MLB Free Agency: Power Ranking the Top 10 Relievers on the Market
Believe it or not, the 2011 MLB season is just around five months away, and one of the rising topics in many circles is where exactly some of the free agent relievers are going to wind up, or what is going to happen to them prior to spring training.
I picked out 10 guys who are sure to draw attention—some more than others—as we slowly move along the MLB offseason.
You’ll notice that two teams in particular (Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox) are the most active teams with a bevy of players they are either getting rid of, and/or considering.
Let’s take a look at who I have, and if there is a name you want to throw out there, do so below in the comment section.
10. Guillermo Mota, San Francisco Giants
He may be 37 years old, but Mota is one of the hardest throwing relievers in the game today (seventh on MLB Trade Rumors’ List at 93.9 FB velocity).
From September 17th to October 2nd, Mota pitched five innings with a 0.00 ERA and proved to be a moderate asset to the Giants bullpen. Mota’s season ERA was a bit high (4.33), but he is one of the cheapest set up men in the game and you have to wonder if the Giants may just offer him another year for the price.
9. Jesse Crain, Minnesota Twins
Crain is part of that bullpen-by-committee quartet the Twins survived on last year (Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes being the other three) when Joe Nathan went down for the year.
Now, Jesse is Crain—similarly to the rest of the squad—one of the more intriguing free agents on the market right now for a couple of reasons.
If the Twins opt to resign all, or even the majority of, these guys they get to enter 2011 with a very solid bullpen.
But if not, they will be forced to reconstruct the pen around Nathan.
Jesse Crain is an interesting subject in that he is a very efficient pitcher who can dominate the box, as well as light up batters with a little heat.
Crain finished last year with an 8.2 K/9 rate, a very serviceable 3.04 ERA and a 62/27 K/BB ratio in 68.0 innings pitched.
8. Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are kicking tires on just about any arm they can get their hands on, including some of their own pitchers.
Bobby Jenks is one of them.
But the club didn’t exactly like what they saw from Jenks last year, and have said they need to seriously weight their options before just coming to the table with an offer.
As you will see later, the signs are pointing towards the White Sox cutting ties with Jenks.
Jenks isn’t a bad pitcher, finishing the year with a 4.44 ERA (thanks largely to an inflated number of earned runs scored), a very efficient 61/18 K/BB ratio and dominated, when healthy, with a 10.4 K/9 rate.
If the White Sox opt not to bring him back, he’ll make a nice pickup for another struggling team...for instance, the other Chicago team perhaps?
7. Kyle Farnsworth, Atlanta Braves
The Braves thought they were getting a lights out bullpen guy in Kyle Farnsworth, but he never really duplicated his early success in Kansas City with Atlanta (5.44 ERA), which was enough for the Braves to waive his $5.25 million option.
But Farnsworth is a nice—cheap, mind you—free agent for any team looking, as he did finish the year with a 3.34 ERA and a 61/19 K/BB ratio in 64.2 innings pitched.
6. Scott Downs, Toronto Blue Jays
Scott Downs began making news back in August when he and a couple of other players were claimed off of waivers, despite nothing ever materializing from it. Now, it is expected that the Jays will not bring back their lefty in hopes of receiving a compensatory pick for him.
One team that was thought to be interested was the New York Yankees.
But the Yanks were unwilling to give up a pick for him since they will inevitably fork over a wad of cash for Cliff Lee—another article, another time—so the last thing they want to give up is a pick for a left-handed reliever with other options still available.
Downs finished 2010 with a 2.64 ERA, but a curious 48/14 K/BB ratio in 61.1 innings.
5. Joaquin Benoit, Tampa Bay Rays
Another player featured in the inevitable Rays Clearinghouse Extravaganza, Benoit is a very attractive player on the market right now, finishing 2010 with an astonishing 1.34 ERA and a 75/11 K/BB ratio in 60.3 innings.
This is a guy who can pitch just as good as the rest of them, and it is said that the Phillies were significantly interested in Benoit for not only his ability, but also as an insurance policy if they can’t re-sign Jose Contreras.
4. Kerry Wood, New York Yankees
The Yankees declined Wood’s $11 million option, ending his brief stay in pinstripes. The once highly touted closer—now setup man—will be an interesting player to watch this offseason.
Wood has carried the tag of risk around for several years due to his inability to stay healthy, but his 2010 campaign ended with Wood posting a 0.69 ERA with a 10.7 K/9 rate and a 31/18 K/BB ratio in 26.0 innings pitched—miles away from his bloated numbers in Cleveland.
There is a rumor developing that Wood could find his way back into the loving arms of Jim Hendry and the Cubs, but not as a closer which is fine since Wood seemed to excel as a setup pitcher anyway.
3. J.J. Putz, Chicago White Sox
See what I mean? The White Sox have more available players in FA than most teams.
At 33, Putz finished the 2010 season with a 2.83 ERA and a 10.8 K/9 rate with a 65/15 K/BB ratio, making him a tasty option for team to consider.
At 33, though, it will be difficult to land a long-term deal, and Putz could be looking at scoring a two or three-year deal, unless a really hungry team come traipsing along.
You have to imagine, however, that the White Sox will have to commit to holding onto somebody for the 2011 season, and I’m willing to bet Putz will be that player, but if not, someone is bound to get their hands on a relatively cheap lights out pitcher.
2. Jose Contreras, Philadelphia Phillies
There have been conflicting reports out of the Philadelphia area regarding Contreras, and that has many people waiting on baited breath to find out what happens to the old veteran.
There are reports that the Phillies are aggressively trying to keep Contreras, but other reports that finding a left-handed reliever is the highest or priority right now for the Phils.
Contreras throws right.
I mentioned earlier about the Phillies' interest in Joaquin Benoit, and other names such as Pedro Feliciano (will probably wind up a Yankees) and Hisanori Takahashi have also been mentioned, but Contreras is one of the hottest names in free agency right now.
Contreras finished 2010 with a 3.34 ERA and a 57/16 K/BB ratio in just around 56 innings pitched, so if the Phillies don’t keep him, he will come at a pretty stout price, and rightfully so.
1. Rafael Soriano, Tampa Bay Rays
And here we are, the guy that everybody knew would be at No. 1, right?
Well why not? Soriano finished the year with 45 saves and an eye-popping 1.73 ERA at 30 years of age, which is sure to enable him to command top dollar on the market this year after already making nearly $8 million last year.
The Angels and the White Sox have said to be the two frontrunning teams of interest, with the Angels being speculated as the final landing spot for Soriano, but anything can happen between now and then.
Soriano is a top-line pitcher with lights-out stuff who can debilitate just about any group of hitters no matter how good they are, and you have to imagine that if he does wind up in a pitcher friendly park, his 2011 numbers will only exceed what he did in 2010.