Posted on January 29, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Shawn Kelley
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While most of the high-end free agent relievers are off the board, there are still plenty of quality arms available. The Texas Rangers took advantage of that fact on Monday, agreeing to terms with veteran righty Shawn Kelley. The sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with a club option for 2020 worth $2.5 million or a buyout for $250,000. There are also incentive bonuses that could allow Kelley to make up to $3 million per season.

The soon-to-be 35-year old Kelley has seen plenty of ups and downs during his 10 seasons in the majors. However, he owns a career 3.67 ERA over 443 appearances. Injuries, specifically elbow problems, have hindered him in the past. However, Kelley has always found a way to bounce back and proved last season that he still has something left in the tank.

Kelley had his best season in 2015 with the Padres, posting a 2.45 ERA. That season landed him a three-year deal with the Washington Nationals. It was more of the same for Kelley in 2016, pitching to a 2.64 ERA. However, his 2017 campaign ended up being a disaster. He endured multiple trips to the DL and ended the season with a 7.27 ERA. But things got better for him in 2018. Despite being designated for assignment by the Nats in August, Kelley was traded to Oakland and posted a 2.16 ERA in 19 appearances for the A’s, being part of a bullpen that led Oakland to the Wild Card Game.

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Due to his injury issues, Kelley doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a workhorse coming out of the bullpen. He tends to struggle when asked to pitch on consecutive days, which does limit his value to some extent. However, when given adequate rest, Kelley can still be an effective late-inning reliever. The Rangers are betting that if Kelley is used correctly, he still has one or two more good years left in him.

In Texas, Kelley will be one of several relievers tasked with helping to set up for Jose Leclerc, who was named the team’s closer earlier this month. The Rangers have also signed veterans Jesse Chavez and Zach McAllister this offseason as cost-effective reinforcements to their bullpen. With McAllister, the Rangers are hoping to get a bounce-back year from the longtime Cleveland reliever. If that happens, the trio of Kelley, Chavez, and McAllister could turn into a solid set up crew for the promising Leclerc.

Signing Kelley is very much in line with what Texas has already done this offseason. The Rangers have taken some chances on free agents who possess upside but who are far from sure things. They’ve done so without committing large sums of money. In addition to the relief trio of Kelley, Chavez, and McAllister, the Rangers have also brought in starters Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Drew Smyly, as well as infielder Asdrubal Cabrera.

Obviously, Kelley isn’t a major signing who will make or break the season for the Rangers. However, his signing falls in line with their other moves this winter. Texas clearly has a plan for how they’d like to try to compete in 2019. Like Kelley, there are no guarantees with that plan. However, it’ll be something worth watching when the season gets underway.

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