Phillies Sign Joel Piñeiro to Minor League Deal

Per Jayson Stark, the Phillies have signed veteran right-handed pitcher Joel Piñeiro to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

There were not many suitors for Piñeiro’s services following a rough 2011 outing. He posted 5.13 ERA over 145 and 2/3rds innings, and a problem that has plagued him for the last six seasons — his inability to punch hitters out — reached a new career low, in the form of a 9.8% strikeout rate. Ostensibly, he hails from the Kyle Kendrick school of sinker ball pitching: acceptable but not impressive groundball rates, better than average walk rates, both put to waste with abysmal strikeout abilities. His secondary pitch is a slider, and he mixes in a curveball and changeup, but none are offerings suited for a spot in a major league starter’s arsenal. Piñeiro found success with the Mariners from 2001-2004, when he sustained a much better strikeout rate (17.6%) coupled with an advantageous BABIP (.276).

The Piñeiro from 2001-2004 would be a perfectly serviceable 2nd, 3rd, or 4th starter, but his bat-missing skills and batted ball fortune faded, and he found himself bouncing around the Red Sox and Cardinals’ minor league systems. There was some hope in 2009 that Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan had put his magic to work and salvaged Piñeiro. He posted a 3.49 ERA in 214 innings, mostly thanks to a sizable jump in groundball rate — 60.5% compared to his 49.2% career average. That proved unsustainable, and he landed with the Angels, ranging from mediocre to bad in 2010 and 2011.

Joe Blanton already figures to fill out the 5th spot in a rotation that is otherwise famously comprised of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley. Kyle Kendrick, freshly inked to a $3.585 million deal to avoid arbitration two days ago, will be a costly swing man with dim hopes to repeat his fortunate 2011. For the Phillies, then, Piñeiro likely represents AAA filler and a deep starting pitching option. Like the Jason Grilli or Andrew Carpenter of days gone by, he will shore up the Iron Pig rotation until the Phillies find themselves in need of a spot starter or injury replacement. He may not even be high on the depth chart, with a bevy of other one-hit wonders ready to go if the Phillies find themselves in desperate circumstances. Piñeiro is marginally better against right-handed hitting, but nothing about his profile bodes well for a relief role, so it’s unlikely he could land with the big league squad for that purpose.

In the broader construction project that is the 2012 Phillies, Piñeiro is a minor, fungible cog that the machine would hardly miss. But it’s worth a no-risk minor league deal to bring him to spring training and give him a chance to prove some usefulness. His game plan should mirror Kendrick’s — walk as few hitters as possible, and rely heavily on the sinker, praying either that it works or that he gets lucky. In the best case scenario, he will approach Kendrick’s serviceability without inspiring the same odd compulsion to throw substantial money in his direction. In the worst case, he may add more than a few dents to the Lehigh Valley bleachers.

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