As they made their march to the NL West title in 2011, the Diamondbacks were basically a two-man show at the end of the game. David Hernandez developed into a solid workhorse setup man after being acquired from the Orioles in the Mark Reynolds trade, and J.J. Putz had his best season in four years as the closer. Joe Paterson got some work as the lefty specialist and Bryan Shaw was a nice boost late in the season, but for the most part it was Hernandez and Putz doing the heavy lifting in the eighth and ninth innings this past season.
In an effort to give those two some help, GM Kevin Towers agreed to sign veteran right-hander Takashi Saito to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million earlier this week, stealing him away from the Brewers team that knocked the D’Backs out of the NLDS. Saito has been electric in his six seasons in MLB, pitching to a 2.65 FIP with 10.74 K/9 (29.9 K%) and 2.84 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 326 innings spread across 322 games. He has experience both closing and setting up, and he doubles as a second lefty specialist (career 3.01 FIP vs. LHB) thanks to his filthy curveball-slider combo. It’s a very nice pickup for Arizona, but the soon-to-be 42-year-old Saito isn’t exactly risk free.
While with Milwaukee in 2011, Saito made it to the mound just 30 times due to a nasty left hamstring strain. The year before it was another left hamstring strain that required a disabled list stint, and back in 2008 he had the somewhat new age (at least when it came to baseball) Platelet Rich Plasma treatment on a sprained elbow ligament that would have required Tommy John surgery. Sure enough, the PRP worked and he never went under the knife. The point is that Saito is a bit of a physical question mark at his age, which is something he has in common with Putz.
The incumbent closer is also no stranger to the disabled list, as Putz has suffered some kind of injury that required time on the shelf in each of the last four seasons. This past year it was elbow inflammation and the one before that it was tendinitis in his knee. Between he and Saito, the D’Backs basically have to keep their fingers crossed and hope they get a combined 100 innings out of the duo. They could be a devastating one-two punch in the late innings or $6.25 million worth of injured reliever next season, with the safe bet being both of those scenarios at various points of the summer.
The Saito signing is a very nice one for the D’Backs; it’s short-term and cheap, plus it actually manages to offer some upside even though the guy closing in on his 42nd birthday. He’s risky but so is pretty much every reliever, and the move allows lesser arms like Shaw, Paterson, and Brad Ziegler to work the lower-leverage innings they probably should be working. Arizona just has to hope Saito and Putz stay on the field next year, and if they do, they’ll form one of the game’s best and perhaps least heralded trio of dominant end-game arms.