I just wrote a bit last night about how the Indians were looking to add people to the bullpen. Today, they announced a minor league deal with an invite to spring training for RHP Anthony Swarzak. The 29-year-old Swarzak had spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, who drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft. The Twins opted to non-tender Swarzak this winter, rather than risk paying him $1.4 million if he went through arbitration. This means that if Swarzak is able to make the Indians’ roster out of spring training, and does well in 2015, he’s still under team control through the 2016 season. He has started in the past, but primarily worked out of the bullpen over the past few years.
Swarzak was never overly-spectacular in Minnesota except for the 2013 season, where he had a 2.91 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and 69 strikeouts in 96 IP. He regressed during the 2014 season, with a 4.60 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts in 86 IP. His FIP in 2013 and 2014 would indicate that he had a bit of good luck in 2013 (FIP of 3.28) and a bit of bad luck in 2014 (3.77 FIP). Swarzak tends to induce more ground balls than fly balls (45.2% of pitches were ground balls, 35.6% fly balls in 2013, and 44.5% ground balls, 35.9% fly balls in 2014). Why do I mention the ground balls? Because if the 2015 Indians defense resembles the 2014 Indians defense, Swarzak could easily see a higher ERA when compared with his FIP. I should also point out that while the Indians ranked 29th overall in advanced defensive metrics (via Fangraphs), the Twins were ranked 27th. So it’s not like they’re a vastly superior team from a defensive standpoint, and his numbers may not receive any more harm in Cleveland, when compared to Minnesota. An interesting side note – the Indians, White Sox, Twins, and Tigers make up four of the bottom five teams defensively.
If Swarzak is able to make the major league roster out of spring training, he’d be set to earn $900,000, with the potential for $350,000 in incentives. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press breaks down the bonus structure (basically outlines the benchmarks Swarzak needs to reach) and also says that Swarzak has a September 1 opt out on the deal. Opt outs like this are usually common when a major leaguer signs a minor league deal; basically if they don’t make the team’s opening day roster, they want the ability to try to catch on with another major league team. Often these opt outs come with May or June deadlines, but the September 1 date still allows Swarzak the chance to end up with a team after everyone expands their rosters.
Overall, I think this is a great move. Despite Swarzak’s troubles last year, I still thought someone would end up giving him a major league deal. Teams have nothing to lose on these minor league deals with spring training invites; if it doesn’t work out, you just go your separate ways. If it works out, you got the guy at a bargain. Plus, every so often they work out surprisingly well (think Scott Kazmir during the 2013 season).