Due to the work done during last winter’s bullpen reclamation, the Tampa Bay Rays are in much better position this year – looking to add just a few pieces to their relief corps as compared to a massive overhaul. One of the names the team targeted last year – but failed to sign – was veteran right-hander Guillermo Mota. Tampa Bay was reportedly a “finalist” for his services; however, Mota chose to return to San Francisco where he won a World Series championship in 2010. Following his one-year deal with the Giants, Mota is once again a free agent. And once again, he may spark the interest of the Rays.
Mota, 38, has earned a career 3.91 ERA in 836 major-league innings. Like most middle relievers, he has made his way around the league. Starting with the Montreal Expos in 1999, Mota has pitched for seven big league teams, most recently spending two productive seasons in San Francisco. He is far from an elite reliever; however, he gets a fair amount strikeouts, has a manageable walk rate, and is average at keeping the ball in the park. He is a flexible bullpen piece; capable of going multiple innings and facing batters on both sides of the plate.
Despite his advanced age, Mota still has good velocity on his fastball (92-94 mph), throwing both a four-seamer and a two-seamer. Off the fastball, he is able to generate swings and misses with his secondary stuff. His slider is thrown in the mid-80s and is used primarily against right-handed batters. Meanwhile, his changeup – also thrown around 85 mph – is his preferred secondary pitch against lefties. Each pitch misses a good amount of bats. According to fangraphs.com, his 11.2% swinging strike rate last season was comfortably above the league average of 9.6%. This helped him post a career-best 8.63 K/9.
Mota has been used against both lefties and righties throughout his career, but is more effective when facing batters of the same-hand. With that in mind, 67% of his plate appearances came against right-handed batters last season. Traditionally, the Rays like to target pitchers with platoon neutrality; however, with neutral righties like Joel Perala, Kyle Farnsworth, and a few left-handed relievers (Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, and perhaps J.P. Howell), there is room for a right-handed specialist, similarly to how Joe Maddon deployed Dan Wheeler in his time with Tampa Bay.
Although the off-season is young, the Giants have been aggressive in retaining their relievers, having already re-signed Javier Lopez to a two-year contract and picking up the 2012 option on Jeremy Affeldt. Considering Mota pitched 80 effective innings for them in 2011, there is a decent chance they are interested in bringing him back. If so, Mota may opt to stay like he did a season ago. On the other hand, if he does not return to San Francisco, there is potential for him to move from one Bay Area to another.