Brandon League is a pretty good reliever who, before yesterday, had been pitching very well lately. As we approach the trade deadline, this situation suited the Seattle Mariners just fine. You see, unsurprisingly, the Mariners would like to get something in return for the pitcher they acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for Brandon Morrow more than two and a half years ago, before he most likely signs a free agent contract with another team this off season.
League’s availability on the trade market represents the one foreseeable type of trade to come out of the new collective bargaining agreement that essentially eliminated the designation of free agent types. In the past, League would have earned Type A or Type B free agent status which would’ve netted the team he finished the season playing with a compensation pick or two when he signed elsewhere. Under the new rules, in order for a team to get compensation for losing a free agent, the player must spend the entirety of the previous season on the team’s roster, and the club has to offer the free agent to be a qualifying offer that is equal to the average salary of the top 125 highest paid players in the league.
A smart team like the Mariners likely knows that League isn’t worth the $12 million – $13 million that such a qualifying offer would cost, even if you consider the advantages of signing a high caliber reliever for a single season rather than a multi-year deal. And they also know that the current situation in Seattle doesn’t lend itself well to the idea of investing anything approaching a significant amount of money in a reliever.
And so, he’s available, and according to Scott Miller of CBS Sports, that availability is piquing the interest of several teams including the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
On the whole, shoring up one’s bullpen to make a run at the playoffs is a good thing. Last season, the Texas Rangers did an incredible job making their bullpen fool-proof, well, almost fool-proof, by acquiring Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara in separate trades in the summer. These pitchers all shared two traits, they were among the very best relievers on their team, but they weren’t being leaned on to close games. This one factor likely lessened their overall cost.
Other teams have gotten carried away with acquiring relievers in the past. The biggest folly that comes to mind is the Los Angeles Dodgers trading away James McDonald (and Andrew Lambo) to land Octavio Dotel in 2010, only to turn around and trade him to the Colorado Rockies for basically nothing after they had fallen out of contention and the non-waiver trading deadline had passed.
We tend to look at deals in terms of how many wins the additions, minus the subtractions, will bring to a team. It’s not that simple for relievers, given their limited playing time, but increased importance to that playing time. The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season, and so the acquisition of relievers at this point in the season tends to be more about those appearances, with the leverage turned up, than they are the daily grind.
But of course, there are no hard rules here. As you might recall, the Texas Rangers lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals last year, a team that made some bullpen additions of its own when it traded Colby Rasmus in order to, in part, acquire a more reliable bullpen. Relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Dotel, once again, proved to be incredibly valuable throughout October, to the point where it’s not ridiculous to suggest that St. Louis wouldn’t have won the World Series without making that trade.
And that’s ultimately the challenge facing GMs and front offices for the next day. They have to be able to understand the risk/reward scenarios that their current roster influences. Is a team really able to do significantly more with a seventh inning reliever than it will with their next starting shortstop? These aren’t easy decisions, and sometimes hindsight is often the decider between brilliance and utter stupidity.
Speaking of which, anytime I think of League, I’m reminded that he has a tattoo across the top of his back saying “League” as though he’s wearing a permanent jersey. I can’t quite explain it, but this makes me laugh.