You had to see it coming. You could almost say that it was inevitable. Just weeks after signing the former Fausto Carmona, Roberto Hernandez, to a major league deal, the Rays have agreed to a minor league contract with the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo. The catch in this case is that not only is Oviedo underwent Tommy John Surgery in late July and will likely be out for most of the 2013 season. But the Rays’ contract with him includes a 2014 option, and they could very well have outdone themselves again with another steal of a deal.
Oviedo’s career numbers are not so impressive. He has a 4.34 ERA, a 7.3 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9, amounting to a nearly identical 4.29 FIP in 317 career appearances and 357 innings pitched. But those numbers are highly skewed. Oviedo’s career got off to a horrific start as he managed just a 6.99 ERA, a 5.2 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9, coming out to a scary 5.33 FIP, in 48 appearances and 67 innings pitched with the Kansas City Royals between 2005 and 2006. But from then until he last appeared in the major leagues in 2011, Oviedo was quite an effective pitcher, putting up a 3.72 ERA, a 7.7 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 (4.05 FIP) in 296 appearances and 290 innings pitched while working in quite high leverage roles, racking up 92 saves. His best season was a 2010 season that saw him go 4-3 with a 3.46 ERA, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 (which comes out to a ridiculous 2.89 FIP), along with 30 saves in 68 appearances and 65 innings pitched. Oviedo wasn’t just a very good pitcher and a closer at that- he had also had the stuff to boot. Oviedo threw a fastball in the mid-90’s and paired it with a great high-80’s changeup and a solid mid-80’s slider. His fastball command was never great, leading to home run tendencies, but when he was going right he was able to blow it by hitters enough that they had no chance on his changeup let alone his slider when he was able to mix it in effectively. That should remind you of another pitcher- Fernando Rodney.
Juan Carlos Oviedo is coming off an injury and hasn’t appeared in the major leagues since 2011, so we don’t know what he has left. But he was a rock-solid major league closer for three years thanks to electric stuff, and if he comes back as a fraction of that pitcher, the Rays will look like geniuses for signing him. Between Oviedo’s injury and identity crisis, teams may have shied away from him this offseason. However, at the end of the day, they may all regret that. The Rays got Oviedo on a minor league contract with no risk whatsoever and the upside for signing him is yet another dominating late-inning reliever who comes out of nowhere to help the Rays bullpen continue to be right there among the best in the game season after season even as the names change.