Top MLB Free Agents, Trade Targets Still Available at Every Position
As we approach the end of December, there is still work to be done in what has been one of the most eventful MLB offseasons in recent memory.
After a busy month of November, we saw a whirlwind four days in San Diego for the winter meetings, and the big moves have kept coming in the days since as 2014 draws to a close.
At this time last offseason, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, A.J. Burnett and Fernando Rodney were the top names still looking for a new home in free agency.
This time around, the position player market is essentially barren, led by the likes of Colby Rasmus, Asdrubal Cabrera and Nori Aoki.
The pitching market still has some star power, though, with Max Scherzer and James Shields headlining a group that also includes Aaron Harang, Chris Young, Ryan Vogelsong, Francisco Rodriguez and others.
Cole Hamels is the big chip still being dangled on the trade market, while teams also continue to inquire about a trio of Colorado Rockies hitters in Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Morneau. More realistic names to be moved include Welington Castillo, Seth Smith and Dillon Gee.
With all of that said, let's take a look at the top remaining free-agent and trade options at each position.
Top Available Catchers
|Welington Castillo||380 AB, .686 OPS, 19 2B, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 1.8 WAR||Trade|
|Wilin Rosario||382 AB, .739 OPS, 25 2B, 13 HR, 54 RBI, -0.1 WAR||Trade|
|Geovany Soto||80 AB, .665 OPS, 6 2B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 0.2 WAR||FA|
|Nick Hundley||218 AB, .631 OPS, 7 2B, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 0.1 WAR||FA|
|Gerald Laird||152 AB, .532 OPS, 8 2B, 0 HR, 10 RBI, -0.5 WAR||FA|
|Wil Nieves||122 AB, .614 OPS, 8 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 0.7 WAR||FA|
The free-agent catching market was thin as usual this season, with Russell Martin representing the best available option, and he was scooped up quickly by the Toronto Blue Jays on a five-year, $82 million deal.
Miguel Montero was the other high-profile backstop on the move, as he was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the winter meetings. That move, along with the signing of veteran backup David Ross, has made incumbent Cubs catcher Welington Castillo likely to be moved before the start of spring training.
Castillo was a 4.5 WAR player in 2013, and while his offensive numbers were down across the board this past season, he did hit a solid .301/.350/.505 against left-handed pitching.
Also available on the trade market is Wilin Rosario of the Colorado Rockies. His catching skills are below average, and he's probably better suited as a first baseman/designated hitter, but he does provide some solid right-handed power with 62 home runs over the past three years.
As for the remaining free agents, Geovany Soto offers some upside coming off of an injury-plagued season that saw him make it into just 24 games. He had a .794 OPS with 18 extra-base hits in 163 at-bats in 2013.
Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Gerald Laird and Wil Nieves are both solid veteran backup options who should be able to find a big league spot.
Top Available First Basemen
|Justin Morneau||502 AB, .860 OPS, 32 2B, 17 HR, 82 RBI, 3.2 WAR||Trade|
|Allen Craig||461 AB, .594 OPS, 20 2B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, -1.1 WAR||Trade|
|Ryan Howard||569 AB, .690 OPS, 18 2B, 23 HR, 95 RBI, -1.1 WAR||Trade|
|Gaby Sanchez||262 AB, .679 OPS, 18 2B, 7 HR, 33 RBI, -0.4 WAR||FA|
|Lyle Overbay||258 AB, .661 OPS, 14 2B, 4 HR, 35 RBI, -0.3 WAR||FA|
The first base market was thin to begin with, but with Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse and Mark Reynolds already finding new homes, it's virtually non-existent at this point.
Gaby Sanchez was non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and at the very least, he remains an attractive platoon option, carrying a career .291/.382/.481 line against left-handed pitching.
As for the trade market, Justin Morneau is the best of the bunch if the Colorado Rockies are in fact serious about trading him. The 33-year-old signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal last offseason and wound up winning the NL batting title with a .319 average.
Allen Craig has become an expendable piece for the Boston Red Sox, and while he is coming off of a disastrous 2014 season, his track record and fairly small price tag make him an attractive buy-low option. He is owed $26.5 million over the next three years.
The Philadelphia Phillies are going to have a hard time unloading Ryan Howard and the $60 million left on his contract over the next two years unless they are willing to eat the vast majority of that money.
General manager Ruben Amaro made it clear he thinks the team is better off without Howard at this point, according to an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, so we'll see just how motivated they are to get a deal done.
"We've talked to Ryan, and I told him that in our situation, it would probably bode better for the organization not with him but without him," said Amaro. "With that said, if he's with us, then we'll work around him."
Top Available Second Basemen
|Rickie Weeks||252 AB, .809 OPS, 19 2B, 8 HR, 29 RBI, 0.2 WAR||FA|
|Gordon Beckham||446 AB, .618 OPS, 27 2B, 9 HR, 44 RBI, 0.6 WAR||FA|
|Takashi Toritani||550 AB, .820 OPS, 28 2B, 8 HR, 73 RBI in Japan||FA|
|Emilio Bonifacio||304 AB, .650 OPS, 17 2B, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 1.0 WAR||FA|
|Kelly Johnson||265 AB, .659 OPS, 14 2B, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 0.5 WAR||FA|
|Nick Punto||198 AB, .589 OPS, 7 2B, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 0.5 WAR||FA|
|Mark Ellis||178 AB, .466 OPS, 6 2B, 0 HR, 12 RBI, -0.3 WAR||FA|
|Rafael Furcal||35 AB, .445 OPS, 0 2B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, -0.2 WAR||FA|
Rickie Weeks is the best of the bunch among available second basemen, and he is actually coming off of a strong performance last season when he served as a platoon partner with Scooter Gennett for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still just 32 years old, at the very least, Weeks should be able to find his way into another platoon given his ability to hit left-handed pitching.
Gordon Beckham looked to be headed for stardom when he as taken by the White Sox with the No. 8 pick in the 2008 draft and made his big league debut just a year later. His career stalled out in Chicago, though, and he was non-tendered by the Angels after being claimed on waivers last August.
The 28-year-old is capable of playing second and third, and he did have a .756 OPS with three doubles and two home runs in 56 at-bats with the Angels, so he may be worth a flier for a team looking to add infield depth.
Japanese infielder Takashi Toritani, who has spent his entire 11-year pro career playing for the Hanshin Tigers and also represented Japan in the last World Baseball Classic, could make his way to MLB this winter.
The Scott Boras client is a career .285/.372/.412 hitter in Japan, and he has drawn interest from the Toronto Blue Jays, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca.
The rest of the group here provides varying levels of usefulness as utility players, with Emilio Bonifacio the most attractive option of the bunch given his prowess at stealing bases (26 SB in 2014) and ability to also play center field.
Top Available Third Basemen
|Chris Johnson||582 AB, .653 OPS, 27 2B, 10 HR, 58 RBI, -1.3 WAR||Trade|
|Juan Francisco||287 AB, .747 OPS, 16 2B, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 0.5 WAR||FA|
Pablo Sandoval, Josh Donaldson, Brett Lawrie, Martin Prado and Casey McGehee have all found new homes this offseason, while Chase Headley re-signed with the New York Yankees, leaving the market for first basemen essentially barren here in late December.
Juan Francisco is the only remaining free agent of note, and while he offers some attractive pop from the left side, he is a below-average defender best suited as a bench bat and occasional first baseman.
The Atlanta Braves would love to move Chris Johnson, and they were working earlier this offseason to package him with Justin Upton, but that ship has sailed.
Johnson, 30, signed a three-year, $23.5 million extension last winter that will take effect this coming season on the heels of a terrific 2013 season that saw him hit .321/.358/.457 with 12 home runs and 68 RBI.
However, his triple-slash numbers dropped to .263/.292/.361 this past year as he suffered through some BABIP regression, and that extension now looks like a big mistake.
Asdrubal Cabrera is another name to watch here, as the San Francisco Giants were kicking around the idea of signing him to play third before trading for McGehee.
Utility guys like Kelly Johnson and Gordon Beckham, listed among the second basemen, could also be third base options.
Top Available Shortstops
|Troy Tulowitzki||315 AB, 1.035 OPS, 18 2B, 21 HR, 52 RBI, 5.5 WAR||Trade|
|Asdrubal Cabrera||553 AB, .694 OPS, 31 2B, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 0.9 WAR||FA|
|Everth Cabrera||357 AB, .572 OPS, 13 2B, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 0.6 WAR||FA|
|Stephen Drew||271 AB, .536 OPS, 14 2B, 7 HR, 26 RBI, -0.3 WAR||FA|
Hanley Ramirez has found a new home in left field for the Boston Red Sox, and Jed Lowrie is off the market after inking a three-year deal with the Houston Astros, but the rest of the veteran crop of free-agent shortstops is still available.
Asdrubal Cabrera had something of a down season in 2014, but he has at least 14 home runs and 60 RBI in each of the past four years. Teams have been looking at him as a second baseman, third baseman or at his natural shortstop spot.
The 2014 season was a nightmare for Stephen Drew, as he was saddled with a qualifying offer and sitting in limbo until the Red Sox signed him at midseason. With a normal offseason and a full spring training, he could provide a nice value, as he'll likely have to sign for a fraction of what he made a year ago.
Everth Cabrera joined the class of free-agent shortstops when he was non-tendered by the San Diego Padres, as he was projected to earn $2.9 million in arbitration.
The 28-year-old led the NL in stolen bases in 2012 with 44 and was an All-Star in 2013, but a 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis case has sidetracked him, and he was passed by Alexi Amarista on the Padres' depth chart in the second half last year.
The game-changing name here is obviously Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies made it known they were willing to listen to offers for their superstar at the beginning of the offseason, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, but it's still a longshot that he is moved given their asking price, his injury history and his remaining salary.
Top Available Outfielders
|Carlos Gonzalez||260 AB, .723 OPS, 15 2B, 11 HR, 38 RBI, -0.7 WAR||Trade|
|Colby Rasmus||346 AB, .735 OPS, 21 2B, 18 HR, 40 RBI, 0.9 WAR||FA|
|Seth Smith||443 AB, .807 OPS, 31 2B, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 3.9 WAR||Trade|
|Nori Aoki||491 AB, .710 OPS, 22 2B, 1 HR, 43 RBI, 1.0 WAR||FA|
|Jonny Gomes||273 AB, .657 OPS, 8 2B, 6 HR, 37 RBI, -0.8 WAR||FA|
|Dayan Viciedo||523 AB, .686 OPS, 22 2B, 21 HR, 58 RBI, -0.9 WAR||Trade|
|Will Venable||406 AB, .613 OPS, 13 2B, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 0.9 WAR||Trade|
|Chris Denorfia||330 AB .602 OPS, 12 2B, 3 HR, 21 RBI, -0.3 WAR||FA|
|Ryan Ludwick||357 AB, .683 OPS, 20 2B, 9 HR, 45 RBI, -0.5 WAR||FA|
|Eric Young Jr.||280 AB, .610 OPS, 10 2B, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 0.9 WAR||FA|
|Ichiro Suzuki||359 AB, .664 OPS, 13 2B, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 1.0 WAR||FA|
|Nate Schierholtz||353 AB, .552 OPS, 11 2B, 7 HR, 37 RBI, -1.0 WAR||FA|
There are a lot of names left on the outfield market, but outside of Colby Rasmus, Nori Aoki and Jonny Gomes, there has been little interest in the remaining group of free agents, and they will likely have to settle for bench jobs or minor league contracts.
Rasmus is intriguing given his age (28) and the fact that he is just a year removed from posting an .840 OPS and 4.6 WAR for the Blue Jays. He could go with a one-year deal to try to rebuild some value, but there will likely be a team or two willing to take a chance on a multiyear pact if that's his preferred route.
Aoki provides solid on-base skills and decent speed for a team looking to add an everyday corner outfielder, while Gomes is a proven winner and positive clubhouse presence with some decent pop from the right side.
Chris Denorfia and Ryan Ludwick should both be able to secure major league contracts since they are still decent offensive options in a thin market, while Eric Young Jr. could be a poor man's Rajai Davis after swiping 30 bags in a part-time role last year.
Seth Smith will almost certainly be moved by the San Diego Padres unless the team decides to shift him to first base. He is coming off the best season of his career but is still best suited as a platoon option.
The Chicago White Sox have been trying to trade Dayan Viciedo for some time now, and with Melky Cabrera signed to take over in left field, he'll almost certainly be moved. He's a terrible defender with minimal on-base skills, but his power should be enough for some team to work a deal.
Will Venable was the Padres' best player in 2013, when he had a .796 OPS with 22 home runs and 22 steals, but he took a huge step back in 2014. He's relatively cheap at $4.25 million this coming season, so someone could be willing to take a chance.
The big name here is Carlos Gonzalez, but just like with Troy Tulowitzki, his injury history and the Rockies' asking price make a deal unlikely at this point.
Right-Handed Starting Pitchers
Top Available Right-Handed Starters
|Max Scherzer||220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 1.175 WHIP||FA|
|James Shields||227.9 IP, 14-8, 3.21 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.181 WHIP||FA|
|Aaron Harang||204.1 IP, 12-12, 3.57 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 1.400 WHIP||FA|
|Hiroki Kuroda||199.0 IP, 11-9, 3.71 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 1.136 WHIP||FA|
|Dillon Gee||137.1 IP, 7-8, 4.00 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 1.245 WHIP||Trade|
|Ryan Vogelsong||184.2 IP, 8-13, 4.00 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.278 WHIP||FA|
|Chris Young||165.0 IP, 12-9, 3.65 ERA, 5.02 FIP, 1.230 WHIP||FA|
|Kyle Kendrick||199.0 IP, 10-13, 4.61 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 1.362 WHIP||FA|
|Roberto Hernandez||164.2 IP, 8-11, 4.10 ERA, 4.85 FIP, 1.391 WHIP||FA|
|Chad Billingsley||Injured, did not play.||FA|
|Brandon Beachy||Injured, did not play.||FA|
|Kevin Correia||154.0 IP, 7-17, 5.44 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 1.500 WHIP||FA|
|Scott Baker||80.2 IP, 3-4, 5.47 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 1.190 WHIP||FA|
While Jon Lester has found a new home with a six-year, $155 million deal from the Chicago Cubs, the other two elite starting pitching options on the free-agent market in Max Scherzer and James Shields are still available.
Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner and undoubtedly one of the top pitchers in the game today, is said to be seeking a deal in excess of $200 million, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
Shields will come cheap by comparison, with Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe estimating that he will wind up with something in the neighborhood of the five-year, $110 million deal that Cole Hamels received from the Philadelphia Phillies.
There is a significant drop-off beyond those two arms, especially now that the San Diego Padres are clearly trying to win and likely won't be shopping Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner.
Veterans Aaron Harang and Chris Young both enjoyed career renaissances of sorts last season, and while Harang has the peripheral numbers to suggest his performance was legitimate, Young looks to be headed for some significant regression.
Hiroki Kuroda may very well end up returning to Japan to finish out his career, while Ryan Vogelsong could have a hard time finding a guaranteed rotation spot entering his age-37 season.
Kyle Kendrick holds some value as a durable innings eater, Roberto Hernandez is a decent back-of-the-rotation sinkerballer, and Kevin Correia is better than his 5.44 ERA last year indicated. Scott Baker was one of the many pitchers to shuffle through the Rangers rotation last year, and he could catch on somewhere as depth as well.
Chad Billingsley and Brandon Beachy are both intriguing reclamation projects, as both pitchers missed the 2014 season recovering from arm surgeries, but both have been plus starters when healthy.
The New York Mets are still likely to trade someone from the group of Jon Niese, Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee, with Gee looking like the preferred option at this point, so don't be surprised if he's on the move in the near future.
Left-Handed Starting Pitchers
Top Available Left-Handed Starters
|Player (Age)||2014 Stats|
|Cole Hamels (30)||204.2 IP, 9-9, 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 1.148 WHIP||Trade|
|Eric Stults (35)||176.0 IP, 8-17, 4.30 ERA, 4.63 FIP, 1.375 WHIP||FA|
|Travis Wood (27)||173.2 IP, 8-13, 5.03 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.532 WHIP||Trade|
|Erik Bedard (35)||75.2 IP, 4-6, 4.76 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 1.493 WHIP||FA|
|Paul Maholm (32)||70.2 IP, 1-5, 4.84 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 1.557 WHIP||FA|
|Joe Saunders (33)||43.0 IP, 0-5, 6.70 ERA, 6.60 FIP, 2.070 WHIP||FA|
|Bruce Chen (37)||48.1 IP, 2-4, 7.45 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 1.759 WHIP||FA|
|Johan Santana (35)||Injured, did not play.||FA|
With Jon Lester, Francisco Liriano and Chris Capuano already scooped up, the free-agent market for left-handed starters is slim pickings at this point in the offseason.
Cole Hamels is the biggest trade chip on the market right now, and the Phillies' asking price for their star pitcher is understandably high. It remains to be seen if anyone will pay up, but if they do, it could be a franchise-altering deal for Philadelphia.
Eric Stults has been durable the past two seasons, making 65 starts and going 19-30 with a 4.10 ERA (4.04 FIP) and 1.320 WHIP pitching for the San Diego Padres. Those aren't great numbers, but they should be good enough for someone to offer up a major league deal.
The Chicago Cubs could shop 2013 All-Star Travis Wood after tendering him a contract, as he is currently slated to battle Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily for the No. 5 starter spot. The Phillies had some interest, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Erik Bedard made 15 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays and held his own, but his fastball velocity was down to 87.9 miles per hour (via FanGraphs). It remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank.
Joe Saunders had been a durable arm prior to last season, topping 170 innings in six straight seasons, but an ankle injury limited him to just 43 innings, and he may have to settle for a minor league deal.
The same goes for Paul Maholm and Bruce Chen, who pitched mostly in relief last year but are capable of starting, as well as Johan Santana, who continues on the rehab trail after missing the 2014 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Right-Handed Relievers (Non-Closer)
Top Available Right-Handed Relievers
|Tyler Clippard||75 G, 7-4, 40 HLD, 2.18 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 10.5 K/9||Trade|
|Burke Badenhop||70 G, 0-3, 13 HLD, 2.29 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 5.1 K/9||FA|
|Brandon League||63 G, 2-3, 11 HLD, 2.57 ERA, 3.9 BB/9, 5.4 K/9||Trade|
|Joba Chamberlain||69 G, 2-5, 29 HLD, 3.57 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 8.4 K/9||FA|
|Mike Adams||22 G, 2-1, 6 HLD, 2.89 ERA, 3.9 BB/9, 10.1 K/9||FA|
|Brian Wilson||61 G, 2-4, 22 HLD, 4.66 ERA, 5.4 BB/9, 10.1 K/9||FA|
|Carlos Villanueva||42 G, 5-7, 3 HLD, 4.64 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.3 K/9||FA|
|Dustin McGowan||53 G, 5-3, 10 HLD, 4.17 ERA, 3.6 BB/9, 6.7 K/9||FA|
|Matt Albers||8 G, 0-0, 3 HLD, 0.90 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 7.2 K/9||FA|
|Jared Burton||68 G, 3-5, 14 HLD, 4.36 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 6.5 K/9||FA|
|Jamey Wright||61 G, 5-4, 5 HLD, 4.35 ERA, 3.5 BB/9, 6.9 K/9||FA|
|Jose Veras||46 G, 4-1, 1/6 SV, 4.50 ERA, 5.3 BB/9, 9.8 K/9||FA|
|Alexi Ogando||27 G, 2-3, 7 HLD, 6.84 ERA, 5.4 BB/9, 7.9 K/9||FA|
|Chris Perez||49 G, 1-3, 6 HLD, 4.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, 7.6 K/9||FA|
|Matt Lindstrom||35 G, 2-2, 6/10 SV, 5.03 ERA, 3.2 BB/9, 4.8 K/9||FA|
|Jesse Crain||Injured, did not play.||FA|
|Sergio Santos||26 G, 0-3, 5/8 SV, 8.57 ERA, 7.7 BB/9, 12.4 K/9||FA|
The above list of available right-handed relievers is a bit overwhelming to look at, and at the end of the day, a lot of these guys will likely have to settle for minor league deals with a non-roster invite to spring training in their efforts to make a big league roster.
Burke Badenhop and Joba Chamberlain are the two biggest exceptions, as they both pitched well enough last season that they should have no problem finding a big league deal, and in the case of Badenhop even a multiyear contract.
Beyond those two, swingmen Carlos Villanueva and Dustin McGowan have some value thanks to their versatility, though both are probably best-suited pitching exclusively in relief.
Brian Wilson, Jared Burton, Jamey Wright, Jose Veras, Chris Perez and Sergio Santos have all been plus setup options in the past (or even closers in the case of Wilson and Perez). They are all coming off of subpar seasons, though, and will need to prove themselves.
Mike Adams, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain were slowed by injuries last season and have seen that hurt their free-agent stock, though Adams pitched well after returning from Tommy John surgery and is not all that far removed from being one of the game's best setup relievers.
Alexi Ogando may be the most intriguing name on this list, as he was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers after a dismal 2014 season. Biceps and shoulder issues cost him a total of 75 games in 2013, and a UCL sprain this past year kept him shelved for a 104-game stretch, but he was dominant in the years before that.
All-Star setup man Tyler Clippard is the big name on the trade market, as he is projected for $9.3 million in his final year of arbitration and is unlikely to be re-signed by the Washington Nationals, who have more pressing upcoming free agents.
Brandon League is also said to be available, and the 31-year-old rebounded nicely in 2014 after entering the season as a forgotten man. He's owed $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, with the Dodgers willing to eat a good chunk of that to move him.
Left-Handed Relievers (Non-Closer)
Top Available Left-Handed Relievers
|Brian Matusz||63 G, 2-3, 14 HLD, 3.48 ERA, 3.0 BB/9, 9.2 K/9||Trade|
|Neal Cotts||73 G, 2-9, 19 HLD, 4.32 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, 8.5 K/9||FA|
|Joe Thatcher||53 G, 2-1, 6 HLD, 3.86 ERA, 1.2 BB/9, 8.0 K/9||FA|
|Tom Gorzelanny||23 G, 0-0, 0 HLD, 0.86 ERA, 3.4 BB/9, 9.9 K/9||FA|
|Joe Beimel||56 G, 3-1, 10 HLD, 2.20 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 5.0 K/9||FA|
|Phil Coke||62 G, 5-2, 5 HLD, 3.88 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, 6.4 K/9||FA|
|Franklin Morales||38 G, 22 GS, 6-9, 5.37 ERA, 4.1 BB/9, 6.3 K/9||FA|
Andrew Miller set the new standard for non-closer relievers when he inked a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees, and that just goes to show how hard it is to find a quality southpaw in the bullpen these days.
Zach Duke, Craig Breslow and Wesley Wright have also signed new contracts, but there are still a handful of proven veterans available for a team looking to add another left-hander to the relief corps.
Neal Cotts, who had not pitched in the majors since 2009 prior to joining the Texas Rangers bullpen in 2013, has made 131 appearances the past two years with a 2.84 ERA, 1.156 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
Joe Beimel made a similar comeback with the Seattle Mariners this past year, as he had not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, but a 4.18 FIP on his 2.20 ERA means he could be in for some regression.
Phil Coke averaged 60 games per season while pitching to a 4.25 ERA (3.63 FIP) in his five years with the Detroit Tigers. Joe Thatcher struggled after joining the Angels last July, but he has been a plus arm throughout his career, with a 2.96 ERA in 315 games since the 2009 season.
Tom Gorzelanny has revitalized his career with a move to the bullpen, while Franklin Morales holds some value a swingman capable of sliding into the rotation should injury strike.
The Baltimore Orioles are reportedly shopping 27-year-old Brian Matusz, who has found a home in the bullpen after flopping as a highly touted starter. With two years of team control left, the asking price will likely be high, but he is available for the right offer, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com.
Top Available Closers
|Francisco Rodriguez||66 G, 5-5 , 44/49 SV, 3.04 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 9.7 K/9||FA|
|Jonathan Papelbon||66 G, 2-3, 39/43 SV, 2.04 ERA, 2.0 BB/9, 8.5 K/9||Trade|
|Rafael Soriano||64 G, 4-1, 32/39 SV, 3.19 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 8.6 K/9||FA|
|Casey Janssen||50 G, 3-3, 25/30 SV, 3.94 ERA, 1.4 BB/9, 5.5 K/9||FA|
|John Axford||62 G, 2-4, 10/13 SV, 3.95 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, 9.8 K/9||FA|
The Milwaukee Brewers struck gold on the one-year, $3.25 million contract they gave Francisco Rodriguez last offseason, and the veteran closer his put himself in position for a significantly higher payday this time around.
K-Rod converted his first 15 save chances and was named to the All-Star Team for the first time since 2009. Aside from his 44 saves, he also had solid peripheral numbers with a 0.985 WHIP and 9.7 K/9. His 4.50 FIP is a bit of a red flag but not as much so as if he were a starter.
Rafael Soriano was an all-star-caliber closer in the first half last season, when he saved 22 games and pitched to a 0.97 ERA and 0.811 WHIP. The wheels fell off in the second half, though, and his 6.48 ERA eventually led to his removal from the ninth-inning role.
It was a similar story of Casey Janssen, who had 14 saves and a 1.23 ERA in the first half but struggled to a 6.46 ERA after the All-Star break and likely cost himself a good deal of money in the process.
As for buy-low closing options, John Axford is probably the best of a group that also includes Jose Veras, Matt Lindstrom, Chris Perez, Sergio Santos and a few others.
Axford opened last season as the Cleveland Indians closer but got the hook in May in favor of Cody Allen. He wound up having a decent season in a setup role, and that may be the role he's best suited in moving forward.
The Philadelphia Phillies continue to be open to the idea of moving Jonathan Papelbon, who is coming off of a strong season in 2014, but his $13 million salary in 2015 and a $13 million option for 2016 that vests with 48 games finished has understandably scared teams away.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.