Reds and Free Agency: Bullpen Help From the Left Side?


Kind of strange having that as a headline, and I’m not referring to anyone’s political stance.

Here’s where I’m going with this. It is entirely possible that Reds GM Walt Jocketty will look to add a couple of arms (maybe more) to what was arguably the best bullpen in baseball. You know the saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But the bullpen will be different in 2013. Of course, there are some factors in play here.

The front office will have three decisions that will determine which path to trod. There is a general feeling that Bill Bray, a lefty, and Logan Ondrusek, at time mentioned as a future closer for the team, could be non-tendered. Ondrusek has played a significant role in the Reds ‘pen over the past three seasons. Bray, who missed substantial time in 2012, would appear the most likely of the pair, but, and here’s the other factor.

(UPDATE: Bill Bray was not tendered a contract according to a Lance McAlister tweet. confirms this via their Transactions page. He elected to become a free agent rather than accept assignment.)

If the Reds decide to move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation, there will be only one lefty arm under contract: Sean Marshall. If Chapman is plucked from his closer’s role, the chances of Bray making a return to the Reds seems a little more plausible. Maybe not much more.

It has been mentioned that Reds skipper Dusty Baker would prefer three lefties in his ‘pen. Worked out in 2010 when he had Chapman, Bray and Arthur Rhodes. He wasn’t afforded as much such in 2011 or this past season either, but when you have two guys that, even as righties, are better against opposing lefty bats (Jose Arredondo and Ondrusek), you tend not to get too worked up over such.

In scanning the free agent lefty pitchers (our subject of the day), there are a trio that could benefit the Reds.


Sean Burnett – Burnett recently declined his part of a mutual option to test the free agent waters. Considering the 2012 Burnett posted, can’t say I’m completely shocked by the move.

MLB Trade Rumors ranks Burnett as their #47 free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals being the most likely destination. He will certainly generate interest as Burnett is only 30 and had found a suitable role with the Nationals. Any team would love to have Burnett as a member of its bullpen.

There were two areas in which Burnett displayed a vast improvement: BB/9 and SO/9; therefore, his SO/BB ratio was substantially higher than he had previously posted. This past season, Burnett improved his SO/BB ratio three-fold over 2011 (4.75 from 1.57).

Burnett had a two year, $3.7MM deal with that mutual option for $3.5MM. Guesses? Burnett wants to test the market and see if a multi-year deal is possible. Actually, It should be a given. The price will be the thing.

(Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

J.P. Howell – If there are any red flags attached to Howell, one would be missing the entire 2010 season due to shoulder surgery. The positive of that is Howell has been healthy since then.

The other could be the walks, although Howell corrected that some this past season. He did struggle in 2011, but bounced back to resemble more of the 2008 and 2009 Howell this past season. The process is evolving in a positive direction. He was a vital piece of Joe Maddon’s bullpen when the Rays advanced to the 2008 World Series.

Howell’s career splits indicate there’s no difference in facing RHB (.248/.343/.403) or LHB (.241/.323/.351). What about 2012? RHB: .244/.340/.456; LHB: .200/.306/.306.

Howell made $1.35MM this past season and will not only be looking long-term deal, but a higher salary as well. The conjecture was that if Bray were to be tendered, it would be around $1.5MM. That might be a decent starting point for Howell.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE)

Randy Choate – 2012 was two separate seasons for Choate. While a member of the Miami Marlins, he may have been one of the best lefty, non-closing relievers in the game. He compiled a 2.49 ERA and 0.987 WHIP in 44 games (25.1 IP) for the now-disposed Ozzie Guillen.

Then the trade came. Choate was included in the deal which sent Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Somehow, that didn’t sit right as Choate struggled massively in Dodger blue recording an ERA of 4.05 and a WHIP over 1.6.

In viewing Choate’s lifetime numbers, he doesn’t appear to be particularly effective…then look at his career splits. Against LHB, his triple slash against: .201/.278/.284. For 2012, .158/.243/.218. And you would be correct to assume that the majority of that success came in Miami (overall: MIA – .174 BAA, LAD – .245 BAA).

But here’s the rub. Choate has always had some issues regarding free passes. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Walks at GABP are a disaster waiting to happen. Okay, I’ve never put it like that, but we all know it’s true.

You may be interested to note that I did not include Jeremy Affeldt in this discussion (ranked #50 on MLBTR). Two things here. He’s coming off another excellent season where he was dominant in the postseason and it is not a far cry to see Affeldt want about $6MM per season. That’s a little lofty and probably unrealistic for the Reds to even offer.

Age works in favor of Howell. Numbers point a little more toward Burnett. Choate would be a decent addition, but I would think he’s third on this list.

Unless Choate comes at a basement bargain rate. The chances of him landing a multi-year deal seem the lowest among these three. Burnett is almost a certain to get more than one year while Howell could land one as well seeing as he’s the youngest option.

Tomorrow will be righty relievers…and there are some attractive arms out there.