The Cleveland Indians could be in line to make a big splash in free agency this offseason. Although the free-agent pool is rather weak, the Indians could still make a big impact given their low salary commitments for the 2014 season—$49.28 million according to baseballprospectus.com.
The team's biggest need looks to be consistent production from third base, however, the current free-agent crop at the position is even more uninspiring than current Tribe third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.
For that reason, the Indians should look to bolster their bullpen depth this offseason. The Indians bullpen struggled at times in 2013 and ranked near the middle of the pack in bullpen measurables.
If you look at the two teams left standing in the MLB Playoffs—St. Louis and Boston—both possess one thing that the Indians lacked in 2013, and that's a reliable, high-quality bullpen. Despite injuries to Boston's Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and St. Louis' closer Jason Motte, the two clubs were able to put together quality units which helped them make deep playoff runs.
If the Indians hope to take another step forward in 2014, they'll need to shore up their shaky bullpen. This could be accomplished by pursuing some of the names on this list.
So, with that said, here are five relievers that the Indians should pursue this offseason.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Crain has made a living terrorizing Cleveland Indians hitters over the past 10 years. In 61 career appearances against the Tribe, Crain has allowed a 2.15 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP and ratios of 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.08 K/BB and 7.0 H/9.
As the old saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.. Or in this case make him join you.
Crain was sidelined for most of the 2013 season—from July forward—with a shoulder injury. However, Crain should be ready to return in 2014, and he could come cheap.
The 32-year-old righty earned $4.5 million in 2013—per baseballprospectus.com—but given his recent injury troubles, the asking price should come down. However, even if it doesn't, Crain is an intriguing option for a team in need of some high-quality bullpen arms.
The Indians benefit from familiarity with Joe Smith. A seven-year veteran, Smith spent the last five seasons as a major contributor to the Indians' bullpen.
In that time, Smith amassed 303 appearances, allowing a 2.76 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP over 217 innings pitched. In addition to these solid metrics, Smith turned in impressive per-nine ratios, averaging 7.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7.3 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9.
The 29-year-old Ohio native had one of his best professional seasons in 2013, allowing a 2.29 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP while averaging 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 7.7 H/9 and 0.7 HR/9. Smith's K/BB, ERA and ERA+ ranked first, second and second among his single-season totals for his career.
Smith, like Jesse Crain, could come with a relatively cheap price tag in 2014—he earned just $3.15 million in 2013 according to baseballprospectus.com. Additionally, Smith has already indicated his desire to return to Cleveland, making him a prime candidate to receive a new contract from the Indians.
Eric O'Flaherty is the second of three relievers on this list who are returning from significant injuries. After appearing in just 19 games this season, O'Flaherty went on the DL with a UCL tear, which later required season-ending surgery.
Prior to his injury, O'Flaherty was having another successful season. In his 19 appearances, the 28-year-old lefty managed a 2.50 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP, while averaging 5.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 2.20 K/BB and 6.0 H/9.
O'Flaherty's numbers are almost on par with his averages as a member of the Braves bullpen. In 276 games prior to the 2013 season, O'Flaherty boasted a 1.95 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP with per-nine averages of 7.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 7.6 H/9 and 0.4 HR/9.
O'Flaherty isn't a strikeout artist by any means, but he does keep the ball grounded extremely well. Over his eight-year career, O'Flaherty's GB/FB ratio is 1.21, whereas the major league average sits at 0.80.
This knack for keeping the ball on the ground, and in the park, has led to an astoundingly low inherited runners scored percentage, which sits at a paltry 23 percent for his career.
Outside of Marc Rzepczynski, the Indians' left-handed relief situation was a disaster this past season, and adding a healthy O'Flaherty could certainly help to shore up the bullpen's holes.
Obviously, there's an inherent risk when dealing with pitchers fresh off of Tommy John surgery. However, as the next member of this list shows us, the gamble could very well pay off.
Brian Wilson underwent his second Tommy John surgery back in April, 2012.
The 31-year-old reliever joined a group of not so successful pitchers who have undergone the procedure twice. In fact, according to USA Today's Daniel Pauling, the chances of reaching pre-surgery levels of performance are only about 20 percent.
Wilson finished his contract with the Giants on the DL and went through most of the season as an unsigned free agent. The Dodgers picked Wilson up off the scrap heap however, signing him to a minor league deal worth $1 million.
Wilson went on to make his Dodger debut on Aug. 22 and was lights out from that point forward. In 18 appearances, The Beard went 2-1 with a 0.66 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP, while averaging 8.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3.25 K/BB and 5.3 H/9.
Wilson also made appearances in six of the Dodgers' postseason games this season, allowing zero earned runs over six innings, with per-nine averages of 12.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 6.0 H/9.
The Dodgers will probably be willing to overpay Wilson in order to keep him around. However, if the Indians are serious about solidifying their bullpen and possibly replacing Chris Perez, then Wilson should be near the top of their shopping list.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Indians could, and probably should, be looking to replace their current closer. Once regarded as one of the league's top closers, Perez's reliability took a serious dip this past season, so much so, that Terry Francona decided to remove him from that role, via ESPN.com.
If the Indians decide that Perez is incapable of holding down that role in 2014, then they ought to look at Oakland's Grant Balfour. Over the past two seasons, Balfour has occupied the A's closer role with tremendous success.
In that time, the 35-year-old made 140 appearances, allowing a 2.56 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP, with per-nine averages of 9.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 2.62 K/BB and 5.8 H/9. In addition to these solid metrics, Balfour contributed 62 saves, with a slash line against of .182/.264/.286.
Balfour has a fiery personality and brings unrivaled intensity to the mound—recently evidenced by his spat with Tigers catcher/DH Victor Martinez in the 2013 ALDS.
The Indians could use a new closer, and a bit of personality wouldn't hurt either. Balfour gets fans involved in the ninth and gets the stadium's collective pulse thumping at a nightly high.
Though he'll likely require a multi-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, the Indians ought to bring him in this offseason.