Friday, January 22, 2010

The Finishing Touch

Octavio Eduardo Dotel was born November 25, 1973 in Santo Domingo, of the Dominican Republic, and was signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1993.

Since then, the 36-year old righty has thrown for the New York Mets, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, and now is set to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dotel made his major league debut in 1999 for the New York Mets. He ended the season as the winning pitcher in the 1999 NLCS game against the Atlanta Braves. His reward? Dotel was traded with Roger Cedeno and minor leaguer Kyle Kessel to the Astros for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell.

His 4-1/2 year stint with Houston would become his longest gig, and he and Billy Wagner formed a powerful one-two punch for the Astros beginning in 2000.

In 2000, Dotel was converted from starter to relief pitcher for the Astros, filling in as closer for an injured Billy Wagner. The season was the first time in NL history that a pitcher combined over 15 starts with 15 saves (it happened once in the AL, when Tim Wakefield made 17 starts and notched 15 saves for the Boston Red Sox).

In 2001, Dotel again began the season as a starter but quickly moved into the bullpen as the setup man for Wagner. In 2003, Dotel and Wagner were joined by future Astros closer Brad Lidge and all three took part when six Astros pitchers combined for a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on June 11, 2003.

After the 2003 season, Wagner was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and Dotel started 2004 as the closer for the Astros. But not for long.

On June 24, 2004, Dotel was traded to Oakland in a three-way deal that brought Carlos Beltran to the Astros, with Mike Wood, Mark Teahen, and John Buck joining the Royals.

Dotel closed for the Athletics and finished the 2004 season with a career-high 36 saves, 22 for the A's and 14 for the 'Stros. He began 2005 in the same role, but had a rocky start and went on the 60-day DL in May, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 1st, ending his season after just 15 games. The A's let him walk after the season.

Dotel signed a one year deal with the New York Yankees in December 2005. He missed the first four months of the 2006 season, recovering from his Tommy John surgery, and then developed tendinitis in his elbow while on rehab. He didn't return to action until August.

Dotel became a free agent at the end of the 2006 MLB season, and was hotly pursued by the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Devil Rays. But he didn't bite on their offers.

Instead, he inked a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals in 2006 for a guaranteed $5M with bonuses worth up to $2.5M. It was reported that the chance to close was the deciding factor in signing with KC. It would become a recurring theme.

At the 2007 deadline, the Royals traded Dotel to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Kyle Davies. But on August 10th, he was placed on the DL with a right shoulder strain. He made his return in late September, and finished the season 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA.

A free agent again, Dotel agreed to a two-year, $11M deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2008, where he worked as a set-up man for Bobby Jenks. He worked 134 games in that span covering 129-1/3 innings, striking out 167 batters and walking 65. The Dominican strung together ERAs of 3.76 and 3.32, finishing 7-7.

Dotel was the yule log of the Bucs' off-season hot stove, and they finally landed him after dangling the closer's role in front of him. They were the only team to offer him that opportunity, and he took it.

Yesterday, he signed a 1-year, $3.25M deal with the chance to earn some bonus loot based on the number of games he finishes. The contract also includes a club option next season for $4.5M with a $250K buyout, so the suits control him through 2011, plenty of time to see if Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek can eventually take over the job.

His fastball crosses the plate at 92-93, touching 96, with good movement. Dotel also features a cutter and slider. He can miss bats, giving up just 7.2 hits and averaging 11 K's per nine innings during his career, stats that he mirrored for the White Sox. Dotel likes to work his heater upstairs, which explains both his high strikeout rate and flyball tendencies.

But he also averages a lifetime 4.1 walks per nine innings, too, and had problems against lefties last year, with a line of .268/.422/.577 against them along with considerably poorer walk and strikeout ratios. That may be an anomaly; his lifetime splits are pretty strong across the board.

The closer's role is his to lose now, but he's not certain to put a stranglehold on it. Dotel combines the good, the bad, and the ugly. He can throw the pill past anyone, but often can't find the dish.

He has lots of experience finishing off games, but hasn't closed since midway through the 2007 season. And Dotel's lifetime stats show 83 saves in 122 chances. That's a 68% mark, and below what you'd hope for in a shut-down guy. Matt Capps converted 66 of 78 opportunities, an 85% rate, and look what it got him.

So the Pirates have their closer, and maybe switching leagues will lead him to the fountain of youth. At best, he'll become the Wizard of Whiffs for Pittsburgh. At worst, he's a good and affordable choice from the arms available on the 2010 market, and buys the team some time to evaluate their internal prospects.

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