The Padres have come to terms with former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit on a two-year, $15.5 million contract. Benoit, who was one of the best set-up men in baseball for the Rays and Tigers, respectively, before ascending to the closer's role with Detroit in late June of this past season, will most likely return to his previous role as the primary set-up man for incumbent San Diego closer Huston Street.
In doing so, Benoit effectively replaces longtime Padres set-up man Luke Gregerson, who was traded to the A's for lefthanded platoon outfielder Seth Smith two weeks ago. Gregerson, who will be 30 in May and a free agent after the 2014 season, posted a 136 ERA+ in 193 2/3 innings for San Diego over the last three seasons while allowing 23 percent of his inherited runners to score. Over the same span, Benoit, who is 36, posted a 146 ERA+ in 199 innings for the Tigers and allowed 22 percent of his inherited runners to score.
The upgrade is even larger than it might appear, however. ERA+ corrects the difference between ballparks, but Benoit's unadjusted WHIP and peripherals since 2011 are all better than those of Gregerson, who pitched in a far more favorable home ballpark. In his three years as a Tiger, Benoit posted a 1.08 WHIP and struck out 9.9 men per nine innings with a 3.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gregerson, over the same span, had a higher WHIP (1.14), struck out two fewer men per nine innings and had an inferior 2.93 K/BB ratio. What's more, over just his last two seasons, Benoit's rate of inherited runners scoring has dropped to 15 percent compared to Gregerson's 23 percent over the same span despite the latter's more favorable ballpark.
Gregerson, who is arbitration eligible this winter, made $3.2 million in 2013, while the average annual salary of Benoit's new deal is $7.75 million. The extra money spent on Benoit, however, is the opportunity cost for acquiring Smith, who joins fellow lefty Will Venable in complimenting an otherwise heavily righthanded Padres outfield. Chris Denorfia, Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin are all righties, as are moonlighting first basemen Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman.
There's also a Plan B here. The combination of the Benoit and Smith moves, a full season of Ian Kennedy
, the addition of Josh Johnson
and a sprinkling of extra health and maturity around the roster could push the Padres into contention after a pair of 76-loss seasons. If the team doesn't contend, Benoit's presence could also allow San Diego to trade Street, who is in the final year of his contract and has blown just three of 59 save opportunities in the last two years.