San Francisco Giants: Guide to the 2013 Free Agent Reliever Market
The San Francisco Giants have been a team built around their pitching staff. In their two world championship years, 2010 and 2012, it was the pitching that led the way.
Unfortunately, the pitching faltered this past season and GM Brian Sabean is tasked with rebuilding the staff. We could possibly see as many as seven new faces making up the Giants' pitching staff next year.
In a previous article, I wrote about the available free-agent starting pitchers the Giants could be looking at. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1805694-san-francisco-giants-guide-to-the-2013-free-agency-pitching-market
We will now focus on the bullpen, which was a disappointment in 2013. Only Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez pitched consistently well over the course of the season.
Injuries and ineffectiveness cost the Giants dearly and Sabean has several holes to fill. If Heath Hembree throws the ball well in the spring, he will join Romo and Santiago Casilla from the right side. The only lefty signed at the big league level is Jeremy Affeldt and he had a very poor year.
The Giants may opt not to retain their only other left-hander, Jose Mijares, who is arbitration eligible. Mijares pitched very poorly in 2013 and may be cut loose.
Lopez is a free agent and will be in high demand. Other Giants' relief pitchers in 2013 included George Kontos, Sandy Rosario, Jean Machi, Jake Dunning and Guillermo Moscoso. None of these pitchers did enough to warrant any job security heading into 2014.
Yusmeiro Petit pitched well late in the season and is still under the Giants' arbitration control. However, he could be a candidate for the Giants' vacant fifth starter role.
Chad Gaudin also pitched well until an injury ended his season prematurely. Gaudin excelled out of the bullpen as a long reliever and pitched well when he became a starter after the injury to Ryan Vogelsong.
Gaudin is also a free agent, so there's no guarantee he will be returning.
Sabean will be looking to sign one and potentially two left-handed relievers. He will also look to acquire one more solid reliever from the right side and a long reliever, spot starter type.
Let's take a closer look at which relievers might fit into the Giants' plans.
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com. All contract details courtesy of baseballprospectus.com.
Honorable Mention: Relief Pitchers
The list of honorable mention candidates is largely made up of pitchers who have question marks. It could be injury history, a very poor showing in 2013, or perhaps a very high salary level.
Grant Balfour did a fine job as the closer for the Oakland A's. He was an All-Star in 2013 and finished the year with 38 saves. Although Balfour would be a great addition, he will command a salary in the $7-8 million range, which is too much, when the Giants are already spending $5.5 million on Sergio Romo.
The Detroit Tigers' closer Joaquin Benoit is also available. He threw 67 innings, allowing only 47 hits and 22 walks, while striking out 73. He also collected 24 saves.
Benoit had an ERA of 2.01 and WHIP of 1.030, but he also had a 2013 salary of $5.5 million. He is due to get a raise, based on his performance and, similar to Balfour, is too expensive for the Giants.
After two poor seasons, Kevin Gregg bounced back in 2013 to post some impressive numbers. In 62 innings of work, Gregg allowed 53 hits and 32 walks, while striking out 56. He also had 33 saves for the Cubs.
Gregg's ERA of 3.48 and WHIP of 1.371 were adequate, though not great. The concern about Gregg is whether 2013 was an aberration on an otherwise downward trend. At the age of 35, there is considerable question as to how much gas is left in Gregg's tank.
Fernando Rodney is the fourth free-agent closer on the market. Rodney, who will be 37 years of age when the 2014 season begins had a very strong year. In 66.2 innings of work, Rodney allowed 53 hits and 36 walks, while striking out 82. He also collected 37 saves.
Rodney's ERA was a bit high at 3.38 and his WHIP was 1.335. Age is an issue with Rodney and he will also demand a big payday, as this is likely his last chance to cash in. Although Rodney made only $2.5 million in 2013, he will likely be around the $6 million level in 2014.
If the Giants could sign Rodney for around $4 million, he would be a good addition. However, it looks like Rodney will get considerably more.
Other free-agent relievers on the market, but probably not the right fit for the Giants include Joba Chamberlain, Matt Guerrier, Mike Gonzalez, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Downs, Kameron Loe, Kuis Ayala, David Aardsma, Frank Francisco, Carlos Marmol and Pedro Feliciano.
No. 10: Matt Albers
Matt Albers is definitely a pitcher worth consideration for the Giants' bullpen. He would slot in around the sixth or seventh inning and give manager Bruce Bochy some solid depth out of the pen.
The Giants struggled with this spot in the bullpen in 2013, as between George Kontos, Jean Machi, Jake Dunning, Sandy Rosario and Jose Mijares, nobody seized the job.
Albers pitched 63 innings for the Cleveland Indians in 2013. He allowed 57 hits and 23 walks, while striking out 35. He is not a dominant flame-thrower, but is a control pitcher who can get the ground ball when needed.
Albers' ERA was 3.14, to go along with a WHIP of 1.270. He made $1.75 million in 2013 and would be a great fit for the Giants, if they can pick him up around the $2.25 million range.
No. 9: Francisco Rodriguez
Still, Rodriguez is just 32 years of age, if we are to believe his birth certificate.
Rodriguez had a good year in 2013, as his combined stats will attest. He threw 46.2 innings, allowed 42 hits and 14 walks, while striking out 54. His ERA was a very solid 2.01, with a good WHIP of 1.20.
Rodriguez made $2 million in 2013 and while he is due a raise, he should not break the bank. If Giants' GM Brian Sabean can sign him for no more than $3.5 million, he will be a valuable addition to the Giants' bullpen.
No. 8: Brian Wilson
The case of Brian Wilson is very interesting. As a pitcher, he would be a great fit for the Giants and Wilson seems to have his old stuff back, following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Wilson was a Giant from 2006 through 2012 and helped lead them to the 2010 World Series title. He battled injuries in 2011 and ultimately had Tommy John surgery in 2012, after pitching in only two games.
Wilson was upset that the Giants would not offer him a large, guaranteed deal and felt that his contributions to the team were not appreciated.
From the Giants' perspective, they paid him $8.5 million for 2012, when he was essentially out the entire season. While Wilson wanted a large guarantee, the Giants offered him an incentive-laden contract, which he turned down.
After going through a lengthy rehab, Wilson signed with the Dodgers and has pitched very well down the stretch. In 13.2 innings of work, Wilson only allowed one earned run. His success continued in the playoffs as Wilson did not allow a run in six innings.
Once a fan favorite, Wilson burned his bridge to San Francisco when he blatantly called out Giants' President and CEO Larry Baer, immediately following a Dodgers' victory. Wilson was very animated and upset, yelling at Baer from the railing.
Baer, who was was about three rows back in the stands was quite surprised at the outburst. Apparently, Wilson was upset about not receiving his World Series ring from the Giants' 2012 championship.
The Giants had tried to present Wilson the ring on several occasions, including the opening series, when the other players received their rings in an elaborate ceremony. Wilson declined that and multiple other requests by the Giants to get him the ring.
It was very odd that he would be so upset, when he was the one who delayed getting the ring in the first place. Wilson was most likely venting his frustration about not being offered a large guaranteed contract and used the ring issue as the trigger for his anger.
Wilson's public display was bizarre and most likely killed any chance of him signing with the Giants. Had he not done that, he would have been an excellent fit as a set-up man or perhaps even back in his closer job, with Sergio Romo moving back into the set-up role.
No. 7: Jason Frasor
Jason Frasor pitched well for the Rangers this past season. He threw 49 innings, allowed only 36 hits and 20 walks, while striking out 48.
Frasor's ERA was a very solid 2.57, to go along with a WHIP of 1.143. These numbers are even more impressive considering half of Frasor's games are in Texas, a hitters park.
At the age of 36, it would not be wise to sign Frasor to a long-term deal, but if the Giants can get him for no more than $2.5 million, he would be an excellent addition to their bullpen. Frasor made $1.5 million in 2013.
No. 6: Chad Gaudin
When the San Francisco Giants signed Chad Gaudin prior to the 2013 season, he had to battle just to make the roster. He ultimately won the long reliever role and did a tremendous job.
Gaudin was starting to pitch more regularly and later in games when injuries hit the Giants' starting rotation. Gaudin was pressed into duty as a starter to replace Ryan Vogelsong, who had broken his finger.
Gaudin appeared in 30 games for the Giants' starting 12 of them. In 97 innings of work, he allowed only 81 hits and 40 walks, while striking out 88. His ERA was a solid 3.06 and his WHIP was 1.247.
Gaudin missed the final six weeks of the season because of a carpal-tunnel ailment, but that should fine long before the 2014 season.
There is a legal issue Gaudin is dealing with, which could result in a suspension, but even if he is suspended, it would not likely be for too long.
Gaudin proved to be extremely valuable for the Giants and it would be wise for Brian Sabean to keep him. He would nail down the long relief role, but also give the Giants flexibility if they needed him as a spot-starter or late-inning reliever.
Gaudin, who will be 31 years of age when the 2014 season begins, only made $750K last year. With the injury cutting short his season and the legal issue not yet resolved, Gaudin would not be overly expensive.
If Sabean can ink Gaudin to a deal in the $1.2-1.5 million range, it would be a great move for the Giants.
No. 5: Joe Smith
In six consecutive seasons, Joe Smith has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. His side-arm delivery is hard to pick up and keeps hitters off balance.
Smith is a workhorse, having appeared in at least 70 games in each of the past three seasons. He threw 63 innings, allowed 54 hits and 23 walks, while striking out 54. His ERA was a very solid 2.29, to go along with a WHIP of 1.222.
Smith, who will be 30 years of age when the 2014 season begins, made $3.15 million this past year. It would be a great move for the Giants to sign Smith to a three-year deal in the $12-13 million range.
With Sergio Romo eligible to become a free-agent after the 2104 season and Santiago Casilla's injury history, Smith also would give the Giants some bullpen stability.
No. 4: Edward Mujica
Edward Mujica held the role as closer for the St. Louis Cardinals for the majority of the year. He earned his first All-Star selection in 2013.
Mujica had 37 saves, but lost his job to Trevor Rosenthal, due to several poor outings late in the season. Still a quality pitcher, Mujica will only be 30 years of age early in the 2014 season.
In 2013, Mujica threw 64.2 innings, allowing 60 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 46. His ERA of 2.78 and WHIP of 1.005 jumped up late in the season due to those bad outings. Still, the entire body of work for the year was very good.
The strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than nine-to-one was incredible and accentuates the fact that Mujica is a strike-thrower.
Mujica would be an excellent set-up man for Sergio Romo and if Romo were to falter, could step into the closer role. He earned $3.2 million in 2013, and a two-year, $9-10 million contract is not out of the question.
No. 3: James Russell
With the uncertainty of Javier Lopez and the loss of confidence in Jose Mijares, the Giants need one and perhaps two left-handed relievers. The only reliever in the bullpen from the left side is currently Jeremy Affeldt, who had a poor year in 2013.
James Russell would be an extremely good addition for the Giants. In the first half of the season, he was one of the best lefties in the league. He faded over the last couple of months, as he appeared over-worked and arm weary.
Russell threw 52.2 innings, allowed 46 hits and 18 walks, while striking out 37. His ERA of 3.59 and WHIP of 1.371 were inflated due to his late season struggles.
Russell had a salary of $1.075 million and would be a great addition to the Giants' bullpen if GM Brian Sabean can sign him to a two-year $4.5 million deal.
The second year is important for the stability of the bullpen if Affeldt continues to struggle and the Giants are unable to retain Javier Lopez.
Even with Lopez, Russell would be a good addition, as manager Bruce Bochy likes the flexibility of having three lefties in his bullpen.
No. 2: J.P. Howell
J.P. Howell is a hard-throwing lefty and one of the Dodgers' top arms out of the bullpen. With LA spending far more than any team in the National League, if Sabean could somehow sign Howell away from the Dodgers, it would be a huge coup.
Howell had the best season of his career in 2013. Similar to Affeldt when he's on, Howell can get both left and right-handed batters out. This is a key distinction because Javier Lopez is more of a lefty specialist.
Howell threw 62 innings during the regular season, allowing 42 hits and 23 walks, while striking out 54. His ERA was a very strong 2.03, to go along with a solid WHIP of 1.048.
If the Giants lose Lopez in the free-agent market, a pitcher like Howell becomes vitally important. Howell also gives the Giants some good insurance if Affeldt continues his struggles.
Howell made $2.85 million in 2013 and will most certainly get a raise. He will be 31 years of age in April, so he has plenty of mileage left. A two-year deal in the $9-10 million range is likely what it would take to pry Howell away from Los Angeles.
No. 1: Javier Lopez
Javier Lopez, along with Sergio Romo, were the two best pitchers out of the Giants' bullpen in 2013.
Lopez excelled in his role as the left-handed specialist, often coming in to face the opponents top left-handed hitters.
In the National League this is a crucial role, as left-handed hitters like Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Chase Utley can do severe damage.
When Jeremy Affeldt signed a three-year $18 million deal prior to the 2013 season, he set the bar for Giants relief pitchers, who are not the closer. Based on performance, Lopez far exceeded Affeldt and will be compensated accordingly.
Lopez appeared in 69 games, but threw only 39.1 innings. This underscores the fact that he is in there just to get the one or two top left-handed hitters out.
Lopez allowed 30 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 37. His ERA of 1.83 and WHIP of 1.068 were stellar, especially considering he is typically facing the oppositions best hitter with men on base in many cases.
Lopez allowed left-handed hitters an average of only .156. He allowed only six out of 57 inherited runners to score.
Although Lopez' role is very specialized, the Giants need him in order to win. He should be Sabean's top priority free-agent reliever and will be paid in the same range as Affeldt.
Look for the Giants to make Lopez an offer in the two-year, $12 million range, which is the same annual amount they are currently paying Affeldt. If they can retain Lopez at this price, he is well worth it.
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