The two methods to building the 2011 bullpen:
1) Cut costs, go with fliers and bargain deals because an 85-90 win team in the AL East does not need an expensive bullpen anyways.
2) Spend some of the cash on keeping guys like Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Randy Choate. The dominance in high leverage situations would help to squeeze a few extra wins out.
I think people are going to make a lot out of that last line. This team figures to be young and with youth comes a ton of storylines about how the team needs to build confidence and learn how to win. Of course, nobody is sure how much of an effect (if any) winning has on maturing baseball players, but easy copy is easy copy. The Rays on the 2008 team that witnessed the Bullpen from Hell certainly showed no signs of trauma and the 2009 Rays had a relapse in September, but still won 96 games and the division with relatively few new players in 2010.
Let’s pretend the Rays want to mix and match the two strategies. They choose to retain Balfour and Choate – allowing Benoit and Rafael Soriano to head elsewhere, and perhaps using Dan Wheeler’s money to re-sign them – and matching the returning names with J.P. Howell, Jake McGee, and a few new parts. Where do they go from there? Well, they get to finding the next Joaquin Benoit. Let’s clean that mission statement up because the Rays are very unlikely to replicate Benoit’s 2010 performance next season. Hell, Benoit himself is very unlikely to.
What the Rays are going to do is look for undervalued relievers with some upside. Now, I can’t speak for identification process, but Tommy pegged Lance Cormier and Benoit before the Rays signed them, and we’ve managed to peg few other targets the Rays showed interest in. I mean, we’re going to throw out something like a dozen names so undoubtedly one is going to be right, but it’s not a random process. You look for someone with reasons to believe that: A) he can be successful in the major leagues and B) he will not cost much.
Usually these fall into categories like “injured”, “poor luck”, and “unproven”. If they have a team connection (i.e. Matt Arnold and Joaquin Benoit or Chad Qualls/Dan Wheeler and Jim Hickey/Gerry Hunsicker) then it’s an added bonus, but not a necessity. We’ll expand on these within the next month, but Tommy has already thrown out Juan Cruz (injured) and Todd Coffey (potential non-tender, poor luck) as potential names, and we’ve both always been intrigued by Fernando Cabrera (unproven).
The point in all of this is that there are enough options available that I don’t think “cost efficient” and “good” are mutually exclusive for the 2011 bullpen. And hey, if the Rays want to bring back some of the free agents to be, that’s cool to, just not an absolute necessity.