Otero finds happy place in Tribe's bullpen

Right-hander proving reliable for any relief role this season

February 20th, 2018

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It didn't take long for the Indians to wrap up contract negotiations with Dan Otero in the offseason. The club reached out to the reliever and asked him if he would be open to signing a two-year deal. That was all he needed to hear.
"It was like, 'Yeah,'" Otero said with a laugh on Tuesday morning. "They were like, 'Wait, let's talk about money.'"
That was all just details for Otero.
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Otero has a growing family -- the youngest of his three daughters was born last August -- and is still adjusting to a move to Seattle. Stability can be tough to find in baseball, and that is especially the case when it comes to pitchers who work in the volatile bullpen environment. Otero, specifically, remembers how the game nearly chewed him up and spit him out only three offseasons ago.
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The Indians were offering him a two-year commitment with the chance to stay on for a third through a team option. The club is also trusting Otero with more responsibility, given that left via free agency this offseason and there are plenty more questions coming for the bullpen beyond the 2018 season. This organization helped Otero regain his footing and it is where he wanted to stay.
"There's no place I'd really rather be in terms of baseball," Otero said. "They take care of you. They take care of the families. It's a great group of guys, great coaches, front office. I can't say enough good things about this organization."
Otero was brilliant across the 2013-14 seasons for the A's, but then he struggled mightily the following year. His 6.75 ERA during the '15 season was the highest among the 161 relievers who logged at least 40 innings. His typically-strong ground-ball rate dropped to 48.5 percent. After that season, Oakland designated Otero for assignment and the Phillies claimed him off waivers.
Otero was mentally preparing himself to join a rebuilding team in Philadelphia, but then the Indians acquired him in exchange for cash on Dec. 18, 2015. The way Otero saw it, that was as good of a Christmas present as he could have hoped to receive. He was joining a team set on contending, and one that featured a strong relief corps.
Indians manager Terry Francona refers to Otero as his "wild card" in the bullpen. Otero can come in for any situation in any inning. If a starter comes out early, Otero might get the call. If it's a day off for the closer, Otero might get the call. If there is a dicey jam that could be solved with a grounder, Otero might get the call.
Across the '16-17 seasons, Otero answered the call with a 3.5 percent walk rate (first among American League relievers) and a 62.9 percent ground-ball rate (fifth in the Majors).
"I do like that role for him," Francona said. "When he's good, he's efficient, he's quick, he's pounding the zone down. My guess is regardless of where he pitches, when you look up in September or October, he's going to have 70-75 [innings], just like he always does. He's really valuable. He may not light up the radar gun, but again, when he gets on a role, and we've seen it, he can be so efficient."
That 2015 season looks like an aberration now. Otero posted a 2.01 ERA with a 2.92 Fielding Independent Pitching in 125 2/3 innings over the '13-14 seasons, and then he turned in a 2.14 ERA with a 2.93 FIP in 130 2/3 innings across '16-17. Last year, Otero worked recorded at least four outs in 18 of his 52 appearances and finished with a 2.85 ERA in 60 innings.
The Indians are trusting that Otero can keep that up. Otero hopes to do so for the next three years.
"Bringing that stability to our life is huge," said Otero, whose deal is worth a guaranteed $2.5 million. "Any time you can get some glimmer of it, it's very nice. Now, we can plan actually ahead, which is unheard of in this game. It was an emotional time for me, because I never thought I'd be able to sign an extension like that."