Non-Tender Deadline Offers New Options for Rangers Bullpen

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The deadline to offer contracts to team-controlled players came and went last night and the Texas Rangers opted not to tender an offer to right hander Fabio Castillo. Castillo, 22, spent the 2011 season pitching at Double-A Frisco, but not very well. In 52.1 innings, he allowed a 6.36 ERA with 37 strikeouts versus 23 walks.

While Castillo’s name might draw a ton of interest on the open market, there are a few intriguing players who were dumped into the free agent pool by virtue of being non-tendered yesterday. A pair of southpaws in former Dodger Hong-Chih Kuo and former Twin Jose Mijares could fit nicely into a Rangers bullpen short on left handers.

Kuo was alarmingly bad in 2011, but the Dodgers are hoping to re-sign him at a discount from his $2.75 million salary he earned last year. From 2008-2010, Kuo dominated National League hitters, posting a 1.96 ERA and 0.953 WHIP over a span of 170 innings. Last season, however, Kuo returned from elbow surgery and lost command of the strikezone, eventually being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

In 40 games in 2011, Kuo worked only 27 innings and allowed 24 hits and 27 earned runs. The biggest culprit was his lack of command. He issued 23 walks and allowed four home runs, matching his career-high, which had previously come over 80 innings pitched in 2008.

Still, his stuff was still there, as evidenced by his 36 strikeouts recorded. That total gave him a career-best 12 strikeouts per nine innings last year. A change of scenery and a job working with the best pitching coach in the business in Mike Maddux might be just what the doctor ordered to return Kuo to his former greatness.

Like Kuo, Mijares struggled in 2011 with the last-place Twins. Of course, had either of these guys been anything but disappointing last year, neither of them would have been non-tendered. From 2009-2010, Mijares was more than serviceable; posting a 2.67 ERA and 1.230 WHIP over 94.1 innings out of the Minnesota bullpen. In 2011, however, his overall numbers plummeted to a 4.59 ERA and whopping 1.694 WHIP. Like Kuo, control was the issue as Mijares allowed 5.5 BB/9 last year, up a full three walks per nine over his 2010 totals. Unlike Kuo, however, Mijares also saw his strikeout rate fall from near eight per nine down to just 5.5.

The Twins opted to non-tender Mijares rather than pay him as a first-year arbitration eligible player. In 2011, Mijares less effective versus left handed batters, yielding a .253 average against and .698 OPS. In his career, however, Mijares has held lefties to just a .213 average and .607 OPS. Apart from the command issues he dealt with last year, Mijares also appeared to be a victim of a bit of bad luck. In his career, he’s allowed a .260 batting average on balls in play to left handed hitters, but last season that number rose to .313.

My guess here is that once Mijares started to get hit around a little bit, he began pitching away from contact, which is a quick way to see walk rates rise and strikeout rates fall. It’s also a quick ticket out of town if you pitch for the Twins.

Like Kuo, Mijares is a guy with a solid history of success who struggled in 2011 and might benefit from a change in scenery. Confidence appears to be an issue with both hurlers. But that’s something that can generally be restored.

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Tags: Fabio Castillo Hong-Chih Kuo Jose Mijares Los Angeles Dodgers Minnesota Twins Texas Rangers

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