The MLB rumor mill tends to slow around the holiday season, but as Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors noted, sometimes baseball executives and agents are fiddling on their phones during family functions while discussing possible deals.
At this point of the offseason, most of the marquee players are off the board. Along with the big names, there have also been a series of signings of pitchers recovering from injuries, as right-handers like Colby Lewis and Daniel Hudson have already inked deals to stay with the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively.
There are a few other prime candidates, who are on the comeback trail, that looked poised for new deals. Here's the latest on two setup men with solid track records but are rebounding from major injuries.
Jesse Crain, RHP
Even though he missed out on the final three months of the 2013-14 season due to a shoulder injury, Jesse Crain has been a hot name on the MLB hot stove lately.
Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago recently added to the Crain rumor mill when he reported that the Chicago Cubs are doing some background work on the right-handed reliever:
Before he went down in late June, Crain had established himself as one of the game's most effective setup men, posting a 0.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 11.3 K/9 ratio in 38 appearances for the Chicago White Sox.
Even though he was on the 15-day disabled list with his shoulder ailment, that didn't stop the Tampa Bay Rays from acquiring him near the non-waiver trade deadline. Crain got as far as throwing a simulated game in Tampa Bay, but he never put on a Rays uniform in competition.
As of last week, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported that Crain was deciding between whether to sign a one-year deal or two-year deal, indicating there is indeed a market for his services.
The Cubs would likely be looking at Crain as an eighth-inning option, since they recently signed Jose Veras and he's expected to take over the closer's role vacated by free agent Kevin Gregg. If the Cubs were to sign Crain, it makes sense to not throw him right into the fire, while he could also serve as insurance if Veras doesn't work out in the ninth inning. Chicago's bullpen showed up on the wrong end of too many highlights last year as it blew 26 saves, second-most in the league.
It's concerning that Crain was sidelined for half of the season last year, but his potential is undeniable. From 2010-12, Crain made 189 appearances and posted a 2.73 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 9.5 K/9, suggesting that last year's success wasn't a fluke. Crain comes with questions, but he would likely bring some consistency to Chicago, which ranked 25th with a 4.04 bullpen ERA in 2013.
Ryan Madson, RHP
The Philadelphia Phillies are interested in a reunion with Ryan Madson, according to sources of CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury. During a recent mailbag with fans, Salisbury was asked if the Phillies have Madson on their radar:
Yes, sources tell me they do. In fact, I hear that Madson has some interest in rejoining the Phillies, as well. Obviously, he has missed the last two seasons with elbow problems, but at 33 he might be an excellent low-risk, potential high-reward signing.
From 2007-11, Madson was an integral part to the Philadelphia bullpen during the heyday of this current, aging core of players. But he hasn't thrown an MLB pitch in two seasons, and Salisbury speculates it should only take a minor-league deal to sign Madson this offseason.
During that five-year stretch in the Phillies' relief corps, Madson posted a 2.89 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 ratio. Madson declined salary arbitration following the 2011-12 season to test free agency, but he's been hampered by arm problems ever since.
Madson signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds before the 2012-13 season, only to have his season wiped out by Tommy John surgery in spring training. The Los Angeles Angels were convinced he was ready for a comeback when they signed him to a deal last offseason, but his problems persisted and he was released after making just one minor league appearance in May.
Teams might be scared off from Madson at this point and understandably so. But if the 33-year-old can be signed to a low-risk minor league deal with a spring training invite, it's worth a roll of the dice.
At worst, Madson isn't the same pitcher he used to be, and he doesn't break camp with the big league club. At best, he would recapture his form as a solid reliever, although it's a bit unreasonable to expect him to replicate his pre-injury success.
Madson and the Phillies left on mutual terms following 2011 after the team made a big commitment to current closer Jonathan Papelbon. He won't be a closer in 2014, but Madson could still be a valuable setup man for a team that finished with a 4.19 bullpen ERA in 2013, which ranked 27th in MLB.