Joaquin Benoit Available: Are the Indians Interested?


Thought of as a sleeper team to look out for before this season, the Padres haven’t exactly lived up to expectations in 2014.

Though the team has played somewhat better over the last few weeks, the Padres still find themselves at 43-55, good enough for third place in the top-heavy NL West. They’re 11 games behind the Dodgers and Giants, and face the same deficit in the Wild Card race.

As such, San Diego has decided to start selling off pieces (even without a full-time General Manager at the moment), and recently made the move to deal stud closer Huston Street and a prospect to the Angels in exchange for four more prospects.

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Interestingly enough, the Padres find themselves with another late-inning reliever who’s having an excellent season — Joaquin Benoit.

The 36-year old Benoit has posted a shiny 1.99 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 40 2/3 innings for the Friars this season. Over his 40 appearances, he’s posted ridiculous peripherals: he’s striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings, while he’s walking just 2.4 over the same amount of time. That adds up (eh, I guess it actually divides) to a K/BB ratio of 4.27. That’s pretty good.

Late-inning relievers are too much of a luxury for non-contending teams, and while the Padres have the young talent (especially pitching) to return to relevance in the very near future, Benoit won’t be a critical piece to that. He signed a two-year deal with San Diego last offseason, and the Padres probably won’t be able to turn around quickly enough to make a playoff run with Benoit on the roster.

So, the Padres would be smart to deal Benoit. He’s in the middle of a terrific season, and he would make a great addition to any team’s bullpen. He also collected 24 saves for the Tigers last season, so he has some closing experience for any club that would prefer to use him in that role.

The Indians have baseball’s 6th-best bullpen in baseball as far as run prevention goes, as the Tribe’s relievers have combined to post an impressive 3.04 ERA. On the surface, relief help doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Indians. Finding more reliable starting pitching (internally or from outside the organization) should be the first order of business, and the Indians could always use a bat to supplement their lineup or to add bench depth.

Apr 16, 2014; San Diego Padres pitcher Joaquin Benoit (56) throws during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

But the Tribe’s bullpen has been severely overworked this season, having pitched 320 innings in 2014 — second in all of baseball (behind the Rockies, who have gotten 321 1/3 innings out of their bullpen so far in 2014). Bullpens aren’t exactly sturdy enough to handle big workloads, and relief pitchers are volatile commodities anyway.

The Indians employ 3 relief pitchers who rank in the top 7 of the major leagues in games pitched. Cody Allen is tied for 3rd with 48 appearances, while Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski are tied with a few others for 7th with 47 appearances.

The Indians also have a lot of younger relievers, so it’s tough to predict what to expect from them moving forward. (Because, you know, all relievers are extremely predictable…I kid, I kid.)

Reasons such as these are why Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting that the Indians have interest in Benoit, though they’ll face competition from the Pirates, Tigers, and likely other teams as well.

Heyman is one of the few insiders I would believe anything from, so it seems likely this is for real. He probably knows things about myself that even I don’t know, so that could cause some sort of concern for me in the future.

Anyway, Heyman writes that while the Indians haven’t firmly become buyers (at least not yet), they seem likely to turn in that direction soon. He agrees that the Tribe have a young bullpen, and could use a pitcher capable of “fortifying” the group.

Allen has done a terrific job as the Tribe’s closer since taking over the role, but adding an option like Benoit still makes sense. Allen hasn’t been a full-time closer before in the majors (though he has the stuff to handle the role), and the Indians would probably like for Allen to avoid closing for the time being. Saves can add big costs to a reliever’s price tag through arbitration, and obviously the Indians would prefer for Allen to be a cheaper option moving forward.

Granted, Benoit’s 2-year, $15.5 million contract isn’t exactly cheap for a team like the Indians, but it’s not as ridiculous as what the Phillies are paying Jonathan Papelbon (then again, very little is that bad).

If the Indians want Benoit to close, he could fill the role for the remainder of his contract and then hand the reins back to Allen. Or, Benoit could become a moderately overpaid yet effective set-up option in support of Shaw and Allen.

According to Heyman, a trade of Benoit is still “up in the air” and isn’t a guarantee, but the bright side for the Indians is that Benoit shouldn’t cost as much in terms of prospects as Street did.

Any hardcore baseball fan would agree that acquiring a relief pitcher is one of the most important moves for a team, and that they’re extremely difficult to acquire despite the fact that there’s no such thing as overpaying for one. (I’m kidding, they’d never agree with that.)

Nonetheless, relief pitchers still have plenty of value, and while Benoit wouldn’t fill as big of a need for the Indians as an acquisition of a starting pitcher or hitter would, he would still be able to help the Indians and add another quality late-inning option.

Apr 22, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; San Diego Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy (22) during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The Padres won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

But if the Indians wanted to kill two birds with one stone, the Padres also possess one of the better starting pitchers potentially on the trade market (and my personal favorite) in Ian Kennedy. Kennedy, who’s still only 29, has posted a 3.62 ERA (and a nice 2.98 FIP) in 21 starts, which is tied for the major league lead. Over his 129 1/3 innings, Kennedy has whiffed an impressive 137 batters, while walking just 37 (good for a K/BB ratio of 3.70). His 10 wild pitches are 4th in the majors, however.

With that being said, Kennedy would be a terrific option for the Tribe, and he’s under club control for the next few seasons as well. He’s mostly pitched in the National League, though he pitched briefly in the AL East with the Yankees and his advanced metrics project him to succeed again in the American League. In addition, his pitching splits are actually better away from the spacious Petco Park, which is a great sign as well.

If the Indians are checking in on Benoit, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they’ve asked about Kennedy as well. Kennedy isn’t getting the hype that most other available pitchers have been, but he’s been able to keep up with them on the mound and would be a great addition for the Indians.

Obviously, acquiring Kennedy and Benoit wouldn’t be too cheap, but it represents a valuable alternative to emptying a farm system for David Price or losing your sanity and giving in to the crazy price tags the Phillies have set for their starters. (They reportedly want a team to pay all of the remaining money Cole Hamels is owed, along with trading 3 top prospects for him. I’d laugh and hang up the phone.)

It’s no certainty that the Indians will add impact talent at the deadline (or if they’ll add anyone at all), but acquiring Kennedy would help strengthen the Tribe’s rotation, while acquiring Benoit would help a young and overworked bullpen.

Acquiring them both? Well, that fills both needs.

Sounds good to me.