Right-hander Joe Blanton is arguably the best reliever left on the free-agent market, but that may not be the case for long, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that interest in the 36-year-old has begun to pick up now that the upper tier of free-agent relievers have found new homes (Twitter link). A return to the Dodgers is still possible for Blanton, per Crasnick, though multiple teams figure to have interest following a pair of resurgent seasons for the former starter.
Blanton’s career looked to be running on fumes as recently as 2014. The long-time Athletics and Phillies hurler inked a two-year deal with the Angels prior to the 2013 season but was rocked for a 6.04 ERA in 132 2/3 innings before being released at the end of Spring Training 2014. He pitched briefly with the Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate that year but ultimately walked away from the game for the majority of the 2014 campaign. It wasn’t until February of 2015 that Blanton elected to give things one more go, signing a minor league deal with the Royals that proved to be the beginning of a mid-30s renaissance.
In 41 2/3 innings with the Royals, Blanton posted a respectable 3.89 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9, but he wound up being designated for assignment anyway and landed with the Pirates. Pittsburgh is where Blanton really turned things around, though, working to a 1.57 ERA in 34 1/3 innings, which led to a one-year, $4MM deal with the Dodgers last winter. His success continued into his age-35 season in Los Angeles, as Blanton whiffed 80 hitters and issued just 22 unintentional walks in 80 innings of work for manager Dave Roberts.
All told, Blanton as posted a stellar 2.65 ERA with 9.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 40.6 percent ground-ball rate in 156 innings of relief since resurfacing in the Majors in 2015. He was lit up by the Cubs in a pair of NLCS outings — seven runs on seven hits and two walks in three innings — but that shaky performance is vastly overshadowed by the larger body of work he’s turned in across the past two seasons. Despite the fact that he’ll pitch next year at the age of 36, Blanton still seems like a candidate for a solid multi-year deal — especially in a market that has been quite favorable for late-inning relievers to this point.
The rumor mill surrounding Blanton has been mostly quiet until now, with the Marlins and Dodgers as the only teams linked to his services. Miami, though, is likely done adding to its roster after signing Edinson Volquez, Brad Ziegler, Junichi Tazawa, Jeff Locke and A.J. Ellis. Crasnick further notes that Blanton lives in Napa Valley (and owns a vineyard there) and, all things equal, would prefer to pitch for a West Coast team. The Dodgers would obviously fit that bill, though other potential bullpen-needy teams could include the Mariners and Giants. Both Colorado and Arizona are western-division clubs that could look to further augment their bullpens as well.