Of all the needs contenders have in the July trading season bullpen help is usually the easiest—and riskiest to acquire. The fluid nature of relievers’ performance makes it a risk to bet too heavily on almost anyone, and consequently also-rans can often turn four months of a hot run by a reliever into respectable trading chips in return. The fact that a contenders’ bullpen woes are most obvious to the fan base right around now only makes the GM’s job tougher. And the flip side is that a reliable reliever that’s available becomes even more valuable. In that light, TheSportsNotebook evaluates Houston closer Brett Myers and where a good fit might be.
With starting pitchers still getting most of the media time—including Houston’s own Wandy Rodriguez—closers aren’t getting the same kind of attention. But Myers is a better closer than the other available piece, Kansas City’s Jonathan Broxton and it makes tremendous sense for Houston to move him.
The Astros have a nice rebuilding process going if you look at the individual young players they’re bringing up, but as far as that meshing into a contender, the won-loss record says it all and it would be imprudent for Houston to think about contending any time prior to 2014. By that time Myers will be 34 years old and he’s set to make $11 million next year. That’s a lot of dough to pay for the ninth inning when you have plenty of work to do in the previous eight.
Myers’ contract commitments also make him less attractive to a smaller-market team, one that might prefer Broxton at $4 million per year and no commitment for 2013. But while Myers is the better pitcher for teams that can afford it, how high should his value truly be? Even though he’s been in the major leagues since coming up with Philadelphia in 2002 he’s only been a closer for two season, including this one. He saved 21 games for the Phils on their 2007 NL East team, albeit at a 4.33 ERA. With 19 saves so far in ’12, he’s set for a career-high there and the ERA is respectable at 3.52. But throughout his career, his ERAs have ranged from being decent to mediocre. The number got as low as 3.14 two years ago for Houston—impressive, considering the short dimensions of Minute Maid Park—and have recently been up at 4.84, back in 2009. Myers did have one season at 5.52, but given that was in 2004 it’s far enough back to be considered an aberration. Either way, there’s no evidence that you’re getting a lockdown closer with him and at least a possibility you’re getting a disappointment.
All of this is more reason why Myers fits better with a team whose willing to spend money. He’s too risky to invest serious prospects in, but the Astros would probably not require that in exchange for getting his contract completely off the books.
On the surface, Boston might seem like a contender given their much-publicized bullpen woes of the early season. But the bullpen’s gradual comeback into a pretty good unit is less publicized and it’s difficult to see Myers adds much, particularly when Andrew Bailey is due back. The Red Sox one weakness in the pen isn’t depth, it’s the need for a lockdown pitcher and we’ve established Myers is not that. Boston would be better off waiting to see if San Diego makes Huston Street available.
Baltimore might make sense—not because they need the relief help, but because Myers could also be moved into the starting rotation and the Orioles are said to be willing to spend some money. And if some of the relievers come back to earth in 2013, Buck Showalter has the option to shift Myers to the pen. And the fact the Houston pitcher was through the playoff wars with Philadelphia, including the 2008-09 World Series teams make him a good intangible addition to a young team.
Detroit is also a logical spot. Jim Leyland can use another arm in the bullpen to support Jose Valverde and the possibility of using Myers to cover up some starting pitching weaknesses is also a possibility. But the Tigers are likely after some bigger names—we discussed yesterday how they would be a great trading partner for the Cubs with Ryan Dempster and I’m sure they’d get in on the sweepstakes for Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke and Philly’s Cole Hamels, if the latter is put on the market.
The L.A. Angels have key decisions to make regarding their confidence in Dan Haren’s health, Ervin Santana’s consistency and a bullpen that’s had the same kind of season Boston’s has had—from disaster to improved, but still needing someone really reliable. Like with the Red Sox though, I don’t know that Myers adds enough to a staff that has depth, but needs an impact arm at the back end.
Since Myers has a longer history as a starter than a reliever I’ve included that aspect in these trade possibilities, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that the primary reason for acquiring him should be for use in relief, with starting as a fallback. Hence, Washington’s not a logical fit, with a great bullpen, even as they look to add a veteran starter in anticipation of shutting down Stephen Strasburg. The same goes for Atlanta, who’s more than set in the pen and needs a top-line starter.
Would Houston deal Myers within the division? If so, St. Louis would be an excellent fit. The Cardinals can use him at closer immediately, they have the cash to take him on and there’s just enough starting pitching question marks that I’m sure Mike Matheny would like the flexibility. Given the Astros aren’t likely to contend next season, there’s little risk in sending him to an NL Central rival.
Any of the NL West contenders—Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona—could make good use of Myers. Even with the Giants’ great pitching and solid bullpen the loss of closer Brian Wilson opened up a hole in the relief corps. Santiago Casilla handles the closer duties, but there is depth missing and San Francisco relies heavily on its pitching to be not good, but great. Still, it’s hardly the biggest need on the Giants’ shopping list. The Diamondbacks are focused on the marketing of Justin Upton, which I suspect is a prelude to a bigger move somewhere else, either this month or in free agency. But the Dodgers? They could use the bullpen help, the fallback for starting pitching and given their rebuilding process they’d like to avoid giving up prospects. And they’ve got the money.
So to wrap it up, the Dodgers and Cardinals make the most sense as landing spots for Brett Myers, with an edge to Los Angeles just because they aren’t an NL Central rival of Houston. And while Baltimore isn’t a perfect match, they would at least be a decent one if the Orioles are determined to make a move.