The Miami Marlins completed a deal for free agent reliever Jon Rauch, signing the tall right-hander to a one-year deal worth $1 million. The Marlins went into the final stages of this offseason looking to spend a little more cash on the 2013 squad, with a projected payroll target of around $40 million. According to Baseball-Reference, a rough estimate of the Marlins' final payroll tally for the 2013 season is expected to be $45 million after the addition of multiple pre-arbitration, rookie scale contracts, but that figure also includes the cash the Marlins agreed to send to the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks for a number of players traded in the offseason.
With that in mind, adding Rauch's $1 million commitment seemingly does not dent the team's salary goals by much. If the club is already ready to commit close to $45 million this year without adding Rauch, then his addition will not make a significant difference on the team's bottom line. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) for the Fish, Rauch's performance on the field is unlikely to do much to the team's winning bottom line either. Last season, Rauch posted a respectable 3.59 ERA and 3.89 FIP, and he has been doing exactly that for almost four seasons straight. Since 2009, Rauch has posted a 3.75 ERA and a 3.96 FIP, and these numbers do not differ all that much from his career 3.80 ERA and 4.01 FIP.
All of the above numbers point to a pitcher who is utterly uninteresting on the mound. Rauch throws a high-80's to low-90's fastball amid a variety of other offerings, none of which are all that impressive. His best pitch may be his slider, but Rauch's pitches are essentially a poo-poo platter from a "stuff" perspective. He gets by primarily with a hint of deception and downward plane, given his 6'11" frame that made him the tallest baseball player in major league history. While that goes some of the way towards success in the big leagues, it does not make up for a lack of anything that can be deemed "overpowering," especially when you are trying to make a living in the back of a bullpen. Rauch does not help himself by allowing ground balls either, as he has a career 34.0 percent ground ball rate.
So what does he do well? He has walked a modest 7.1 percent of hitters for his career, and that figure has gone down along with his strikeouts in the last few seasons. Like many relief pitchers, he also does seem to have a natural knack for suppressing home runs (career 8.3 percent HR/FB rate) and hits on balls in play (career .273 BABIP). If there is something Rauch can bring to the table, it is a professional approach that limits walks and does a little better at inducing weak contact.
How does that fit in with the Marlins? Rauch has not closed games consistently since playing for the Minnesota Twins in 2010, so it is likely he will slot into a setup man role akin to the ones he has had since that time period. With his experience in the ninth inning, he should be the first in line for closing opportunities if incumbent Steve Cishek falters, but given his entirely mediocre repertoire, that really should not be the case. His fit in Marlins Park should do well given its larger dimensions and his high fly ball rate; Rauch's best work in the last few seasons happened with the New York Mets and Minnesota Twins, and both Citi Field and Target Field respectively boasted massive outfield dimensions. Marlins Park should be similarly favorable to the fly ball-prone Rauch.
But overall, what you see on Rauch's statsheet is what you get. When placed in a pitcher-friendly environment, he is capable of producing mediocre relief numbers. When put in a tougher environment, such as when he played for the Arizona Diamondbacks or Toronto Blue Jays, and his home runs and ERA begin to climb. Since the Marlins' environment is more of the former, we can expect numbers akin to what Juan Carlos Oviedo used to do for years with this team. Whether or not that is a positive for Marlins fans remains to be seen.
We also have the liberty of knowing that Rauch has fetched players in trade deadline deals in the past. When he was accumulating saves with the Washington Nationals, he was acquired by the Diamondbacks for Emilio Bonifacio, of all people. The Twins picked him up a year later for a player to be named later, and if the Marlins attempt to deal him, they should expect more of the same for a return.
Overall, this is essentially a no-risk move or waste a move, depending on your level of optimism / pessimism. The Marlins did not need significant bullpen help, but spending $1 million on a one-year contract is essentially irrelevant, even for a penny-pinching team like this one. And while Rauch is perfectly serviceable, he is so mediocre that he will not make any visible change to this team in 2013.