Trade Market For Right-Handed Relievers

The trade market for relievers kicked off last week with Boston's acquisition of Matt Thornton, but plenty of other bullpen arms figure to be available. Jonathan Broxton, Brett Myers, Edward Mujica and Francisco Cordero were just a few of the right-handed relievers we saw change teams at last season's trade deadline. Here's a look at some names who could be on the move in 2013…

Current Closers

Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies), Kevin Gregg (Cubs), Francisco Rodriguez (Brewers), Steve Cishek (Marlins), Jose Veras (Astros), Tom Wilhelmsen (Mariners), Huston Street (Padres)

Papelbon is the biggest name of the bunch, but for the time being the Phillies don't sound like they're going to be sellers. Even if they go on a losing streak, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he thinks Papelbon would be difficult to replace. Still, given Papelbon's contract and declines in strikeout rate and velocity, the Phillies would be wise to listen if a team in need decided to pay for the brand name closer by offering an elite prospect.

Gregg's once dominant numbers have taken a tumble recently, particularly in his final outing before the All-Star break in which he surrendered four runs in one inning against the Cardinals. Still, his 2.97 ERA (3.69 FIP, 3.56 xFIP) and 9.5 K/9 rate would be a welcome addition to any bullpen. As a free agent at year's end who signed a minor league deal this season, he's financially feasible for any club, and the asking price won't be all that high.

Rodriguez, like Gregg, signed midseason and has revived his status as a credible Major League reliever. He's sporting a pristine 1.19 ERA, though his 3.06 FIP suggests that number is due for some correction. With a 9.9 K/9 rate and solid command (3.2 BB/9), K-Rod figures to be attractive to any team looking for a closer or setup man. He's saved nine games for Milwaukee this season, crossing the 300 mark for his career in the process.

The Marlins don't want to trade Cishek, but there's something to be said for a rebuilding team cashing in on a reliever that's performing well. Still, with four years of team control remaining and a 3.24 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, the Marlins consider him a building block. Recent reports said a team would need to part with its No. 1 prospect to acquire Cishek, and if that's the case, he's likely staying put.

Veras figures to be as available as any reliever on the market. I examined him as a trade candidate last month, and he's improved his stock by firing 8 1/3 scoreless innings since (he did allow one unearned run in that time). Veras has 42 punchouts in 39 1/3 innings to go along with the best control of his career (3.2 BB/9). He signed for $1.85MM in 2013 (plus incentives) and has a $3.25MM club option for 2014, so he's plenty affordable.

Wilhelmsen briefly lost his job and has seen his strikeout rate dip in 2013 while his walk rate has risen — none of which can be good for his trade value. He's back in the closer's role now, but he's not yet arbitration-eligible and has four years of team control remaining beyond 2013, so the Mariners may not feel a rush to trade him.

Street's price tag is down thanks to a 4.15 ERA and a career-worst 5.4 K/9 rate. He's spent time on the DL again this season, so his $7MM salary in 2014 doesn't seem as reasonable as it was when the Padres extended him instead of trading him last July. 

Setup Men

Jesse Crain (White Sox), Matt Lindstrom (White Sox), Jared Burton (Twins), Chad Qualls (Marlins), John Axford (Brewers), Luke Gregerson (Padres)

Crain, currently on the disabled list, isn't a closer but might be the most coveted name on the relief market. In the final year of an affordable three-year deal, the 32-year-old has a 0.74 ERA following a historic scoreless streak. He could slide into the ninth inning for many teams or continue in the eighth inning role in which he has excelled. He should be healthy before the deadline, barring a setback, and numerous teams including the Rockies and Red Sox have been connected to him.

Lindstrom is also in the midst of a strong season. He has a $4MM team option for 2014 which seems reasonable, given his 2.87 ERA. His strikeout rate is down and his velocity has dipped a bit, but he's still averaging 94.9 mph on his heater. He also has an impressive 53.7 percent ground-ball rate.

Burton emerged as a brilliant setup man for Minnesota after signing a minor league deal prior to the 2012 campaign. His outstanding season last year netted him a cheap two-year, $5.45MM extension that will be appealing to other teams. He also has a team option for $3.6MM in 2015. Burton struggled in June but rattled off six scoreless innings entering the break, which may quiet some concern surrounding him.

Qualls has seen quite a bit of time in the eighth inning for Miami and posted a 2.89 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a whopping 66.4 percent ground-ball rate. A free agent after the season, the Marlins have made Qualls available and it seems likely that his days in Miami are numbered.

Axford lost the closer's gig in Milwaukee almost immediately this season, but he's on a roll in a setup capacity of late. He hasn't allowed multiple runs in an inning since May 1, posting a 0.99 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 1/3 innings in that stretch. He's arbitration-eligible for a second time this offseason and as a Super Two player, will be arb-eligible twice more before free agency.

Gregerson is controlled through 2014 and in the midst of arguably the best season of his career. He's pitched to a 2.93 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 40 innings of work. He's earning just $3.2MM as a second-time arbitration player this season, though that number figures to rise considerably in 2014. Teams not willing to pay for a "proven closer" may look to Gregerson as a ninth-inning option, though he does have a notable platoon split.

Middle Innings Relievers

Ryan Webb (Marlins), Burke Badenhop (Brewers), LaTroy Hawkins (Mets), Scott Atchison (Mets), David Aardsma (Mets)

Webb is controlled through 2015, and Badenhop is controlled through 2014. Both are ground-ball pitchers with uninspiring strikeout rates, and Webb's command has taken a significant step backwards in 2013. The Marlins and Brewers don't need to rush to trade either, but both could be had by a team who is intrigued by their ground-ball rates and team control.

Hawkins and Aardsma are eligible for free agency following the minor league deals they signed earlier this season, while Atchison could be controlled through arbitration. Hawkins has the best peripherals of the bunch, while Aardsma has the best strikeout rate in a smaller sample. Atchison has only whiffed seven batters in his 18 1/3 innings, which doesn't do much for his value.

Change of Scenery Candidates

Joba Chamberlain (Yankees), Alfredo Aceves (Red Sox)

Chamberlain is a free agent at season's end, and his tumultuous fall from once-prized prospect has been well-documented. On the plus side, his velocity remains strong and he's struck out 25 batters in 23 1/3 innings this season. However, he's also walked 13 in that time and seen his ground-ball rate plummet to 34.7 percent. The Yankees have reportedly been pushing Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in trades, and there may be a contender willing to take a chance on his velocity and whiff rate.

Aceves was outrighted off the 40-man roster over the weekend, likely signaling the end of his time with the Red Sox. He's clashed with managers and coaches throughout his Boston tenure, most recently having his effort and intensity called into question in 2013. He possesses talent, as evidenced by a career 3.69 ERA (4.37 FIP), but Boston wouldn't get anything of note in a trade at this point.

For more on the 2013 trade market, take a look at Tim Dierkes' examination of the market for catchersfirst basemenshortstopsthird basemen and starting pitchers, as well as my own look at the market for second basemencorner outfielders and center fielders.


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