Continuing the search for the bullpen arm – or two – that Tampa Bay Rays’ Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman wants to add this off-season, free agent reliever Jonathan Broxton is a name that could catch the Rays’ attention. The former closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers was a dominant relief ace in his first five and a half seasons in the major leagues; however, injuries have slowed down his career. The owner of a 2.92 ERA from 2005-2009, Broxton posted a 7.13 ERA in the second half of the 2010 season and made just 14 appearances in 2011 before being shutdown with an elbow injury. In his last 36.1 innings of work, he has 30 walks and 28 strikeouts.
After trying to rehab his elbow over the summer, Broxton underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in late September. Because the surgery was more of a clean-up procedure than structural, he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2012 season. Meanwhile, the injury has lowered his value considerably, making him an potential candidate for the Rays.
Commonly listed at 300 pounds, Broxton made a living by blowing away National League hitters with a high-octane fastball near triple-digits. The right-hander has racked up 503 career strikeouts in just under 400 innings of work. Prior to injury, he posted average walk rates and kept the ball in the yard, doing most of his work with whiffs and groundballs. In addition to the fastball, Broxton threw a hard slider which helped earn swing and miss rates in the low-teens.
In September, Broxton’s agent, B.B. Abbott, said he expects his client to lose some velocity after surgery, but could possibly settle in the 93-97 mph range with a hard slider or cutter. Even if he loses some steam, his stuff likely to miss plenty of bats; especially if his slider still has tilt to it. Once again, swing and miss ability is a key attribute for the Rays, most notably in potential high-leverage relievers. A byproduct of his plus stuff, Broxton has been immune to platoon splits in the past – another ability Tampa Bay covets.
Although Broxton served as a closer in recent years, he may not receive a chance to close right away in 2012. The current free agent market boasts pitchers like Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, and Francisco Rodriguez with names like Joe Nathan and Ryan Madson also available for late-inning duties. If Tampa Bay were to be interested, the club has Kyle Farnsworth as the de-facto closer, but he has never been officially given a title by Rays’ manager Joe Maddon. With Broxton and Farnsworth, the Rays could employ a two-headed high-leverage monster with saves being up for grabs. This could be attractive to Broxton who may be willing to sign a one-year deal to reestablish his value.
Over the past few years, the Rays have gladly served as a temporary home for relief pitchers in Broxton’s situation. Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit received multi-year deals on the open market after one season with the Rays. Being “used” by these players does not bother the organization which understands how volatile production of relievers can be year-to year. In this case, the Rays could offer the two-time all-star an incentive-heavy, one-year contract with the opportunity to regain his value as a high-leverage relief ace. Like any pitcher coming off surgery, the health risk is real; however, a healthy Broxton could offer a reward high enough to make it well worth the potential gamble.