Writing earlier this week in the Republic, Nick Piecoro wrote that the Diamondbacks' payroll "would drop closer to $93million if left-handed reliever Tony Sipp is non-tendered, as expected." [emphasis added] Certainly, it does seem that there'll be a numbers crunch in terms of bullpen spots for 2014, and there wasn't much about Sipp's performance this year that would seem to justify paying him an increased rate for next season.
There's not really much point in being a left-handed reliever if you're not going to get left-handed batters out, and that was largely the case for Sipp this year. Southpaws hit him at a .270 clip, with a K:BB ratio of only 16:10, and an overall OPS against of .859. Curiously, he did a lot better against right-handed batters, holding them to a .208 average. This could just be small sample-size, as over his career, Sipp has shown close to zero in the way of a split: LHB have a .731 OPS, while RHB are at .723. That mediocrity may work against Sipp's chances of retaining a position, especially with a manager who likes to play late-inning match-ups.
Sipp will be in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and earned $1.275 million this season, coming to an agreement with the Diamondbacks on a one-year contract. While it's difficult to come up with any precise figure, something around the $2m mark seems reasonable. As a comparable, Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves earned the same amount Sipp currently does, in his first year of eligibility, 2012. Aceves got a bump to $2.565 million the next season, but that was certainly inflated because he had 25 saves for Boston. Sipp was given much lower importance work - only 29 PAs all season were classified as "high leverage" - and that would be reflected in any deal.
It's worth noting that, even if the team non-tenders Sipp, not willing to pay his arbitration price, it doesn't mean he won't be on the team. He simply becomes a free-agent, and the Diamondbacks can make him an offer to return, presumably at a lower cost. We saw exactly this happen will Wil Nieves last winter: we non-tendered the backup catcher, then signed him as a free-agent less than a week later.
The team opened 2013 with Sipp and Matt Reynolds giving Gibson two left-handed options out of the bullpen, but it's far from certain that the team will go down that route again next season. Reynolds is clearly out of the picture after his Tommy John surgery, but the top left-handed spot appears now to belong to Joe Thatcher, received from the Padres for Ian Kennedy. If the team wants another southpaw, it'll be at the expense of another arm, and five of the the other slots appear locked in by Putz, Ziegler, Hernandez, Bell and Collmenter. Will Harris had an opposing OPS much better than Sipp (.661 vs. .780), and is also younger and cheaper.
Even if we do go with two left-handers, it might not necessarily be Sipp. While Eury de la Rosa didn't exactly impress many with his first stint in the majors, it was less than twenty innings, and he is still only 23. There's also the forgotten man, Joe Paterson, who has worked a total of just five major-league innings over the past two seasons, despite putting up an ERA of 2.92 with mile-high Reno over the same time. And, of course, there's Kevin Towers, who seems to view a quiet off-season with no significant action, as a personal affront, not to be tolerated. Worth remembering, this time last year none of Sipp, Reynolds and Thatcher were on the D-backs.
The non-tender deadline this year is December 2, so the team still has some time to make a decision. But my guess is, we'd better use up all those Sipp-inspired lines now, because he probably won't be on the roster come Opening Day 2014.