Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman seems to have an incredible knack for rescuing middle relievers from the scrap heap and turning them into key cogs in the Rays bullpen.
Every offseason he seems to find an arm on the cheap that ends up having a huge impact in the Rays relief corps.
Last season it was Joaquin Benoit. He started 2010 in AAA after signing a minor-league contract with the Rays on the heels of missing all of 2009 with a torn rotator cuff. After eight appearances at Durham, he was up with the big club, and by midseason he was firmly entrenched as Rafael Soriano's setup guy. The rest, as they say...is history.
Benoit went on to post some absolutely unreal numbers. In 63 appearances he had a microscopic ERA of 1.34 to go along with the tidiest of WHIPs (0.68). His K/9 rate was also a gaudy 11.2. Although Soriano received all of the attention nationally, Benoit was just as important to the success of the Rays bullpen.
When the Rays lost virtually their entire bullpen to free agency this offseason, many Rays fans must have been wondering how Friedman was going to rebuild the bullpen on a shoestring budget.
Simple. Do the same thing that has proven to be a charm in past seasons: Take on a talented reclamation project and hope he pans out.
Kyle Farnsworth could end up being Friedman's bullpen revelation of 2011. So far he has made good on his two save opportunities, and although manager Joe Maddon said going into the season that the Rays would employ the dreaded "bullpen by committee," it seems that Farnsworth has separated himself from the mix.
This is largely due to his high walk rate (3.9 BB/9 over his career) and propensity to give up home runs in key situations.
There is no denying his stuff though. Farnsworth features a mid 90s fastball, a slider and in recent years has added a cutter to his repertoire.
He has also had a career 9.0 K/9 rate. If he can maintain his command, there is no doubt that he can get major-league hitters out on a consistent basis by missing bats.
So far in 4.1 innings of work, he has yet to walk a batter, a very good sign going forward.
Nobody really knows at this point how the Rays bullpen will shake out in the long term, and it appears that hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee is the closer of the future.
Still, for this season anyway, Farnsworth should be more than serviceable as the Rays' ninth-inning guy.
Guys like Grant Balfour and Benoit with similar skill sets have come to the Rays and flourished. It wouldn't be surprising to see Farnsworth excel in a Rays uniform as well.
This time last year Joaquin Benoit was in Durham, and nobody knew just how good of a pitcher he would be for the Rays in 2010. But by season's end, he was making the Rays front office look very shrewd. Somebody needs to close for this team to have any chance at contending. Why not Farnsworth?