The odd pattern of middle relievers signing multi-year deals looks like it will continue on Tuesday as the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants will be the latest to join the party. Jeremy Affeldt, who has been a key cog in the Giants bullpen over the past four seasons, is close to inking a three year deal worth a reported $18 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The total will be finalized when it is announced Tuesday.
Affeldt, who will be signed for his age 34-36 seasons, has had great success as a Giant, throwing out an ERA+ of 139 over 237 1/3 innings as a Giant. The trend of signing middle relievers has been long derided in sabermetric circles due to the fungible nature of relief pitchers, but the Giants are betting on Affeldt to be the solid hand he’s been over the past four years.
The problem is that Affeldt is beginning what should be his decline phase, and although the Giants have gotten a lot from him and has helped the team to two World Series titles, the reliever that lives up to a multi-year contract is rare. Affeldt did live up to the two year contract he signed before the 2011 season after his great 2010, but asking a reliever to do that twice is quite the risk.
Of course, the big comparison for Affeldt will be to Brandon League, who recently signed a three year deal himself for more guaranteed money with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But over the last four years, Affeldt has been a lot better than League in many key categories. League’s increased annual value most likely came from both his track record as a closer (although that was spotty and got better only when he moved to the weaker National League) and the money the Dodgers are willing to throw out to players to keep them in Dodger blue.
With an offseason ahead that should see Brian Sabean focus on re-signing players like Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro and at least kicking the tires on a Buster Posey extension, this continues a Sabean trend of an early free agent signing that doesn’t exactly wow baseball minds, following up recent deals like the latest ones he doled out to Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff. Time will tell if even with the bad voodoo surrounding multi-year reliever contracts that Affeldt could once again buck the trend.