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Looking Into: Octavio Dotel

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Reports from earlier in the month stated the Twins were one of the teams intrigued by Athletic reliever Octavio Dotel.  Now that Oakland hasn't offered him arbitration, he's up for grabs.

An Overview

Aside fom having one of the coolest names in all of baseball, Octavio Dotel had become a coveted player in the eyes of the league.  He has a commanding fastball that can reach 97 mph and a good slider, not to mention the ability to field his position at an above-average level.  Dotel throws hard, he's a competetor, and he believes he'll return to form.

Health Concerns

In 2005 at age 31, Dotel was getting into his first full season in Oakland when his arm blew up.  He finished the season very early, earning his 7th save and final appearance of the year on May 16.  After pitching a hair over 15 innings, Dotel was headed for Tommy John surgery.

Tommy John surgery is a procedure in which a tendon from somewhere in the body replaces a ligament in the elbow.  It's commonly known that Dodger pitcher Tommy John was the first to successfully receive the operation in 1974.  In 1974, Dr. Frank Jobe, who performed the operation, stated John's chances at recovery were around 1%.  Today, chances of a complete recovery are 85-90%.

Now that Dotel is recovering, the talented right-hander is bound to receive some interest.  But buyer beware--Dotel will be lucky to be ready to pitch by mid-summer.  Recovery time for Tommy John surgery usually takes at LEAST one year.  The draw here is that come late summer, if you're still in a playoff race and picked up Dotel on the cheap in the offseason, you've got a very talented arm bolstering your bullpen when it needs bolstering the most.

This assumes you could get Dotel on the cheap.  A lot of teams may have the mentioned scenario in mind, and some of the bigger spenders in need of pitching help would be willing to wait for the potential held in the 32-year old's arm.

My questions remain health-related.  How will Tommy John surgery effect Dotel's delivery?  What if he "protects" his arm when he returns, not having full confidence in it's recovery?  One thing that won't change is the velocity of his fastball, as pitchers have been known to throw harder after the procudure.

In recent times, Kerry Wood, Billy Koch, Kris Benson, A.J. Burnett, Mariano Rivera, Dewon Brazelton and Joe Mays have successfully undergone Tommy John surgery.  Eric Gagne will look to return in 2006 from the procedure as well, and it will be his second time around.

History

Originally brought up to be a starter, Dotel found himself a rising star in the Astro bullpen during 2001 at age 27.  Dotel's numbers from 2001-2003 are most impressive:

Year    Age     IP      K      ERA    AVG   OPS
2001    27    105.0   145    2.66     .205   .586
2002    28      97.1   118    1.85     .173   .511
2003    29      87.0     97    2.48     .172   .552

As Octavio has been transformed into a closer, his numbers have still been solid although not quite as impressive.  After being traded to Oakland in mid-2004 he stumbled, but still had a decent statistical year.  For his brief time in 2005, his strikeout ration was down but his control improved, walking only 1.46 B/9.

Can He Help Minnesota?

If he's healthy, of course.  He'll help anyone if he's healthy.  But that's the big question mark, isn't it?

While our bullpen still holds talent at the top with Nathan and Rincon, Jesse Crain's low strikeout rates should be at least mildly disconcerting.  J.C. Romero's talent and inconsistency are gone, Travis Bowyer's gone, Matt Guerrier may be a 5th starter this season, Terry Mulholland may or may not be too old to pitch officially, and Francisco Liriano may be a rookie in the pen.  And what about that Grant Balfour guy?  Yes, relief pitching still should be considered a strength of our team, but it isn't as proven or deep as it has been the past few seasons.

   Bullpen
   CP  Joe Nathan
   SU  Juan Rincon
   MR  Jesse Crain
   MR  Grant Balfour?
   MR  Fransisco Liriano?
   MR  Matt Guerrier?

If Scott Baker and/or Kyle Lohse aren't traded, they'll be in the starting rotation.  This leaves pitchers like Boof Bonser, J.D. Durbin, Dave Gassner and Willie Eyre as supplemental players.  Again, with the talent of these guys we could definately be in a more precarious position, but the fact is our bullpen doesn't have the daunting look it's had for the past few years.

Is It Worth It?

Adding Octavio Dotel to this list of stars and rising stars would suit me just fine, if the price is right.  But with what he could bring to the table and his $4.5 million dollar salary in 2005...he may be a bit out of our price range when considering the risk.  At a bargain price, and without having to give up a draft pick, would you say no?