The Dodgers/Reds was obviously the transaction of the week, or even the offseason as a whole, but smaller moves happened too. Kenny Kelly took on the Matt Harvey signing by the Angels, and Bob Ellis wrote up the Rockies signing of Daniel Murphy. Let’s take a short look at a few of the other signings this week.
The Angels followed up their signing of Matt Harvey by signing Cahill to a one-year, $9 million deal. It is hard to criticize a cheap one-year deal, especially given how badly the Angels’ rotation needs help, but there is significant risk involved with bringing Cahill to Los Angeles.
Cahill was very durable early in his career, averaging ~200 innings in his second through fourth seasons in the league, but then things went downhill. The 2018 season saw Cahill pitch 110 innings for the first time since 2014, and over the three seasons between then, he pitched a combined 193 innings total. The good news is that he was pretty solid when he did pitch, with a 4.25 RA9 and average strikeout and walk rates. He benefited from some good defense in Oakland, but he also suffered from low strand rates. His 3.48 DRA was quite a bit lower than his RA9, likely because he gave up more runs than he should have given the quality of contact he gave up.
Cahill’s career 56 percent groundball rate should play very nicely in front of Andrelton Simmons and Zack Cozart. If David Fletcher ends up as the everyday second baseman, that will round out a very strong defensive infield, with first base being by far the weak spot regardless of whether Justin Bour or Albert Pujols are there.
The chances of Cahill pitching to his upside and staying healthy enough for that to matter are not terribly high. However, the Angels have virtually no shot at the division, and the AL Wild Card race will be extremely competitive. The team’s upside might only be heading to Boston or New York for the Coin Flip game. This is precisely the kind of risk the team needs to take, and it is easily worth $9 million. They need to do everything they can within reason while they still have Mike Trout, because they have only two more seasons before he signs a half-billion dollar contract.
Sánchez had a career revival with the Braves last season. They signed him to a $1 million deal after he came off his five-year contract with the Tigers, one that began very well but ended disastrously. The first two years of that deal saw Sánchez combine for a 3.24 RA9 and 8.3 WAR. He likely would have won the Cy Young in that first year had he not suffered an injury that affected his innings total. The last three years, unfortunately, combined for a 6.02 RA9 and sub-replacement level play. The problem was he became very homer-prone, partially because of a drop in fastball velocity.
Sánchez made up for his decline in velocity by using his fastball less and scrapping his slider in favor of a cutter. He also started throwing more changeups, a pitch that he had moved away from in previous years, which was weird because it had always been a good pitch.
Sánchez had a 3.16 RA9, and boosted what were once sub-par strikeout rates to a solid 24.4 percent. His DRA was even better at 2.75. Outside of pre-arbitration players, I am not sure that any team got more value from a player than the Braves got from Sánchez. They got 3 WAR for their $1 million!
The Nationals rewarded Sánchez with a two-year, $19 million deal plus a $12 million team option. He will replace the recently traded Tanner Roark, a move that I had trouble figuring out at the time, but now it makes more sense. This is a cheap deal with lots of upside, maybe even more upside than Roark would offer. The Nats will save money up front, too, as Sánchez will be making only $6 million in 2019, which is at least $4 million less than Roark will make. Of course, the deal will cost more money in the long run, even if the Nationals decline his third-year option.
I am a little surprised that the Braves did not try to bring him back. If Sánchez is anywhere near as good for the Nats as he was for the Braves, this could come back to haunt them in the extremely competitive NL East.
Miller had an outstanding five-year run as one of the best relievers in baseball. Honestly, it was one of the best five-year runs a reliever ever had. From 2013-2017, he had an unbelievably good 2.10 RA9 and 41.1 K%. Alas, even super relievers like Miller are susceptible to the volatility in performance that plagues members of the bullpen. Last season he pitched only 34 innings due to injury with only a 4.24 RA9. His peripherals took a big hit, too, with his strikeout rate dropping below 30 percent and his walk rate rising above 10 percent.
Miller is coming off a four-year, $36 million deal that was one of the rare times a reliever contract of over two years actually worked out well. It is unfortunate that his performance dropped so much in a contract year, but I don’t think it worked out too badly for him. The Cardinals signed him to a two-year, $25 million deal. The deal includes a vesting option for a third year at $12 million that will vest if he makes a total of 110 appearances in 2019 and 2020.
The Cardinals’ bullpen certainly needs the help. It ranked in the bottom five in baseball by RA9 when adjusting for league and park effects, and just outside of that by DRA. Carlos Martínez was outstanding in the bullpen in 2018, but he is expected to return to the rotation next season. They don’t have any decent lefties in the bullpen, either.
Vintage Miller is likely gone forever, but that does not mean he is not a positive regression candidate, which the Cardinals are clearly expecting. I am normally averse to big spending on relievers, but at least it is only two years. Still though, there is more risk here than I would be comfortable with. Steamer is projecting a 3.18 RA9 for 2019, and while that is reassuring, I suspect that reliever projections have wide error bars. The likelihood that the Cardinals get a good return on investment is not high.
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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.