It has been a good year to be a left-handed reliever on the free-agent market — even if your name isn’t Aroldis Chapman and you don’t work routinely in the triple digits with your fastball. Brett Cecil and the Cardinals kicked things off with a four-year, $30.5MM pact that even includes no-trade protection. Power southpaw Mike Dunn scored three years and $19MM from the Rockies. And even true LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski scored $11MM over two seasons in his contract with the Mariners.
Those big deals suggest that there was plenty of competition in the market, which perhaps bodes well for the best remaining southpaw arms. Two, in particular stand out: Boone Logan, who played most recently with the Rockies, and Jerry Blevins, formerly of the Mets. You could throw Travis Wood into this mix, too, but he may have a somewhat different (if perhaps overlapping) market, since he’s capable of working as a starter. J.P. Howell has also been a quality reliever in recent years, but the soft-tossing southpaw declined last year in run prevention, velocity, and swinging-strike rate, so we’ll leave him out of the mix for this particular look at the relief market.
Focusing on Logan and Blevins, a variety of organizations could still be willing to cough up significant guarantees. In the A.L. East, the Orioles are deeper in the right-handed department (other than closer Zach Britton); the Yankees’ top southpaw after Chapman, Tommy Layne, isn’t exactly a late-inning monster; the Blue Jays are thin with Cecil departing (they project to feature Aaron Loup); and even the Red Sox could conceivably enter the picture (though they may feel set with Robbie Ross and Fernando Abad). The West, too, has conceivable suitors: the Astros entered the winter looking for a southpaw to pair with Tony Sipp, the Angels’ top southpaw is the solid but somewhat unexciting Jose Alvarez, and the A’s have made surprising pen investments in the past and would carry Daniel Coulombe as their LOOGY if Sean Doolittle is utilized as a closer (or is traded).
Over in the National League, the N.L. East-rival Nationals and Mets could both stand to add late-inning lefties, and the Marlins could as well. Miami has already spent heavily on its pen, and seemingly feels it’s complete, but doesn’t have a high-end lefty after losing Dunn. And the Cubs could stand to buttress their mix after adding swingman Brian Duensing on a modest contract — assuming, at least, that Mike Montgomery isn’t bumped from the rotation by some trade.
Apart from the fairly robust remaining need, there’s every reason to believe that both Logan (32) and Blevins (33) have set themselves up for nice contracts. Indeed, they turned in rather similar, rather productive seasons in 2016. Logan finally converted his steadily excellent swinging-strike rate into results, as he posted a 3.69 ERA (while spending half his time at Coors Field) on the back of 11.1 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 along with a 49.5% groundball rate. And Blevins allowed just 2.79 earned per nine. He also posted 11.1 K/9 while allowing 3.2 free passes per nine innings and generating grounders on 45.8% of the balls put in play against him.
Logan worked with an average 93.0 mph fastball but utilized his slider on over half of his deliveries to the plate. That mix enabled him post a personal-best 16.4% swinging-strike rate, which tied him with Andrew Miller for the third-highest mark among southpaws who threw at least thirty innings (trailing only Chapman and Britton).
Though he’s less of a power pitcher, and doesn’t get quite as many swings and misses, Blevins’ actually squeezed out a few more strikeouts than did Logan in their most recent seasons. Blevins continued to rely heavily on a cut fastball, his usage of which jumped when he went to the Mets in 2015, and that may have helped him limit the damage when pitching without the platoon advantage.
Indeed, Blevins holds the advantage over Logan when facing right-handed hitters. Though his strikeout, walk, and home run numbers weren’t nearly as good as when he did have the platoon advantage, Blevins limited righties to a .172/.266/.345 batting line last year. And he has generally been at least serviceable against them over his career. Logan, on the other hand, shows much more pronounced splits. Opposing righties have posted a big .288/.376/.478 slash against him in 847 total opportunities across his 11 MLB campaigns.
Looking at the bigger picture, neither pitcher really stands out. Logan missed some time in 2014 after undergoing surgery for bone chips following the 2013 season, but has generally been reasonably healthy. And Blevins did miss much of 2015 after consecutive forearm fractures, though both were freak instances. Each pitcher has had up years and down years, but their overall arcs aren’t altogether dissimilar. Over their careers, some metrics prefer one to the other (Blevins’s 3.58 FIP tops Logan’s 4.03 mark; Logan’s 3.78 xFIP is better than Blevins’s 3.92 rate).
So, it seems like a close call. If you were looking to add a useful southpaw arm to your bullpen, which of these two free agents would you prefer?