Jeremy Affeldt’s Option & Free Agent Prospects

If the Giants allow Jeremy Affeldt to hit free agency this offseason instead of picking up the veteran left-hander’s $5MM option for 2012, his job prospects will probably be promising. Teams are always looking for southpaws to use out of the bullpen, Affeldt’s numbers are strong and the competition is weak.

Affeldt, whose season ended with a kitchen-related injury to his non-pitching hand, finished the year with a 2.63 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 62.1% ground ball rate in 61 2/3 innings this year. Those numbers reminded me of Scott Downs, the Angels left-hander who posted a 2.64 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 57.8% ground ball rate in 61 1/3 innings a year ago with the Blue Jays. The result for Downs: a three-year deal worth $15MM despite the Type A designation that hinders the earning potential of so many free agent relievers.

Even if San Francisco offers Affeldt arbitration, teams won’t have to surrender a draft pick to sign the projected Type B free agent. At 32 years of age, Affeldt remains relatively young – three years younger than Downs and markedly younger than most of the other free agent southpaws.

Peripheral stats such as xFIP (3.37), SIERA (2.88) and average fastball velocity (93.1 mph) all suggest that Affeldt’s impressive 2.63 ERA is no fluke. And while some lefty relievers post eye-catching stats because their managers barely let them face right-handers, Affeldt can hold off right-handed hitters, too (7.4 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 57.1% ground ball rate).

The competition in terms of free agent left-handed relievers doesn’t figure to be strong. There’s Darren Oliver, a 40-year-old who could very well cost a draft pick. Affeldt’s teammate, Javier Lopez, is a capable pitcher who walks one batter per two innings. Mike Gonzalez of the Rangers will draw interest, though he has had an up and down season. And George Sherrill has impressive stats, but he can’t be trusted against right-handed hitters. In other words, the free agent market is unimpressive.

Affeldt is a veteran of multiyear contracts, having signed one two-year deal with the Giants in 2008 and another one in 2010. If San Francisco turns down its 2012 option, Affeldt’s representatives at Moye Sports Associates will have a strong case for a third multiyear deal in free agency. Affeldt, the Giants' 2011 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, would enter a market that won’t offer much in terms of free agent left-handers. Don’t be surprised if the Giants decline Affeldt’s option and he goes on to sign a multiyear deal for the third time in his career.

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