Pitching is the priority for most contenders. Starting pitchers, however, are costly and there aren’t many good ones available right now unless a team has and is willing to trade away an elite prospect or possibly even two.
The alternative is to trade for a reliable reliever or two, which could help a team who isn’t getting enough quality innings out of their starting pitchers. As the Royals have proven, you don’t need six or seven innings from your starting pitchers to succeed as long as your bullpen can pick up the slack. Three dominant relievers to cover the 7th, 8th and 9th innings helped in their case, but they also had several others who made a strong contribution to the team’s success.
This is the time for a contender to assess how much help their bullpen needs and ensure that they’re stocked up for the stretch run. Here are some relievers who are likely available on the trade market.
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- Miller and Davis represent the top of the class, but much like the many controllable starters we’ve heard so much about, it’s not clear that either is available for anything less than a true haul. The Yankees already dealt away Aroldis Chapman, and have seemingly put an immense price tag on Miller, who is now unquestionably one of the very best relievers in baseball. The same can be said of Davis, though he hasn’t been quite as excellent this year as last and has one less season of control on his contract, which runs out after 2017.
- There were rumblings before the year that the Bucs could look to swap out Melancon and his $9.65MM salary. The cash probably isn’t a major concern at this point, but the Pirates are in a somewhat difficult position for contention and have reportedly considered a deal for a pending free agent. Melancon is still trucking along with a 1.51 ERA and 8.2 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9, all within range of the new standard he set for himself beginning in 2013. Since Pittsburgh is still a plausible post-season threat, it seems that the team would be looking for a somewhat unique scenario — the ask is for a solid set-up arm to plug onto the MLB roster as well as a prospect haul to make up the difference in value and bolster the organization’s future.
- Robertson is having a fine season and is surely a late-inning upgrade for some contenders. But he’s still due close to $30MM through the 2018 season and he’s just not the same pitcher he was when he signed his current deal with the White Sox. If the Sox were willing to take on some of Robertson’s remaining salary, however, they could well generate a solid return — especially if the names just listed prove too expensive to change hands.
- If the Rays are willing to trade away one of their controllable starting pitchers, as the rumors indicate, then they’d certainly trade All-Star closer Colome. Even with four years left of club control remaining after 2016, Colome won’t have as much value to the Rays until they’re ready to contend again. Still, the price will be high for the 27-year-old and the Rays won’t be motivated to move him unless they’re blown away with an offer.
- Jeffress and Vizcaino are in the same boat as Colome with their respective teams. Young, controllable and talented closers with teams that aren’t competitive now and might not be for at least a couple more years. The price is high, but these guys are definitely available. The question with Jeffress is whether another team will value his groundball-driven approach as highly as do the Brewers. As for Vizcaino, some recent stumbles and a DL stint have significantly reduced the likelihood he’s dealt.
- That leaves Smith, who missed a big chunk of time earlier this year and has been more solid than great since returning. The 27-year-old southpaw owns a 3.60 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 over twenty innings, representing a drop-off from the 3.79 K/BB ratio he ran up a season ago. With three remaining seasons of arbitration eligibility, Milwaukee may choose to see if he can build up value over the next several months before exploring a deal in earnest.
Click to read below for the rental relievers and other pen arms with future control: