On the surface, the Royals’ recent acquisition of lefty reliever Jose Mijares is pretty vanilla. The 27-year old Mijares is a serviceable reliever, sure, but he’s not going to be swinging any playoff races. While Mijares owns a lifetime 3.16 ERA, it’s important to note that his ERA has risen exponentially in each of his four big league seasons.
He first appeared in the majors 2008, when he posted a 0.87 ERA in 10 appearances for the Minnesota Twins. The next season was his best, as Mijares recorded a 2.34 ERA in 61.2 innings, while striking out 55. But that was the high water mark. Mjiares threw only 32.2 (albeit solid) innings in 201o, sporting a 3.31 ERA, and then saw his strikeout rate dip dramatically in 2011 at the same time that his ERA soared to 4.59.
All this to say that Mijares isn’t, and won’t be, a miracle worker. But there are reasons to believe that his addition will prove valuable.
First, Mijares now appears slated to serve as the bullpen’s regular LOOGY, a position primarily manned last season by rookie Tim Collins. It was never a natural role for Collins, who actually allowed a higher OPS to lefties in 2011 than righties. Mijares is more suited for the role, as lefties have OPS’d .698 against him over his career, compared to a robust .874 for righties. With Mijares pitching primarily in lefty-on-lefty matchups, Collins will be freed to expand his role to include more multiple-inning appearances.
In the first half of 2011 (prior to July 8th), Collins pitched 2 or more innings in an outing seven times. In the second half (after July 8th), he didn’t accomplish the feat once. Furthermore, in 16 combined innings over those seven 2+ inning appearances, Collins allowed only two runs. If he can get his control in order, getting out from under that lefty-on-lefty role may be the best thing that ever happened to him.
The Mijares signing may also mean good things for young lefties Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford. Mijares now seems like a near lock to open the season as the bullpen’s token lefty. Unless Collins is relegated to Triple-A Omaha (not out of the question), there won’t likely be spots for Montgomery and Teaford in the relief corps. While it had seemed plausible that Montgomery or Teaford could have been tabbed for bullpen duty as the unit’s second left-hander, the Mijares signing makes that possibility less likely.
Let me preface my greater point: this may be a case of me looking so closely between the lines that I’m seeing something that’s not there. I readily admit that. But it’s December 31st, and the 2012 season is months away. Allow me to spend way too much time ruminating on the signing of Jose Mijares.
Here is what I’m seeing: if there isn’t a spot for Montgomery or Teaford in the bullpen, then the team should be willing to give them an open audition for the rotation. Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, and Jonathan Sanchez currently look like the only locks. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino would serve as the early frontrunners, and in this hypothetical, Aaron Crow, Montgomery, and Teaford would be auditioning right along with them.
If it ends up playing out like this, then the signing of Jose Mijares is more than just the signing of Joes Mijares. In signing him, the Royals will have created an extra candidate for their improved but still in-need-0f-improvement starting rotation. Pitching is a fickle resource. The best any general manager can do to combat that is to acquire options. By taking a low-risk flyer on Mijares, the Royals have (hypothetically) created one more option to a stable of intriguing young arms.
For that reason alone, the Mijares signing is a winner. And if he can get back to his 2009 form? Even better.