The Tampa Bay Rays have signed right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a one-year, incentive-laden contract with a guaranteed value of $800,000. The Rays are hoping that they can get Frieri back to where he was in 2013, when he was one of the top right-handed relievers in the American League. Frieri can make up to $2.35 million more in incentives in 2015.
Frieri began the 2014 season as the closer for the Los Angeles Angels. He struggled out of the gate for the Angels, posting a 6.34 ERA and allowing eight homers over his first 31 innings. He blew three saves in 14 chances with the Angels and was traded by Los Angeles to the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 27th in exchange for Jason Grilli. Frieri's struggles continued with Pittsburgh, as he posted a 10.13 ERA in 10.2 innings. He was released by the Pirates on September 2nd.
Although Frieri's 2014 season was a disaster, there is reason to believe that he can return to his previous level of dominance. He struck-out 48 and walked 14 in 41.2 innings last season, solid numbers even in a down year. Frieri has always been prone to giving up the longball, and it was homeruns that really hurt him in 2014. He allowed nearly 2.5 per nine innings pitched, by far a career-worst number. His hits allowed totals were also up, perhaps a sign that location - and not quality of stuff - was Frieri's biggest issue last season.
It's a low-risk gamble for the Rays, who - at worst - will be on the hook for $800,000. At best, Frieri returns to the form that allowed him to strike-out more than 12 batters an inning from 2011-2013 and save 37 games in 2013. Should Frieri pitch at his pre-2014 levels, the Rays could either move him into the closer's role that Grant Balfour struggled in last season or trade him at the deadline to a team that is contending, if the Rays are out of playoff contention.
The Rays designated utilityman Sean Rodriguez for assignment to make room for Frieri on their 40-man roster. Rodriguez was one of the longest-tenured members of the Rays' roster, having been with the team since 2010. Rodriguez will be exposed to waivers. If unclaimed, the Rays will have 10 days to work out a trade for him or he will become a free agent. He is in his third year of arbitration-eligibility.
Rodriguez slugged .443 last season, but he reached base at just a .258 clip in 259 plate appearances. The infielder/outfielder got on-base at a little bit better clip versus left-handed pitching (.295), but he had a higher slugging percentage versus right-handers (.452). Rodriguez played the most games at second base last season, but he also saw time at first base, left field, third base, right field and shortstop.
Rodriguez has a career .372 SLG and .297 OBP. He has appeared in 96 games in each of the past two seasons for Tampa.