As I prepare this post, the Indians are reported to have signed Phillies reliever Chad Durbin to a contract. On the surface, this doesn't seem all that sensible: The Indians aren't going to win this season, and they have quite a few internal candidates who would benefit from major league experience to see if they can be valuable members of Cleveland's next playoff team. Heck, Joe Smith was signed to a non-minimum deal to avoid arbitration, and he just got sent to Triple-A to make room for Orlando Cabrera. (I'm not saying I'm excited by signing O, but I understand the thinking there at least.)
Besides Smith, no fewer than eight right-handed candidates exist for the bullpen: Jensen Lewis, Justin Germano, Vinnie Pestano, Frank Herrmann, Jess Todd, Bryce Stowell, Zach Putnam, Joe Martinez and Andy Marte. Okay, not Andy Marte. He did have a 0.00 ERA and 9.0 K/9 rate last season, though.
(I am not including Chris Perez, who was excellent as a closer last season. He is the closer. Everyone else does … everything else.)
Still, even understanding the attrition rate of young relief pitchers (not to mention the fact that not one of these players looks to be elite), signing Durbin seems, well, kinda pointless.
There is one especially galling issue with Cleveland relievers from 2010, though:
- Lewis: 19 BB in 36.1 IP
Pestano: 5 BB in 5 IP
Smith: 24 BB in 40 IP
Tony Sipp: 39 BB in 63 IP
Overall, Cleveland relievers walked 210 batters in 484 1/3 innings. This is simply too many free passes. And while Herrmann only walked nine hitters in 44 2/3 innings, he gave up six homers, negating much of the value of limiting walks. (Only Sipp with 12 and Hector Ambriz with 10 allowed more for the Tribe in relief.)
Still, a funny thing happened on the way to making a joke about the Cleveland bullpen: The bottom five guys were Aaron Laffey, Jamey Wright, Ambriz, Kerry Wood, and Todd. Laffey is kind of an ersatz starter/swingman: of the other four, Wright was waived, Ambriz blew out his UCL, Wood was traded (and subsequently signed with the Cubs), and Todd will go back to playing Luke on "Modern Family" in all likelihood. (Untrue, but he does look youthful, and he is unlikely to pitch much in the majors in 2011.)
Eveyone else in the bullpen had an ERA under 4.15.
Overall, the Indians sported a 3.83 ERA even with Woods' 8.10 ERA and Ambriz's 1.76 WHIP. In the second half, the bullpen posted an ERA near 2.50.
Still, it's probably nice to have a veteran arm: on the salary list for the Cleveland 40-man roster, two pitchers are listed as making more than $430,000, and one is Rafael Perez at $795,000. (Fausto Carmona is well-paid.) And Durbin did a better job at limiting free passes (27 in 68 2/3 IP) than most Cleveland relievers last season.
If there's a concern with Durbin, it's that he's been worked pretty hard the past three seasons. Now 33, he threw 87 2/3, 69 2/3, and 68 2/3 innings as a pure reliever over that stretch. The last time someone got aired out like that at a similar age before signing with Cleveland, he was Juan Rincon, and we did not care for the experience. On the other hand, Durbin gave up only four homers in 37 2/3 innings in Philadelphia's bandbox, so there's some hope than Rincon II is not forthcoming.
Cleveland's rotation really needs a lot to go right to be even average, and there are reasons to think there will be some extra innings for the bullpen to absorb. Keep in mind, though: this was, in all likelihood, the thinking behind signing Jamey Wright, too.
Steve Buffum writes The B-List, a blog about the Cleveland Indians.