Joaquin To The Rescue – Benoit Signs With Washington

Monday news broke and Wednesday it was confirmed – The Washington Nationals had reached agreement on a 1-year $1 million contract with free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit.  In a corresponding move, Washington placed Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list in order to create space on the 40-man roster for Benoit.

The 40-year-old right-hander split last season with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, throwing 50.1 innings over 52 appearances with a 4.65 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.291 WHIP and 46 strikeouts against 22 walks.  Benoit was solid for Philadelphia early in the year (4.07 ERA, 3.80 FIP) but collapsed in the Iron City, allowing 9 runs, 11 hits and 6 walks in only 8.1 innings for the Pirates.  For his 16-year major league career, Benoit has been a productive late-inning reliever, with a 3.83 ERA, 1.235 WHIP and 53 saves over 1,068 innings pitched.  Benoit primarily relies on his 94-95mph fastball and a mid-80s changeup, while mixing in the occasional slider.  While his velocity and swinging strike percentage (13.3%) remained strong in 2017, it is concerning his walk rate and home runs allowed have elevated over career norms in both 2016 and 2017.  These flaws must subside if the veteran wishes to remain a productive major league reliever.

Benoit provides Washington’s bullpen with something it lacked without him, namely a consistent right-handed reliever who can bolster the middle relief corps.  Certainly Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and perhaps even Austin Adams could fill this role in 2018, but all three come with significantly more risk than Benoit.  One could argue all three come with more potential upside, but Benoit’s reliability and higher “floor” makes him a solid addition to Washington’s relief corps.  Also, Benoit’s career 8.9 K/9 ratio makes him a nice contrast to fellow free agent signee and groundball producing machine Brandon Kintzler in a setup capacity ahead of Ryan Madson and closer Sean Doolittle.

In general, it is difficult to quibble with signing a durable reliever for only $1 million and Benoit should give the Nationals quality production this season.  Washington capitalized on the slow free agent market to add a reliable pitcher on a below-market contract.  However, I must caution Benoit is no longer an elite reliever like he was from 2010-2015, but a pitcher who should provide 45-50 innings of league-average results.  If expectations are kept with this in mind, Washington’s front office just acquired additional depth for only a $1 million commitment, a quality and logical move.

NatsGM Grade  ->           B

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