After some confusion, it seems the Marlins have signed lefty reliever Randy Choate to a two-year deal worth $2.5M TOTAL plus incentives in each season. The confusion arose from the wording of Rosenthal’s initial Tweet, which sounded as if it implied a two-year, $5M deal that would have earned my unyielding ire. As it stands, the deal to acquire Choate just ends up being an unexciting deal that probably could have been avoided.
Choate is a 34-year old lefty reliever who led the American League with 85 appearances last season, though he only pitched 44 2/3 innings (such is the life of the lefty specialist). He posted a 4.23 ERA, but such things rarely give you an idea as to how good a reliever is. His 3.50 FIP (along with a breath-of-relief inducing 3.55 xFIP) in 2010 was not half bad, though it’s also tied to a career 3.80 FIP/4.01 xFIP. Choate does one thing extremely well that should help the Marlins in the next two seasons, and that is handling left-handers. Since returning to the majors in 2009 with the Tampa Bay Rays, Choate has faced 221 lefty batters and struck out 58 of them, a solid 26.2% mark. He has also exhibited pinpoint control against them, walking only 13 of them during that time period (5.8%). Essentially, lefties strike out and walk against Choate like hitters in general did against Ricky Nolasco in 2009, which is quite impressive. In addition, when lefty hitters are able to get some wood on the ball, they tend to beat it into the ground; out of the 145 balls in play Choate has allowed to lefties since 2009, 93 of them have gone on the ground, an impressive 64.1% rate.
The move is isn’t an awful one, provided the Marlins and manager Edwin Rodriguez are careful about Choate’s usage. His numbers versus right-handed hitters have been terrible, and the Marlins should be advised to carefully monitor who he faces during the game. Since 2009, Choate has faced only 108 righties for the Rays, only 32% of the total batters he has faced. The results, however, haven’t been pretty, though they have also been littered with intentional walks (eight of the 108 batters faced were given a free pass). Provided Edwin knows to use Choate effectively (i.e. not how Fredi Gonzalez used to use Taylor Tankersley), he could be decently effective for the team.
My primary issue is tied to my general belief that spending free agent money, especially in the millions, on anyone but the best of relievers seems like a bad move. Choate will not pitch enough innings to be worth a win, and while the Marlins are not paying for anything close to that, I get the feeling the team could have gotten just as much out of moving Sean West into the bullpen for the season as they could have by signing Choate. Said best by my former Beyond the Box Score boss Sky Kalkman on Twitter:
If you have a lagging pitching prospect, you have a setup guy. Spend your money on something that matters.
If a player like Scott Hairston could be gotten for some of the money the Marlins are spending on Choate, then the team is not necessarily using its limited resources in the most efficient manner. Though it isn’t a terrible move, it reeks of a team desperate to show they are attempting to improve on the bullpen after the unit imploded the previous year. The truth is that the way the Marlins were building their pen was the correct way to do it when on a tight budget.