in 2009 and is arbitration eligible for the final time. Given the mediocre season, he should see a marginal pay raise, which led some to believe he would be non-tendered. Although he has starting experience, he hasn't started a major league game since 2005, and reports are that Arizona sees him as a reliever.
In return for Heilman's services, the Cubs will receive LHP Scott Maine and 1B Ryne White. Besides sharing a first name with a Cubs legend, Ryne White doesn't look like much of a prospect. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Purdue, White had mixed results in his first full pro season. Spending the entire season at A+ (Visalia) level, he showed a good eye, walking 13.5% of the time while striking out 20.8%. The favorable walk rate helped push his OBP over the .370 mark, however, he showed little power in the process. A "stocky" player in frame (5-10, 205ish), he hit just 25 XBH in nearly 500 plate appearances and slugged just .356 on the season with an ISO of .091. A left handed batter, he struggled against LHP and looks more like a platoon player going forward.
The other player headed to the windy city is 24 year-old lefty, Scott Maine. Drafted by the D-Backs in 2006, Maine looks like he could be a sleeper candidate for a bullpen spot as early as the 2010 season. A side-armer, Maine throws in the mid 90s, and not surprisingly gets his fair share of ground balls. After posting a 2.88 FIP in 47.1 innings at AA, he was briefly promoted to AAA where he put up an impressive 2.59 FIP, albeit in just 14.2 innings. He has struck out more than a batter per inning in his career, and seems to have a good handle on the long ball. That said, walks are a slight issue. If nothing else, Maine is a cheap, controllable asset which is something that can't be said for Heilman or Grabow.