MLB Trade Speculation: 11 Relievers Who Could Help Pennant Contenders
The 2011 MLB season is barely a week old and trade rumors, needs and possibilities are already swirling around many teams. One thing is certain though, only eight of the league's 30 teams will make the playoffs, leaving plenty of sellers in the market.
Anyone who knows baseball will tell you that starting pitchers start games, batters put teams in position to win games but the bullpen finishes games and makes wins possible.
Most relief pitchers will pitch less than 60—in many cases even less than 40—innings in a season but they are integral parts of any team. They may not get the call often, but when they do they need to be ready to deliver, make great pitches and shut batters down.
Because of how clutch they need to be in pressure situations, relief pitchers will be one position many contending teams will be looking to address down the stretch.
While none of the teams each of these 11 players currently play for are out of the hunt, each of them play for a team that either typically struggles, play decent in a strong division or is struggling to this point.
Here then are the 11 relievers who could make an impact if traded to a Pennant Contender. These are only speculation, not trade rumors, but at Bleacher Report we will keep you aware if any of these speculations become rumors or reality.
11. Brian Sanches
Brian Sanches is someone the Marlins could afford to let go of if the price is right. A former second round pick by Kansas City, Sanches is a solid middle reliever who is effectively wild. Whether he pitches better or just has more fun with runners on base isn't clear, and he will walk a few and give up hits to a few more but he always seems to find a way out of his jams.
Sanches recorded 12 holds last year and struck out 54 in 63.2 innings pitched. He also kept his ERA below 2.3 and his WHIP was less than half of that.
He wouldn't be the splashiest of trades, but he could certainly help a lot of teams with holes in their bullpen who need help getting games to the ninth inning for their closer with the lead intact.
10. Joakim Soria
Kansas City is one of those teams lately that seems to be always on the verge of a breakout but never quite gets there. They play in a very packed division which many consider to be one of the two most—if not the most—competitive division in baseball.
If the Royals get in too deep, look for them to consider dealing this flamethrower to someone willing to trade future prospects for winning in the present.
He is essentially a two-pitch reliever and may rely too much on his fastball, but when he pulls out the breaking ball he is untouchable. Batters have hit only .101 off his curveball and don't fare much better against his hard biting slider.
Being only 26, he is the kind of player a building organization like the Royals would want to hang onto but in the end someone may make them too good of an offer for him.
9. Joaquin Benoit
Joaquin Benoit has been around the block a few times. After spending his first eight seasons in Texas he did not see action in 2009 after undergoing surgery for a torn rotator cuff.
However, after coming back from surgery with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 he has shown he can still hurl the ball with the best of them. Benoit utilizes a fastball and slider, but his real out pitch is his changeup. He places it effectively and is confident enough to throw it both early in the count and with two strikes on the hitter.
Regardless of when he throws it, batters only hit it for a .152 average, making him a versatile reliever who could help anyone down the stretch if the AL Central ends Detroit's chances of a Pennant run.
8. Clay Hensley
Clay Hensley is a former starter for the San Diego Padres who settled in as a late reliever for the Florida Marlins last season. Posting a 1.11 WHIP, 22 holds and 77 strikeouts in 75 innings of work he bounced back from two rough years in relief for the Padres after being moved there from the starting rotation in 2007.
He gives any team he joins more versatility out of the bullpen and a very different look as a pitcher. In an era that is all about the 100 MPH plus fastball, Hensley is the definition of an off-speed reliever. He has a handful of pitches in his repertoire and can beat batters low and away with effectiveness late in games.
Unless the Marlins improve over last year's campaign, Hensley could be a great addition to many teams in the NL looking for a reliever who can pitch multiple innings in an appearance and is a good follow up act to a hard-throwing fastball starter.
7. Evan Meek
The fact that Pittsburgh spends so many seasons at the bottom of the NL standings has been a blatant waste of Meek's talents the last two seasons. He has had a rough start to this season but is very talented and will bounce back quickly.
The former 11th round pick posted a 2.14 ERA last season in 80 innings pitched with 70 K's and only 31 walks issued.
Meek has the composure to pitch well late in any ballgame and could be the kind of guy teams would look to late in either Game Six or Game Seven to help clinch the Pennant.
6. Heath Bell
Heath Bell has been a staple in the Padres' rotation for the last four seasons and it might be time for a change of scenery. He has pitched very well in those four season posting his lowest ERA last season at 1.93. He has also fanned over 300 batters in that time while giving only just over 110 walks.
However, with San Diego's postseason chances dwindling every August, Bell could be a strong and effective addition to any bullpen.
5. Wilton Lopez
Seems like every year the Astros say things will be different and it never is. They haven't seen much consistent success since reaching the World Series in 2005. That is the only pennant the Astros have ever won and seem at least a year away from reaching that level of play again.
I said earlier in the year that Wilton Lopez should be considered untouchable by the Astros' front office for at least the rest of this year, but with Houston at 3-9 things don't look to be as far along as they would like us to believe.
Lopez is another reliever off to a shaky start early in the season but will be strong through July and many teams will be chomping at the bit to get at him.
4. Daniel Bard
Bard would be a dream come true for many teams if he finds his way to the trade block. In this case, Boston would likely to have to continue playing poorly for them to consider trading him but if 2011 becomes a rebuilding year for the Red Sox, he could see his way onto a contending team in exchange for the right prospects.
The 25 year old throws a hard fastball with a slider as is out-pitch and he isn't afraid to come inside against righties or lefties. He has lights-out stuff, could be a closer if a team needed and is already one of the better young setup men in the AL.
3. Koji Uehara
Koji Uehara not only has one of the best names in baseball, but he also has one of the most dominating bullpen fastballs around. In a league where batters look for fastballs in nearly every count and adjust to off-speed pitches, Uehara's fastball routinely beats 75 percent of the hitters who face it.
His curveball could use work as he matures but overall he is a strong starter turned middle reliever who can strike batters out with his fastball and routinely keeps his team in ballgames.
2. Andrew Bailey
Andrew Bailey is currently on the 15-day DL but he will be back soon for his third season in Oakland's bullpen. In that time he has compiled a 1.70 ERA, .91 WHIP, been named an All-Star twice and was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2009.
Seems crazy that the A's would consider trading this youngster, but his trade stock has never been higher and Oakland needs a lot of help on offense as they lack a power bat in the middle of their lineup. Anyone would be ecstatic to have a shot at this future-Hall-of-Fame-talent becoming part of their bullpen and look for more than one team to try and make it happen as the season progresses.
1. Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod is the premier closer in both the NL and AL. Only two years from his record setting 62 save season with the Angels, Rodriguez can still make batters look silly at the plate with his overpowering and diverse arsenal of pitches.
According to The New York Daily News he even swings the bat pretty well, though he hasn't fared much better than the hitters who face him on a nightly basis.
The Mets return a core of strong starters but with all the fallout after the Madoff Ponzi scheme, they may be looking to cut payroll to stay afloat while increasing the depth of their farm system. Dealing K-Rod to someone who is on more solid footing in 2011 could kill both birds with one stone.