On Tuesday the Kansas City Royals signed three veterans to minor league contracts. Joining the organization are OF Willy Taveras, left-handed reliever George Sherrill and right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler. All three have been invited to partake in Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona.
With 29 seasons of major league experience between them, if you follow baseball on even a cursory level you’re probably already aware of who they are and perhaps even what they could potentially bring to the table. Regardless, I’m taking a look at each of them and how they could fit into the 2013 picture.
Much like Sherrill, Dan Wheeler has done more in the major leagues than anyone probably expected. The Rays plucked him from Central Arizona College with their 34th round pick in the 1996 draft. He made his MLB debut with Tampa Bay in 1999 when he was 21 years old and has since appeared in 589 major league games over 13 seasons. He’s been released twice in his career – 2001 by the Rays and 2002 by the Braves – and has also been traded twice. In the first deal he was sent from the Mets to the Astros in August of 2004 for OF Adam Seuss (who never made it above high-A). In the second he was a part of a deadline deal in 2007 that saw him move from Houston back to Tampa in exchange for Ty Wigginton.
Having just celebrated his 35th birthday a few days ago, Wheeler has a resume that includes a 3.98 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 110 ERA+ and 555 SO to go with 194 BB in 640.2 innings pitched. The Royals become his seventh organization, having played in the big leagues with the Rays (on two separate occasions), Mets, Astros, Red Sox and Indians. While he didn’t reach the majors for the Braves, he also spent the 2002 season pitching for the Richmond, Atlanta’s Triple-A team (which has since relocated to Gwinnett).
In terms of his more recent history, he spent 2012 with Cleveland and played in both the majors and Columbus (AAA). His time with the former was limited to 12.1 innings thanks to an unsightly 8.76 ERA and 1.98 WHIP. He walked seven while striking out just two. To be fair however his performance was skewed greatly by his May 13th outing when he allowed six runs, all earned, on five hits and a walk in a single inning of work. Out of his twelve appearances with the Indians, he didn’t allow a run in eight of them. He was designated for assignment shortly after his six run outing, went unclaimed and stayed in Cleveland’s system. The Rhode Island native was far more effective, as you would expect, in the minors where he pitched to a 2.32 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 30-13 SO-to-BB in 42.2 innings pitched.
While he’s never been a strikeout pitcher, Wheeler is one of the rare guys that managed to increase his K rate once he made it to the big leagues. In fact, he bumped it up a full strikeout per game going from 6.8 SO/9 in the minors to 7.8 in the majors. In both cases the sample sizes are rather large with a total of over 1,500 innings pitched since being drafted.
Over the course of his career, his splits are what you’d expect from a right handed reliever. He’s held righties to a 0.216 BA and 0.633 OPS while lefties have hit 0.281 off him with a bloated 0.846 OPS. In addition to the 213 point difference in OPS his SO/BB drops from an outstanding 4.04 against righties to a sub-standard 1.70 against lefties. According to Pitch f/x, his fastball velocity has fallen off by 2.1 mph since 2007 and it’s no longer an above average major league pitch, but his cutter does remain above average.
The Royals are obviously set in their bullpen with plenty of young, power arms from the right side. Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland are locks to be in the major league pen on Opening Day. Swingman Nate Adcock also would appear to have a job well in hand. He doesn’t throw as hard or generate strikeouts like the others but he is similar in that he is young and effective. Throw in lefty Tim Collins and the entire bullpen is 27 or younger with Holland, who just turned 27 a few weeks ago, the senior member.
As a more cagey, veteran presence Wheeler might be able to work himself into that mix, but it doesn’t seem likely. However, he does provide a quality, experienced arm in Triple-A that can be called up in the case of injury or other emergency. I don’t know if I would be comfortable relying on Wheeler for an extended stretch of time but he can “hold the fort” in shorter stretches and given the schizophrenic nature of relievers he might surprise us and contribute more. That said, it will be a very positive sign if Wheeler spends the 2013 season in Omaha.