Mutually Beneficial

It’s easy to scoff at Kyle Farnsworth because of the absence of success that is attached to a pitcher with a 100-mph fastball; someone who looks like he should be a star, but has never achieved that status. But Farnsworth still throws hard and because of that there will always be a team willing to take a chance on him.

In 2011, that team is the Rays.

Farnsworth agreed to a 1-year, $3.25 million contract with an option for 2012.

On the surface, it seems like a reach for the Rays; but Farnsworth fits into the template of what the Rays look for in stocking their bullpen. He’s an underachiever who’s considered a failure; he’s not expensive; he throws hard and strikes people out; and he’s not going to demand that his “role” be defined.

You can list the names of pitchers who’d washed out elsewhere and rejuvenated their careers in Tampa. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Lance Cormier pop to mind immediately. The Rays signed them cheaply, used them and discarded them when they grew too expensive. Now they’re on the lookout for other, similar types of pitchers.

The Rays have the advantage of being able to run their organization correctly because of the lack of fan interest and scrutiny of everything they do. This is why they were able to trade Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late 2009, dump his salary while getting some useful youngsters; this is why they were able to re-stock their farm system in trading Matt Garza to the Cubs.

A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.

The Rays are a team that is truly able to utilize a bullpen by committee. Other clubs aren’t in that position. The Red Sox have tried it, but had to abandon the idea because of pitchers who couldn’t get the job done; whiny veterans who wanted to know they were pitching the seventh, eighth or ninth innings and wanted the glossy and moneymaking save stat; or that the club had resisted finding an available, relatively reliable arm who had the capacity—mentally more than anything else—to record those final three outs.

The fan/media resistance to the idea of the closer by committee and that the manager at the time, Grady Little, wasn’t on board didn’t help either.

The Rays are under no such constraints. No one in that refurbished bullpen is in a position to say a word if the dugout calls and says that anyone and everyone should be ready to pitch at any time. It’s good to have definition in a bullpen if the pitchers prove that they deserve to have that designated role.

Bringing in pitchers who have no right to complain removes this pressure from the Rays. They won’t hear Farnsworth complaining to the media that “saves are where the money’s at”; “I need to know where I stand” because he’s not in a position to say such things.

This also benefits the players because they see how much money a Benoit has gotten from one terrific year in Tampa and know that if they perform similarly, they can do the same. It’s mutually beneficial.

The Rays have made it a habit to grab available and underachieving arms and turn them around.

Given Farnsworth’s repeated failures, pitching coach Jim Hickey has his work cut out for him; but Hickey has managed to turn around the careers of the aforementioned pitchers; if he gets Farnsworth to fulfill his potential, he’ll enter the Dave Duncan realm of reclamation project pitching coaches.

Have the Rays found another gem in Farnsworth who needs a tweak here and there? The initial reaction is probably not; but who knows?

Worst case scenario, they can use Farnsworth’s intimidation factor and reputation to try and frighten B.J. Upton into hustling. That would be worth the contract in and of itself.

  • Viewer Mail 1.13.2011:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

If Hoffman is a HOF’er, then Lee Smith has to be. Pandora’s Box? Slippery slope? Only time will tell!

There’s been a profound absence of fingers on the pulse of the voters in recent years. Barry Larkin was seen as a shoo-in and then he didn’t come close in his first year of eligibility. No one knows what they’re going to be thinking five years from now and you’ll also see a bunch of names who’ve been closing start to approach the numbers Hoffman has; with that will be a greater comparison; with that will be more names like Lee Smith, John Franco and Roberto Hernandez who elicit eye rolls when the mere suggestion of Hall of Fame induction is mentioned.

If he was up for election immediately, I’d say he has a better chance; his accumulation of stats is going to look worse as time passes.

Mike Fierman writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

He always seemed to fail in big moments..how about 2007? I’m trying to remember the particulars. was it against the brewers that he blew the save so that they had to play the game 163 against the Rockies that he also blew?

Those were two bad ones. He blew the game on the Saturday against the Brewers (in a weird bit of irony, giving up a game-tying triple to Tony Gwynn Jr. with 2 outs in the ninth); then gacked a 2 run lead in the bottom of the 13th inning in the one-game playoff in Colorado.

These are not small issues for Hoffman to overcome with stat compiling.

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  1. #1 by Jane Heller on January 13, 2011 - 3:34 pm

    If the Rays wanted a hard thrower in the pen, why not re-sign Balfour? How much did he want for a one-year deal?

    • #2 by Rob on January 13, 2011 - 5:10 pm

      He wanted a multi year deal.

  2. #3 by Rob on January 13, 2011 - 5:09 pm

    “A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.”

    http://www.tampabay.com/sports/baseball/rays/television-ratings-for-tampa-bay-rays-on-the-rise/1111241

    The economy is exceptionally poor in Tampa Bay. Don’t let attendance numbers fool you. There is plenty of interest in the Rays.

  3. #4 by Jeff on January 13, 2011 - 5:41 pm

    I’m sure you know where my jaw was when I read about the Farnsworth deal. Looks like $2 million too much… the dude makes me sick, but hell, more power to him.

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