Dotel's advocate

A couple more offseason plans arrived in my e-mail today.  Not to spoil them, but they both start by letting Octavio Dotel leave without offering arbitration.
That has been the one unanimous decision in all the offseason plans thus far.  Letting Jermaine Dye walk is a close second, but some have at least entertained the idea of taking him back at a reduced salary for DH purposes.
Anyway, along with the plans in my e-mail, I got this one from Chris Pummer introducing the argument in favor of offering Dotel arbitration.
* * *

I’m one of your lurking readers. Thanks for all the work you do in putting out a quality White Sox blog.

The offseason plan posts you’ve been running have been interesting, even if they’re not always realistic. It’s still kind of a fun way to see how informed readers think the team can be improved for next year.

A universal component of these plans is to decline arbitration to Octavio Dotel because of his $6 million price tag this past season. Assuming he didn’t break the bank with an arbitration panel, he’d stand to get a modest raise over that — though I don’t know I foresee an award bigger than $7 million.

That’s a pretty steep price to pay for a middle reliever, which is why I’m sure so many readers think it’s not worth the risk to offer arbitration.

But would it really be that much considering the cost of acquiring a capable replacement?

Is there another free agent reliever the Sox would be able to pick up for a contract better than 1-year/$7-million? One who is as good a bet as Dotel to pitch well?

I know relievers can be flaky from year to year, but isn’t that a better reason to overpay a little bit to keep a guy on a one-year deal instead of having to go Linebrink by inking a guy for 2-4 seasons?

If the regular collection of minor-league free agents, veteran non-roster invitees and injury-riddled reclamation projects fail to turn into an arm or two, the Sox will have to use a prospect to pick up a guy midseason — at least if they’re contending. The cost to do that this year was Brandon Allen for Tony Pena.

When you consider the costs associated with not bringing Dotel back, it seems like the Sox would only be risking a couple million bucks on someone else overpaying by much more. After all, we still saw guys like Kerry Wood and Kyle Farnsworth get ridiculous deals last year. And they hadn’t been as good as Dotel has been the last two seasons.

It’s not even a sure bet Dotel accepts arbitration. He could go the Juan Cruz route. He decline arbitration from Arizona last year and ended up with less per year with the Royals (though for more years, which must be nice for him after his terrible 2009).

I understand there are a few other mitigating circumstances here:

*The Sox already have a lot of money tied up in the bullpen with Bobby Jenks due a big arbitration raise and Linebrink still on the books for two more years. Thornton isn’t cheap anymore, plus they might want to do a longer deal with Pena if they’ve decided they really like him.

*Payroll might be an issue after a few cost-cutting moves last offseason, followed by big-dollar pickups in season.

*Dotel might be more likely to accept after watching the market last year, plus seeing a deeper group of right-handed relievers on the market this season.

*There could be a better deal out there if the Sox want to pick up part of another bad contract. For instance, maybe the Reds would pay for half of what they owe Francisco Cordero to get him off their books. That would make his deal more like 2-years/$13 million.

To answer those in no particular order, I think the Sox can’t count on a team wanting to move a good player just because of a bad contract. I don’t think the payroll issue looms as large for the Sox as some think. And as a big-market team that shouldn’t have to pinch pennies, the Sox should be capable of gambling a little bit so they can squeeze every bit of value out of Dotel that they can, especially when the downside of him accepting arbitration is hardly a crippling blow. It could even work out very nicely.

That’s why I say they should go ahead and offer arbitration. Because even better yet, Dayton Moore will probably be they guy to give Dotel 3-years/$21 million and the Sox his second-round draft pick for 2010.

Sorry for the long e-mail. Just wanted to kick in my two cents.

* * *
One note I’ll add about Dotel — over the final month of 2009, he struck out 12 batters to just one walk. It was the only month in which Dotel had a K/BB ratio significantly above 2.00, when he averaged more than three strikeouts per walk over the entire season.
September is a great month for pitchers, and you never want to put too much stock in an outlier, but this is one reason why I don’t consider it an open-and-shut case.  To me, the biggest sticking point is that it almost necessitates a Bobby Jenks trade, and who knows if the market is there.
Christian Marrero Reading Room:
*The World Series anniversary inspired a couple of thoughtful posts. Andrew notes that guys like Cliff Politte are treated as a foregone conclusion instead of a flashes in the pan, and J.J. wonders when the grace period ends.
*J.J. also reviews Gordon Beckham’s 2009 performance.
*The Cheat posts a sneak preview of Bill James’ Lake Wobegonish 2010 projectons.
Arizona Fall League:

  • Peoria 10, Scottsdale 9
    • Jordan Danks singled twice, walked twice, scored three runs and drove one in five plate appearances.
    • C.J. Retherford went 2-for-5 with two RBI.
    • Brent Morel went 1-for-4 with a strikeout, sac fly and stolen base in his AFL debut.
    • Sergio Santos made this game interesting in the ninth: 1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K.
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This is a great email… im convinced… and the more i think about it, the more im convinced its worth it to try to keep Dotel around this year.
Though it would be a lot of money in that bullpen, there would also be a significant amount of proven talent with high upside. Can you imagine how strong this team would be if Pena, Dotel, Thornton, Linebrink and Jenks all contributed to what will likely be a very good rotation?
My other thought is this… and its a bit defeatist, but perhaps true. The clear strength of this team going forward is our pitching. Offensively we could struggle a bit next year and will probably be an average offensive team at best. We could be, however, one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. So if i told you we could spend $7mil for a 75% chance at a lights out pitching staff, of $7mil for maybe a 50% chance at a mildly upgraded offense…which would you choose?
Great post… im on board… lets keep dotel


My only push-back on Dotel is that I seem to recall one of the sportswriters that hang out with the team reporting sometime in September that Dotel was told by the Sox that he didn’t fit into their long-term plans.
That being said, it was a nice letter + discussion. I have to admit that a lot of the discussions (here and other blogs) seem to be starting off with the Dotel/Dye assumptions and end up tweaking just a bit. Maybe it is just my desire for some action (when there obviously can’t be any on the field), but I suspect that KW will do something more significant. And I don’t mean sign a big-name FA that lots of people dream of like Figgins. I think he’ll surprise us — something like trading a long-time favorite like AJ. The problem with picking returns is that, except for major names like Figgins, it’s hard to know a lot of the lesser known names (like Flowers or Quentin were a year ago) that are on KW’s radar. It’s also a bit difficult to know what other teams need.


It’s a worthy argument although I don’t believe that KW traded away Brandon Allen for Tony Pena without the thought process of Dotel’s replacement in mind.
I actually think the bullpen could end up being a strength this season, without Dotel. Of course we will still have be subject to Linebrink (in 2011 too, ugh). The only value piece the Sox need to add is another LHP. Going after a guy like Mike Gonzalez, if ATL does let him walk, would give us that piece while also giving the flexibility to the bullpen in case KW wants to trade Jenks prior to the deadline. Either Thornton or Gonzalez can close, yet we don’t have to worry about losing that late-inning Lefty to set-up the closer.


It wouldn’t be a terrible decision to retain him, but very few relievers are worth $7 million. By wins above replacement Dotel has only been worth about $3 million per year in the two years he’s been with the Sox. Farnsworth last offseason was the exception – there were lots of middle relievers who signed for just a few million and the group is pretty deep this offseason. Beimel, Betancourt, Calero, Ohman, Oliver, etc. Overpaying for a reliable veteran reliever like Dotel is something for a team that is mostly complete and just needs offseason tinkering… the Sox have greater needs elsewhere.


I still think offering Dotel is an extremely poor idea. I think there is little to no chance he doesnt accept and that literally eliminates half the payroll that we think the sox may have available in free agency or to bring on via trades. Not to mention 7 mil for a middle reliever is a poor investment when there is just as good a chance a guy making 500,000 outperforms someone making 7 mil. Bullpens are extremely volital and the sox rolled the dice on Dotel giving an injury riddled guy a two year contract, for the most part that gamble paid off, testing fait again for one more year is probably a bad idea. Its time to get something out of pena, nunez, link, or some other scrap heap pickups who could be terrible or lights out.


I agree with Knox. The risk/reward for every reliever is the same no matter what you pay them, so pay for someone cheaper. I’ll always go back to 2005. Hermanson was our closer! Dustin Hermanson people. And he was lights out. Arguably the best year of his career. Cotts and Politte had career years. And none of the three made alot of money. The bullpen is always going to be a toss up. You are better off investing in better offense, defense and/or starting pitching that would rely less on your bullpen. I think that was our problem in 2009, we used our bullpen too much.


Paying relief pitchers is almost never worth it. There are hardly any relievers in MLB that are worth $7M, and Dotel certainly is not. What’s important in the Dotel decision is how much he will be worth in relation to his contract, NOT finding a capable replacement. The bottom line is that Dotel is not, nor will ever be worth $7M. There’s no need to waste money b/c the market is bad. Even Jenks at that price is dicey.
“Is there another free agent reliever the Sox would be able to pick up for a contract better than 1-year/$7-million? One who is as good a bet as Dotel to pitch well?”
Free Agents who are cheaper than $7M and whose talent level/performance is roughly the same:
Dannys Baez
Joaquin Benoit
Rafael Betancourt
Kiko Calero
Alan Embree
Ryan Franklin
Mike Gonzalez
Kevin Gregg
LaTroy Hawkins
Bobby Howry
Brandon Lyon
Chan Ho Park
JJ Putz
Fernando Rodney
Rafael Soriano


I would bet half those guys find a way to be better then Dotel next year and just about all of them are gonna be cheaper then 7 mil with rodney probably getting more then that.


Yes a few of them suck, and the Rodney, Soriano, and Franklin might convince teams to give them more than $7 mil per year, but there are some good cheap players there too. If the Sox aren’t afraid of transfering a National League pitcher with serious home/road splits from the best pitcher’s park in baseball to one of the better AL hitter’s parks, they probably shouldn’t lose any sleep over acquiring a middle relief man from the senior league.
If they get Betancourt, Ed Farmer will probably quit.


“If they get Betancourt, Ed Farmer will probably quit.”
I hope they sign Betancourt.


If the Sox really want Dotel back, they could still get him back for less than arbitration would cost. He would surely accept and get somewhere in the neighborhood of $7M. He is not worth that and I doubt many team that would have to give up a first round pick would think he was worth that either. I also doubt a team would want to lose a 2nd round pick and pay anywhere near that for him. The Sox would be in a good position to cut a 2 year $8M deal with him if they truly want him back. At that price, I might do it.

Chris Pummer

Thanks for all the comments, and Jim, thanks for posting my thoughts.
Marshlands — regarding that list of guys:
I think the only guys on that list who are in Dotel’s league talent-wise are Gonzalez and Soriano, and both missed time with injuries in 2008. Park might be if you buy into a half season’s worth of work as a reliever, Hawkins if you think he’s not about to have another bad season or get hurt like he was in 2008. Putz might be if he’s healthy, which he wasn’t this year.
If you want to do a deeper comparison of any of those guys and Dotel, and explain why you think they’ll pitch better in 2010, I’d be interested to read that.
None of those guys, save for Hawkins who is 36 years old, is likely to settle for a 1-year deal.
Bigfun: I also wouldn’t put too much stock in the reliever values at Fangraphs (assuming that’s where you got the $3 million figure for Dotel’s value). That figure in no way represents what relievers cost on the open market.
To make sure I was clear, I understand 1 year/7 million is a little bit of an overpay. But 1) I don’t think it will stop the Sox from filling other holes at other positions; and 2) If you have to get another guy to replace Dotel, and will pay at least 1-year, $5-6 million to get one as good as Dotel (and I think more in years and dollars), you might as well gamble a million or two to maybe see if you can grab two more draft picks.
I think it’s also time to put to bed the notion that when it comes to relievers any guy is capable of being better than anyone else in any given year.
Relievers work in sample sizes so small, it makes it easy to put up a fluky good year or a fluky bad year. That’s how Neal Cotts was so great in 2005, or why Keith Foulke was so bad in May of 2002.
If you want to say that it’s all a crapshoot, and both those guys could have given you the same quality of work, go ahead. But I think there’s a very clear case that those guys had an established level of talent that made them much more or less likely to be able to pitch well going forward from those respective points.
Dotel has pitched well every year he’s been healthy, and the Sox have done a great job keeping him that way. He strikes out more than a guy per inning, and doesn’t walk an alarming number of guys for a power reliever.
Simply, Dotel is a very good bet to keep pitching well. Maybe not for two or three years, but as far as 2010 goes, I think I’d take him over anyone on Marshlands’ list. Especially if it only means a one-year commitment.


5.20 BB/9 (a career worst for a full-season’s work) is alarming even for a power reliever.
Kiko Calero has a similar skillset and would probably cost half of what Dotel does. Some of the other guys are slightly worse on balance but cost maybe a few million – clearly better values at that price tag.
Retaining Dotel is paying a premium for a pretty modest gain over readily available talent – exactly the sort of thing the Sox can’t afford to do this offseason.
And if the open market is overpriced, that doesn’t mean the team should go out and overpay. They should spend money elsewhere in parts of the team where they get a better return on the investment.


I have been in the don’t offer arb to Dotel camp for awhile. Seeing this article made me give the idea a bit more thought. The value of not offering Dotel arb is zero. The value of offering arb to Dotel is the percent chance he accepts times (’10 WAR dollar value – arb salary) plus the percent chance he declines times (perceived dollar value of two early-round draft picks). The minimum value we have to offer Dotel is $4.8M (I guess whether or not you think he would go to the arbitrator with a higher figure and win is another topic.) A reasonable estimate of his actual worth in ’10 based on previous seasons is $3M. So the first part of the equation is $4.8M-$3M=-$1.8M. I’m sure the White Sox have calculated an estimated dollar value of first/second round draft picks. If the White Sox feel the chance Dotel would accept is around 50-50 and estimated dollar value of those two draft picks is above $2M, the notion may be given more discussion than SM’s offseason plans would make it seem


Save your calculations. The chance that he would accept arbitration is 100% or he has the worst agent in baseball. If the Sox offered $4.8M, he would counter with $8M and win.

Chris Pummer

Also, just to add something else to the discussion:
I don’t advocate the philosophy that teams should hoard draft picks at all costs when it comes to offering arbitration.
That’s because generally, once you get outside the top 15 picks (which are protected from compensation rules) the level of talent left is about the same as what you can get in the sandwich round, the second round, and even later if you’re willing to pay out an above-slot signing bonus.
So for instance, you wouldn’t really want to offer Jermaine Dye arbitration even though he’d be a Type A free agent, because you could get a guy of the same talent/risk level for maybe $5 million less. Especially if you think he can only DH at this point.
At that point, you’re better off taking the savings and just paying above slot lower in the draft.
I don’t think the Sox save that much money on not offering Dotel arbitration, having him accept and beating them. Especially if you think the Sox need to add another guy on the free agent market to replace Dotel. That could cost them even more, at least in terms of risk if you have to go longer than one year.
But I’ve also said this before. The Sox are a big market team. They should be able risk a couple million to get two more picks in the top 100.
The Sox should be doing that, and paying over slot to try to beef up a farm system that was thin to begin with, but also bled players in the Nick Swisher and Tony Pena deals.


Would you rather have Jenks or…
Dotel plus what Jenks would bring back, if at least one in the trade could work the 7th and 8th or…
Jenks and a 1st or second rounder…
Or Jenks and Dotel until the trade deadline?


Interesting argument as I was just thinking the same thing. Would you rather have Thornton setup and Jenks close or Dotel setup and Thornton close. I guess it all depends on what you can get for Jenks, which I’m sure KW is trying to figure out right now.


@Jim & @Chris:
I’ll admit, a bit of those guys might have been a stretch, just trying to get a discussion going. Embree and Baez are a bit, if not way over the hill.
But on the whole, not many of those guys on the list are that much *better* than Dotel per se, but in terms of cost and production, some of them might be better bets. Personally I love Dotel as much as the next guy, I’ve always dug the high K rates etc., but his HR and BB rates are worrisome.
And Chris, you’re right, the better guys (especially with closer reps) like Soriano/Gonzalez/Franklin will most likely not sign a 1-year deal. But I also have no opposition to trying to lock any of them up for a few years. Injuries are a concern with them, but weren’t they for Dotel, too? The White Sox picked up Dotel, a former closer riddled with injuries from 05-07.
So what I see is a similar situation- Offering Dotel would by no means be the end of the world, but if the Sox can get someone like Calero or Benoit, who are discounted versions of Dotel (high k’s, walks, injuries), just as well IMO. If the Sox are looking to spend $7M on an RP like Dotel, might as well get the better version of him (Soriano, Gonzalez).


These posts really underscore two things 1- the absurdity of the Scott Linebrink deal and 2- the past sins of the Sox organization for not drafting decent higher ceiling pitchers that necessitates them to over pay for over used bullpen arms.

Chris Pummer

I do see your point in that I don’t think any right-handed middle reliever will make $7 million or more per year in a contract this offseason. I really only advocate potentially paying Dotel that because 1) there could be a couple draft picks involved if someone else swoops in with a multi-year deal and 2) the Sox would only be on the hook for one year. Given the fickle nature of relief work, I think that’s a good thing.
Even if there were no draft picks involved, and Dotel was sure to accept arbitration, the choice might look like Dotel at 1-year/$7 million or offering Gonzalez or Soriano something like 3-years/$15 million.
Gonzalez and Soriano might be cheaper per year, but there’s a definite risk that either of those guys gets hurt or loses his stuff in Year 2 of that deal.
Like ChiSoxT said, it really kind of underscores how silly giving Linebrink a four-year deal was, and why I think it’s worth it to overpay to get a talented guy on a one-year pact instead.
Really, there’s no right answer to this as of now. The market can rise and fall for these guys before the Sox have to make a decision. And if Kenny Williams is happy with Tony Pena, and can acquire another guy who he thinks will be fine in middle relief, then maybe they don’t need a Dotel replacement.
If the Sox are confident in that, then maybe that $7 million is better spent on offense. Or the Sox could land a cheap bat and be under budget, making it very worthwhile.
With all of those factors, it’s like I said — there’s no right decision on this right now.
I’m just trying to say it shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that the Sox should without a doubt decline to offer up arb.