Monday, February 11, 2008
Today the Giants signed veteran relief pitcher Scott Williamson to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. This is a little move that is probably going to be overlooked for the time being, but I love it. Williamson at this point in his career is what I call a C.H.U.B., or CHeaply Utilized Bullpenite, and they just make me all warm and fuzzy inside...uh, in a completely non-weird way.
You see, I'm from the school that believes middle relievers are the easiest talents to find and replace in major league baseball. They're pitchers who usually had something to offer, something that made scouts drool, but who flamed out as starters for one reason or another. There are tons of these guys around. Since these relievers are so plentiful, and thus easy to replace, it just makes no sense for any team to shell out big bucks to retain them, yet you see it every year. Just this offseason, the White Sox gave Scott Linebrink a four year, $19 million deal, which has to rank as one of the worst signings of the winter.
Since the Giants are in a position where they should be rebuilding, it also makes even less sense for them to start throwing a bunch of money at middle relievers when there are so many other problems on the roster. The Giants, though, should be trying to improve the bullpen cheaply, whether internally or externally, and that's where Williamson comes in. He's had success in the majors before, he stills throws hard, and he costs the team essentially nothing. So if he's healthy and effective...huzzah! It's a step towards a solid bullpen (or at least a tradeable commodity), which is a step toward contention, at zero cost.
It's not like the Giants are bringing in Paul Abbott, either. Williamson was once a dominant reliever, and still has bite on his fastball. In a nutshell, here's Williamson's career. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1999 with a brilliant showing out of the bullpen (195 ERA+), helping a flukey Reds team just miss the NL Wild Card. Unfortunately, this was during the era in which the Reds were having their relievers throw grotesque amounts of innings, and Williamson tossed 203 in his first two seasons, which included an abortive attempt at starting.
Not shockingly, Williamson blew out his arm, missed most of 2001, and then settled back in where he left off in the Reds' bullpen. After being traded to the Red Sox, he found himself inexplicably nailed to the bench during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS as Grady Little committed brainfart after brainfart. He pitched 29 unhittable innings in 2004, but then hurt himself again, and has been an injury-plagued mess ever since.
Last season he pitched only 14 innings, and walked eight in those innings, which is bad, but he also struck out 16, which is very good. So there's obviously still something there, and at the price of a minor league contract, it's a worth the team's time to test him out and see if they have themselves a good, old-fashioned solid setup man, one we've been clamoring for since the Tim Worrell days of yore (er, the 2001-03 version).
Williamson's injury history should beat back too much optimism, but with the arm involved, and at the price, I think this is a great move. Credit Brian Sabean for sating my C.H.U.B. fetish.