Ernesto Frieri‘s days as an effective major league reliever may be over. Frieri signed with the Tampa Bay Rays hoping that Jim Hickey would be able to fix him, but it simply never worked out. We discussed a few weeks ago why Frieri’s designation for assignment was all but inevitable, and now it has finally happened. Frieri so often struggled, especially with the home run, but even when he succeeded, we never saw the ingredients for him to return to any fraction of the pitcher he used to be.
In the end, Frieri pitched to just a 4.63 ERA in 22 appearances and 23.1 innings pitched. His 7.3 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 were both unimpressive while his 2.3 HR/9 was absolutely disastrous. He allowed more home runs (6) than Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in around a third of the innings pitched. He was being used in the lowest-pressure situations possible, but it did nothing to help his numbers. All he was doing by the end was eating innings in blowouts and games the Rays were trailing, and he couldn’t even throw two innings as he did so.
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However, even as we marvel at just how bad Frieri was, he really didn’t hurt the Rays that much. They stopped using him in games that mattered, so even his bad performances made little difference, and his salary was extremely low. Frieri’s base salary was just $800,000 this year, and he failed to earn any of the $2.35 million in incentives that were available to him. He settled for so little money because of the risk that came with him. And while the Rays didn’t need to release Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, or Kyle Farnsworth in their respective first years, they were ready to do that had it become necessary.
The Tampa Bay Rays got away from the strategy that had helped them to so much success. Grant Balfour and Heath Bell came with concerns and salary in excess of $5 million. Their upsides was no better than those of the reclamation projects, but their risk was exponentially higher. How did that make any sense? Frieri, in contrast, is what was always supposed to happen when a Rays reliever failed. The team could release him, say “no hard feelings,” and move on without regrets.
Individual moves don’t work out–that is always going to be the reality in baseball–but each front office needs to find strategies that work far more often than they don’t. Sometimes bad general managers get lucky or a good one suffers from misfortune, but over time, it becomes clear who really knows what it going on. Hopefully the next Ernesto Frieri works out, but the more important thing for the Rays is that his failure will not drag them down in any way. Instead of being a surprise, it was a possibility that they had accounted for.