When the news broke that the Tigers signed veteran closer Joe Nathan, Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski also announced that the team and the man who finished the 2013 season as their closer, Joaquin Benoit, would be parting ways, citing that the 35-year old righthander was no longer “a fit for the Tigers.” With that, Benoit jumped into the free agent pool and came away with a two-year, $15.5 million contract from the San Diego Padres where he is expected to fill the exact same role he filled for Detroit when he first signed with them back in 2011; a bridge between starter and closer with the potential to close out games, if needed. The deal works well for both parties as Benoit gets a contract comparable to what free agent closers have been getting and the Padres get a replacement for, and upgrade to, Luke Gregerson.
Regardless of whether you think Benoit is worth the kind of money he received from San Diego, the 2013 season he put together was both strong and integral to the Tigers season. He posted a 2.01 ERA with a 73:22 K:BB over 67 innings and had nine holds before landing in the closer’s role in which he notched 24 saves. He may have seen a slight drop in both his walk and strikeout rate from the year before, but he also gave up fewer home runs, increased his ground ball rate and upped his strand rate to a sound 87.3-percent. We’ve seen the year-to-year strikeout and walk rate fluctuation with him before, so the drop doesn’t seem warrant much concern. And the important thing is that he’s continued to maintain his velocity. He actually saw a bit of a jump this year, but that may just have to do with adrenaline as the new closer.
For the Padres, they barely skip a beat moving from Gregerson to Benoit. In fact, if you subscribe to the belief that Gregerson is steadily declining, something I laid out in my last piece, then the Padres are actually improving despite adding five years to their aggregate age. Over the last four years, overall, Benoit has been the better pitcher and save for the 2012 season, his numbers each year have been better. He was maybe even slightly better than the old Gregerson once was. With the oft-injured Huston Street still manning the ninth inning, the Padres were in need of a pitcher like Benoit. He’s someone who has been thriving in his role as a set-up man, but can also thrive in the closer’s role, if needed.
From a fantasy standpoint, Benoit should probably have a draft value similar to some of the high-risk closers out there like Jose Veras or Josh Fields. Something along the lines of Cody Allen, perhaps. Even if you don’t count holds, Benoit’s numbers can be a nice ratio-stabilizer and contributor to strikeouts. But with the high probability that Street lands on the DL, whether it’s for two weeks or two months, Benoit should be the first one in for saves. Just like (the old) Gregerson once was.
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