Brandon League on a three-year deal is horrifying, both because of him and reliever history

I didn’t like the Brandon League trade at the time it was executed, primarily because the effect that a reliever can have in such a short time period is both volatile and minimal. That dislike for the deal grew to mockery when he got off to a horrid start, but after the Dodgers said they fixed his mechanics (and I found that they actually did), he reeled off an undoubtedly impressive stretch of pitching.

While that was a wonderful way to finish the season for him, perhaps it wasn’t worth it if the rumor about Ned Colletti being in talks with League’s agent regarding a three-year deal rings true.

The Dodgers are talking to League’s representatives about a three-year contract, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Yikes.

League is a career 3.60 ERA and 3.81 FIP reliever, while the average reliever put up a 3.67 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 2012. Both his career strikeout and walk rates aren’t anything to write home about, clocking in a 6.71 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9. So there’s immediate concern there that he’s basically a solid, average reliever.

The upside is that he’s posted a 2.78 FIP in 2011 and a 3.19 FIP in 2012, but he has proven to be anything but consistent over his career, and his mechanics fade in and out seemingly at random, so choosing him as the guy to invest multiple years in seems like an iffy plan at best.

Factor in the recent history regarding relievers on multi-year deals, and it looks downright frightening.

Unfortunately for the teams with the open wallets, recent history suggests that giving contracts of 3+ years to a relief pitcher is generally a terrible idea. Here’s a list of free agent relievers who have received deals for three or more years since over the last four off-seasons.

Danys Baez (2007-2009), 3 years, $19 million: -0.4 WAR
Justin Speier (2007-2010), 4 years, $18 million: -0.2 WAR
Jamie Walker (2007-2009), 3 years, $12 million: -0.5 WAR
Scott Schoeneweis (2007-2009), 3 years, $11 million: -1.5 WAR
Chad Bradford (2007-2009), 3 years, $11 million: +2.0 WAR
Francisco Cordero (2008-2011), 4 years, $46 million: +2.8 WAR
Mariano Rivera (2008-2010), 3 years, $45 million: +7.8 WAR
Scott Linebrink (2008-2011), 4 years, $18 million: +0.5 WAR
David Riske (2008-2010), 3 years, $13 million: -0.6 WAR
Francisco Rodriguez (2009-2011), 3 years, $36 million: +1.7 WAR
Damaso Marte (2009-2011), 3 years, $12 million: -0.2 WAR
Brandon Lyon (2010-2012), 3 years, $15 million: +1.0 WAR

Things haven’t got significantly better for relievers in recent times either.

25 relievers signed deals with an average annual value greater than $1 million. Five of them signed multi-year deals. The results were… mixed. First, the multi-year deals:

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI (4/$50M): 2.44 ERA, 70 IP, 38 SV
Heath Bell, MIA (3/$27M): 5.09 ERA, 63.2 IP, 19 SV
Joe Nathan, TEX (2/$14.5M): 2.80 ERA, 64.1 IP, 37 SV
Frank Francisco, NYM (2/$12M): 5.53 ERA, 42.1 IP, 23 SV
Javier Lopez, SFG (2/$8.5M): 2.50 ERA, 36 IP, 7 SV

Three were quite good, two were very bad, and one did not even play in the Majors. In total, the six relievers combined to earn in $120.4 million over 15 total years, an average annual value exceeding $8 million. Of course, that is a bit top-heavy towards Papelbon, but a 50 percent success rate is less than impressive.

Not enough? Ned Colletti can look at his own experience.

He has actually had a lot of success building piecemeal bullpens, primarily from the farm system, but also by taking a few fliers on veterans for one year or on a minor-league contract. The only reliever he has EVER signed to a multi-year deal is Matt Guerrier, who has thus far contributed a grand total of ~0.0 WAR and will probably be a middle reliever if he’s lucky in 2013.

MLB Trade Rumors noticed last off-season that GMs around baseball were catching the hint on giving multi-year deals to relievers, no matter how good they are.

Hopefully the Dodgers follow suit, because recent history is certainly not on their side.

About Chad Moriyama

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