As my managing editor Matt Provenzano recently discussed, the Winter Meetings are boring. What was once the focal point of the offseason for major signings and transactions has been rendered mostly unnecessary thanks to cell phones and texting. It now serves mostly as an excuse for those in the business to get together, and those looking to get into the business to try to do so.
Still, while free agent juggernauts Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain on the market, some notable free agents did sign. In Part 1, we took a look at the Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, and J.A. Happ signings. Here in Part 2, let’s take a look at Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Jeurys Familia, and the Tanner Roark trade.
Lynn signed for three-year, $30 million with the *checks notes* Texas Rangers? Their starting pitching was a dumpster fire last year, and they were a 67-win team that likely will not be much better in 2019. That being said, they still need to field a team, and I am pretty sure Mike Minor can’t start everyday. From that perspective, getting Lynn on a good deal makes sense.
Lynn was two different pitchers in 2018. He made his first 20 starts with the Twins and struggled mightily. He had a 5.36 RA9 and walked over 13 percent of batters faced. He was much better after his trade to the Yankees, with a 4.31 RA9 in a more hitter-friendly stadium and against stronger competition. He improved his strikeout rate and gave up only two home runs against 231 batters faced. Amazingly, he more than halved his walk rate.
If Lynn continues to pitch like he did in New York, he should be a solidly average starter, which is a great return for just $10 million per year, even for a noncompetitive team. There is some real potential for the Rangers to flip him for prospects if he does end up being average or better.
My biggest concern for Lynn is his huge platoon split. For his career, he has a .279 wOBA against right-handed hitters but a .346 wOBA against left-handed hitters. The good news is that the AL has a dearth of great left-handed hitters. The bad news is that left-handed hitters still exist in the AL. However, with a career .346 wOBA versus lefties, a left-handed hitter does not even have to be that good to be a threat against Lynn.
Kelly signed a three-year, $25 million to join the team that the Red Sox beat in the World Series. I was surprised. The thing about Kelly is that he is just not that good, I’m sorry to say. He is a viable middle reliever, but nothing more than that, and certainly not worth a three-year deal for a reliever.
Kelly was one of the best relievers during the 2018 postseason. He had a 1.62 RA9 and struck out about 30 percent of the 44 batters he faced. He did all that without allowing one single walk or home run. Of course, that is even less than a small sample size. Since being moved to the bullpen full time in 2016, he has had a 4.18 RA9 and accumulated only 1.6 WAR. His strikeout rates were mediocre, and he struggled with his control, walking almost 12 percent of batters faced. He just does not get the results one would expect given how hard he throws.
The Dodgers are too smart to be fooled by a great playoff run. It is entirely possible that they see something that we do not. In a recent episode of Effectively Wild, Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan discussed what one of the things could be: Kelly pretty much abandoned his slider during the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if he continues to do so in 2019. However, even in the best case scenario, he is not going to be a true-talent 1.62 RA9 pitcher.
While this signing does not make a lot of sense from a talent point of view, you can defend it from the Dodgers’ perspective. They need bullpen help and ~$8.3 million per year is nothing to them. They have shown in the past that they have no problem leveraging their seemingly bottomless pit of money to deal with sunk costs.
Familia decided to return to the Mets on a three-year, $30 million deal, with the intent of having him be the setup man for Edwin Díaz. The Mets are paying Familia the same amount that the Rangers are paying Lynn, who is at worst a number four starter. Here is a friendly reminder that though I am a Mets fan, this team frustrates me to no end.
Familia is better than Kelly, but not nearly good enough to justify a three-year deal for a reliever. He was very good in New York but fell off a bit in Oakland. He had a 3.25 RA9 for the year while striking out 27.5 percent of hitters faced. His walk rate is a little high at 9.3 percent, and his DRA was quite a bit higher than his RA9 at 3.94. Yes, these are good numbers for a reliever, but not the kind of numbers to which I would commit three years. Steamer projects only 0.7 WAR for Familia in 2019.
It needs to be said that the Mets chose once again to bring back a player who is an alleged domestic abuser, and they are paying a premium to do so. This sends a terrible message to victims of domestic violence. The issue of how we should deal with domestic abusers in sports is a complicated one, but that does not mean that we should not be criticizing teams that clearly do not care about it.
The Reds acquired Tanner Roark from the Nationals in exchange for Tanner Rainey, a 25-year-old relief prospect. Roark has just one more year left until free agency, and MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a $10 million salary for him in arbitration.
This is similar to the Lynn acquisition in the sense that the Reds were a 67-win team in 2018 that badly needs starting pitching for next year, despite the fact that they are very unlikely to be competitive. A solid relief prospect and $10 million is a great price for Roark, who had a 4.49 RA9 and 6.6 BB% in 2018 and was worth 3.0 WAR. The downsides are that he suffers from sub-par strikeout rates, is homer prone, and had a 4.89 DRA. Steamer projects only 1.3 WAR in 2019.
There are risks in terms of performance but they are mitigated by the low price the Reds paid. Still, it is an odd thing for a noncompetitive team to do. Like with Lynn and the Rangers, this makes the most sense if they can flip Roark at the trade deadline.
This is a risk for the Nationals, too. There are signs that Roark is unlikely to repeat his 3.0 WAR in 2019, but I would have happily paid $10 million to find that out instead of moving him to save that relatively small amount and leave a hole in the starting rotation. Worst case scenario, he could have been moved to the bullpen, where he has seen success before. It is no secret that the Nats’ bullpen needs help anyway. The NL East will allow very little room for error, so the team had better hope they nailed this.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.