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A lot of relievers are getting three-year deals. That’s a bit scary.

Dec 16, 2010, 6:09 AM EST

matt-guerrier-twins Getty Images

UPDATE: Cameron expands on his analysis of multi-year deals for relievers here.

6:09 AM: It always takes a while for teams to turn to the bullpen during the offseason, but when they do, they tend to do it all at once. And it was certainly a big day for relief pitcher signings and rumors yesterday. Matt Guerrier, Kerry Wood and Jesse Crain signed. There’s action on Bobby Jenks and Octavio Dotel. I’m sure this will continue for a while.

Of particular note: Crain and Guerrier signed three-year deals.  As did Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs recently. Three-year deals for relievers seem kind of nuts to me given how up-and-down almost every reliever’s performance tends to be. I hadn’t realized how up-and-down until I saw this tweet from Dave Cameron yesterday:

List of relievers who have signed 3+ year deals since 2006 and been worth the money: Rivera. That’s it. That’s the list.

He means free agent relievers, not necessarily young ones locked up by their teams during arbitration years such as Joakim Soria, but it’s still a pretty startling observation.  And even though Cameron doesn’t define “worth the money” in his tweet, it’s hard to come up with a single non-Mariano exception to the observation, even if you’re generous about what “worth” is.

The Jayson Werth deal signaled that baseball’s recent run of relative austerity was over.  The fact that setup guys are getting three-year deals like this is pretty darn good supporting evidence.

  1. paperlions - Dec 16, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    I understand the trepidation associated with signing relievers to 3 yr deals, but isn’t the inconsistent production more a reflection of small sample sizes each year rather than changes in skill level/ability? If so, then using small sample sizes to justify avoiding multi-year reliever deals seems contrary to the prevailing winds (and rather stupid). Moreover, if performance is up and down, how does a short deal help? Does it make a guy more likely to have a good year? Of course not. In a short deal you are just as likely to get an “up” as a “down”. With all of the teams looking for relief help each year, it isn’t like it is difficult to move a these guys.
    .
    To me, the dumb thing to do is to spend $10MM (or in the case of some $15MM) for 60-70 innings of work. At least these teams are looking at getting closer to 200 innings for their $12-13MM.

    • JBerardi - Dec 16, 2010 at 12:02 PM

      1. Small sample size variation plays a roll. Actual variation in talent plays a larger one.. It’s not like Eric Gagne just started getting super unlucky one day.

      2. Performance isn’t up and down. It’s up, down, and out. These players aren’t just going to vary in talent but all remain viable MLB pitchers. Some of them– possibly many of them the way this winter is going– are going to decay past a point of MLB acceptability and never bounce back from that.

  2. Brian - Dec 16, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    what’s scarier…3 year deals for relievers or the spate of 7year deals to guys who will be in their late 30s when they end?

  3. apbaguy - Dec 16, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Michael Weddell in Shandler’s 2011 Forecaster did an abstract about 3 year pitcher effects. The essential takeaway is that starters as a group have a regression year in year 3, regardless of Verducci Effect workloads or not. This says more about the lack of wisdom in signing starters to long term deals, and doesn’t speak specifically to relievers. But two areas for further research are indicated as pertain to relievers and regression, and relievers and year over year volatility.

    If the 3 year deals are sufficiently risk/reward loaded (that is, constructed with a sense of 1 year superior performance, one year average, one year sub-par) there may be justification for them. Otherwise, other than Mariano in his prime, why would a GM do a 3 year reliever deal?

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