After a rough start to the season, George Sherrill has really pitched well as the O’s closer. Even though he was the the team’s only All-Star in 2008, Sherrill had a somewhat tricky adjustment in going from a lefty specialist in Seattle to pitching to all comers out of the Baltimore pen. His walks went way up (5.57 BB/9) and his ERA (4.73) and FIP (4.33) suffered. This year, Sherrill has gotten that under control (just 2.82 BB/9) and despite striking out fewer batters (8.22 K/9, after years of 9.79 in ’08 and 11.04 in ’07) his ERA (2.35) and FIP (3.34) have been very good. That means that even with his jump in salary going into his first year of arbitration – to $2.75 M – he’s been well worth it, having $3.7 M in value so far according to FanGraphs. The question is though, if a team that’s in last place and has not shot at contending this year should really hang on to a 32 year old mid-tier closer.
Unlike with Huff, it’s harder to get an idea about Sherrill’s future value to the team. By their nature – and the small number of innings they throw each year – reliever performance can be somewhat volatile. To pull some stuff completely out of the air, let’s say Sherrill pitches to a 3.50 FIP for the rest of the year. He’ll be getting paid $1.2 M and would produce about $2.7 in value – good for a $1.5 M surplus to the team. In their arbitration years, players tend to get around 40%, 60%, and 80% of their actual value in salary – Sherrill is a Super-Two though, so he’ll likely make 80% in both of the final years. That means that if Sherrill is going to produce at around a 1 WAR level (between this year and last year, and about on par with his last two years in Seattle), he “should” get paid around $4.5 M a year and so will pull in about $3.8 M a year. That’s an additional $0.7 M a year in surplus value to the team. Assuming that level of performance, Sherrill would probably end up a Type-B free agent, though it depends on his save totals and all that (I think). That would net the team a draft pick worth about $2.5 M in excess value [Edit: adjusted draft pick value from 1.5 to 2.5]. So the total there – and remembering that there’s a lot of wand-waving going on – is $5.4 M. That’s not quite at the level of a B prospect (around $7.3 M for pitchers and $5.5 M for hitters), but given that a team willing to trade for Sherrill is probably in contention and adding a quality lefty reliever to their pen would increase their chances of making the playoffs (which has a real tangible benefit to the team), I think a B prospect would be more than reasonable. Which teams might be interested in Sherrill? The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California: The Angels have a 3 game lead in the AL West, and are probably the favorites over the Rangers and the Mariners. They already have lefty Brian Fuentes as their closer, as well as another lefty in Darren Oliver out there, though he’s not really a LOOGY. That’s what Sherrill would give them, so they don’t have to worry about bringing Fuentes in in the eighth if there are three lefties coming up (though that manner of pitcher usage is generally dumb anyway). The Angels are notoriously thrifty with their prospects, but given that Brandon Wood isn’t getting much of a chance at all with the team, he might be a good target. Wood’s only 24, even though the SS/3B has been a “top prospect” for years now. He’s batting .313/.367/.592 this year in Triple-A, after putting up a very similar .296/.375/.595 line there last year. He’s got legit power and his defense is supposed to have improved to the point that he has a chance to stick at short. The plate discipline is improving too (K:BB going from around 3:1 to 2:1 – still not good, but better). Given the lack of third-base prospects in the O’s system, Wood seems like a guy that could step in for Mora next year and get a chance to see what he can do. The Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are 57-34, have a 7.5 game lead in the NL West, and are fairly certain to make the playoffs. They already have a pretty good bullpen with Jonathan Broxton and Ramon Troncosco at the back end, but adding Sherrill would make it even better and allow them to match up better in the playoffs. Devaris Gordon is a 21 year-old shortstop in their system, hitting .299/.359/.388 in A-Ball this year. Then there’s more highly regarded shortstop Ivan Dejesus Jr., hitting .324/.419/.423 in Double-A. Either of those guys would be a fine target, with a pitching prospect (possibly a reliever) likely needing to be thrown in with Gordon. The Dodger’s system isn’t what it used to be, so they may be a little more reluctant to give up a guy that is now one of their better prospects. The Florida Marlins: The Marlins are in second place in the NL East, but they’re just 46-46 and 6 games behind the first-place Phillies. They already have lefties Renyal Pinto and Dan Meyer in the pen, but closer Matt Lindstrom (6.52 ERA) has been less than fantastic. Chris Coghlan is the name that often gets thrown around here – with the Marlins expressing apprehension at making that deal – but he makes sense. Florida has him mostly playing left-field this year as a rookie, though he’s hit only .248/.345/.350. As a 23 year-old in Double-A last year, he hit .298/.396/.429, and got off to a quick .344/.418/.552 start in Triple-A this year before being called up. He’s not your prototypical slugging third-baseman (his usual position), but he is another guy that should be able to take over for Mora next year. Florida has enough prospect depth that they would be able to put together a package consisting of a couple lower level guys as well. The Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are 49-42 in third place in the NL West (8 back). They are only a half game behind the Giants in the Wild Card chase though, so picking up a reliever to bolster their bullpen would be nice. Alan Embree is their main lefty out there now, and he has a 5.84 ERA. The Rockies don’t have any top young players that they’d likely be willing to part with, so I think a trade would need to be a package deal. I think that with respect to Sherrill, Andy MacPhail is willing to hold on to him unless a contender becomes a little desperate and makes a good offer. I know he’s been the O’s best reliever this year, but he really isn’t a shutdown closer and he’s not getting any younger or any cheaper. As always though, whether or not a trade is made depends on what the other teams are willing to part with.