Exhuming Manny Corpas

Manny Corpas is in the news again because the rapidly re-tooling Cubs just signed the former Rockies closer to a one-year Major League deal. A decent enough buy-low opportunity for a club moving assets in the wrong direction.

Manual (Manny) Corpas serves as an excellent reminder of many things during this most rosterbatory of seasons: number one the value of option-heavy contracts and, number two, the fleeting nature of relief pitching.

Unless you are a fan of the Colorado Rockies, you may not remember Manny Corpas‘ name at all. Corpas burst onto the scene with 2007 Colorado team of destiny, a club that rocketed itself into the playoffs with a magical tear through the month of September, only to be eradicated by the Red Sox in a four game sweep so overwhelming that I remember precious little of it every occurring.

Corpas was very good in 2007 just as he was very good in 2006. Thanks in no small part to a sky-high strand rate and a dangerously low in-play average, his 2007 stands out from a run prevention standpoint and a “games finished” perspective as well.

No matter how it happened, he was good in 2007 and earned himself the closer’s job down the stretch. The Rockies liked what Corpas did so much they bought all his arbitration years up, signing a four-year contract extension worth a little more than $8 million dollars, with two team options on the end for good measure.

Declining the options (worth $6 and $8 million each) was a no-brainer for the Rockies as Manny Corpas pretty fell apart in 2008, losing his closer’s job and the ability to throw strikes. His fastball velocity fell off dramatically and he increased his slider usage to compensate. The increased reliance on the slider took its toll on his arm as Corpas needed had bone chips removed from his elbow in 2009 before requiring Tommy John surgery after the 2010 season.

The Rockies, rather than let it ride with Corpas in arbitration, paid the reliever nearly $4 million bucks to sit at home and heal last year, after paying $2.75 mil for his middle relief services in 2010. Add in the $750 000 in buy-out money (for declining the options) and you have a lot of money thrown away.

Relief pitchers are not fungible but they are not exactly constants, either. The contract of Sergio Santos certainly looks nice now but, hey, things happen. Many things. Elbows disintegrate and pitchers cease being effective. Options give teams the freedom to escape from under troublesome contracts before they grow from an inconvenience to a burden.

Just remember the free agency structure exists for a reason. Teams are free to let these situations play out as they may without committing serious dollars. Life is precious and can be snuffed out at any minute. Enjoy the holidays!