Friday, December 31, 2010

Rays Interested in Fuentes

Mark Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times confirms that the Rays are interested in bringing left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes to Tampa to be their closer in 2011. 

While Fuentes likely won't be as dominant as former Rays closer (and current free agent) Rafael Soriano, he should have no problems holding his own late in the game.  Fuentes, now 35 years old, isn't armed with a plus-fastball anymore, but it's still very effective.  His secondary pitches (slider and change-up) tend to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Despite being a side-arming lefty, Fuentes shouldn't be viewed as a LOOGY type of pitcher.  Over the past several years, he's been equally as effective against right-handers as he has been against left-handers.  Even if he doesn't remain in the closer role long term, he would have no problem fitting in as a left-handed set-up man in their bullpen. 

His 2.81 ERA in 2010 seems to be a bit of a mirage.  Fuentes was helped by a rather fortunate .227 batting average on balls in play, and an abnormally low 6.9% HR/FB ratio, despite allowing 58.5% of all batted balls to be hit in the air.  This makes him a prime candidate to see a healthy dose of regression to the mean in 2011.   I wouldn't be surprised to see his 2011 performance to be more closely aligned with 2009 than 2010. 

Fuentes is reportedly looking for a three year contract in the $15-18M range. Considering his age, current performance baseline, and likelihood for regression, committing three years is a pretty risky proposition.  While Fuentes will likely be fine in the closer role in 2011, the picture is much fuzzier in 2012 and beyond.  The Rays would be wise to try to negotiate a two year deal with a vesting third year option.

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