Veteran pitcher Jeremy Bonderman has a June 1 opt-out clause in his minor-league deal, meaning that if the Mariners fail to promote him to the majors by that date, then he can choose to become a free agent.
So: Do you let him go?
Let's break it down:
Will you get pre-injury Bonderman?
Of course, the whole reason that a guy with a decent track record in 193 MLB starts is in the minors in the first place is that he's recovering from major surgery. Bonderman didn't pitch at all in 2011 or 2012 following elbow issues and surgery. Prior to that, he had issues with a blood clot in his shoulder.
So the initial question is: is he back?
And that answer seems to be "yes." All reports indicate he's throwing without pain, and hitting low-90s on the radar gun.
His results: 3.79 ERA | 1.39 WHIP | 10.0 H/9 | 0.8 HR/9 | 2.5 BB/9 | 5.3 K/9
Is pre-injury Bonderman worth having?
First of all, Bonderman probably gets some psychic mileage just from folks having a mental image of Bonderman and Justin Verlander both being young, hard-throwing righties in the Tiger rotation in the 2000s (both are 30 now; Bonderman a few months older). And, in fact, in 2005 and 2006, when they were 22 and 23, Bonderman had a higher strikeout rate than Verlander.
But they veered off in different directions pretty quickly. Bonderman has not struck out more than 20% of batters faced since 2006. Verlander has not struck out fewer than 23% of batters faced since 2008.
So wash that mental image from your memory, and let's go to the data, which we'll just go ahead and import:
|162 Game Avg.||11||13||.465||4.89||35||33||1||0||200||212||117||109||25||69||158||90||1.402||9.5||1.1||3.1||7.1||2.30|
If you go by ERA+, he's only got two seasons in which he breaks the 100 mark. In terms of WAR, if that's your thing, he averaged 1.67 in his five healthy seasons (baseball-reference.com version), topping off at 3.2 in 2006.
My own approach for major leaguers is to look at OBP(against)+ and ISO(against)+ (which is just OBP and ISO yielded, compared to league average, and re-scaled to 100). It gives you this:
You can throw out 2009 when he was obviously not right, but otherwise you can see that he's pretty much average at both "keeping guys off the bases" and "avoiding being hit hard." The one exception was 2006, when he had his highest K% (22.4%) and was a pretty valuable pitcher.
As we like to point out in Our Little Corner of the Internet, there is value in not being awful. The value is as "stop-loss" not "asset" -- Risk Management, not Profit Production -- but it is value.
So, if you are getting a reasonable shot at 2004-2008 Bonderman, then, yes, he has value, but not as a "I gotta get that guy on my team" guy (that was only 2006). More of a "good guy to have in your back pocket" guy. Problem is, Bonderman's contract says his "back pocket" time is almost over.
What's the cost?
I'm not sure what the money cost is (probably not significant in the big picture), but the immediate cost is roster space.
Bonderman would need to be added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters to avoid the opt out (assuming reports are correct).
But the Mariners already have a 40-man roster squeeze. They have Josh Kinney and Stephen Pryor on the 60-day DL, and will need to make moves to get both back on the roster when they come back (Kinney pretty soon). They have Erasmo Ramirez and Danny Hultzen taking up spots but neither is available to help the major league club. They are pretty much out of younger guys that they would be willing to expose to waivers in order to clear a spot.
So, assuming the MLB roster stays as it is, then it is pretty hard to justify giving up a roster spot for Bonderman.
Is Bonderman better than the alternative?
There are two ways of looking at it:
- Bonderman vs. Harang. You can view it as a showdown between these two. Give up on Harang and keep Bonderman. They're pretty similar, actually, but Bonderman is the greater unknown since he hasn't really pitched since 2010 and hasn't really been the guy you hope to get since 2008.
- Bonderman vs. The Field. This view assumes that Harang will stay.
Under the "keep Harang" option, then you're comparing Bonderman to your options without a roster move: which would be Blake Beavan, Hector Noesi and Chance Ruffin. And to the other guys that you have "in your back pocket" if Bonderman were to opt out: which is pretty much Brian Sweeney, but would also include anyone else they could scrounge up in the same way they scrounged up Harang.
Viewing it the second way, I don't see a justification for keeping Bonderman. He would offer a "veteran" starter, but there's really no assurance he'd be better than Beavan or Ruffin. (He'd probably be more consistent than Noesi, but that's not saying much.)
And, in terms of "back pocket" guys, I don't know that he'd offer any more than Brian Sweeney, who is the ultimate AAAA pitcher, and is perfectly happy (unlike Bonderman) just collecting his paycheck at Tacoma and being ready if called upon.
Bottom line then: If you want to pull the plug on Harang (which is understandable today, May 22) and give Bonderman a go, then fine. But if you're keeping Harang going forward, then let Bonderman walk.