Before they inked mega-deals earlier this offseason, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon understandably dominated headlines as the unquestioned best relievers available in free agency. No one remaining on the market will land a contract even approaching theirs (Melancon’s on the low end at a whopping $62MM), but there are still several proven late-game commodities who haven’t signed yet.
Melancon is taking over as the Giants’ closer, a role previously held by a pair of current free agents in Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo. The 36-year-old Casilla has saved 127 games, including 31 in 2016, but he racked up a major league-worst nine blown opportunities last season and, despite posting 10.09 K/9 against 2.95 BB/9, logged his highest ERA (3.57) since 2009. On the plus side, Casilla exceeded 50 innings for the seventh straight year (58), recorded a respectable ground-ball rate in line with his career average (47.6 percent compared to 48.7 percent) and didn’t experience a drop in velocity.
Romo, who will turn 34 in March, got better results than Casilla last year (2.64 ERA), but he only threw 30 2/3 innings and saw his velocity tumble to career lows. Despite that, Romo’s 14.9 percent swinging strike rate was in the upper echelon among relievers, as was his 13.9 percent infield fly mark (slightly better than Casilla’s 13.2). Romo also yielded the second-lowest exit velocity in the majors, per Statcast, to go with 9.68 K/9 against 2.05 BB/9. While Romo didn’t figure prominently into the ninth inning over the past couple seasons, he nonetheless has an accomplished end-of-game resume with 84 saves and 141 holds in his career.
No free agent has done a better job securing wins than longtime Royal Greg Holland, who has 145 saves (125 of which came from 2013-15). Holland was especially brilliant between 2011-14, a four-year period during which he combined for the majors’ fourth-best ERA (1.86) and the league’s sixth-ranked K/9 (12.57) across 256 1/3 frames. Holland then fell off in 2015 (3.83 ERA), a year in which his velocity declined and his BB/9 spiked to 5.24 (up from 3.52), thanks in part to a “significant” UCL tear. That injury led to October 2015 Tommy John surgery for Holland, who missed all of last season as a result. In spite of that, a hefty portion of the league has expressed interest in the 31-year-old this winter.
Like Casilla, Romo and Holland, Neftali Feliz brings vast ninth-inning experience (99 saves), though the ex-Rangers closer worked as a setup man with the Pirates last season. Along the way, Feliz accumulated 29 holds in 53 2/3 frames and registered a 3.52 ERA, 10.23 K/9 and 3.52 BB/9 to bounce back from a 2015 in which he finished with mediocre or worse numbers in those three categories (6.38 ERA, 7.31 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9). The 28-year-old did put up the second-lowest infield fly rate of his career last year (15.4), but it was still easily above the 9.9 percent league-average figure and went well with a personal-high swinging strike mark of 14.2 percent. Feliz also saw his velocity jump in 2016, which could further entice clubs searching for late-game help.
Contrary to the above four, Joe Blanton has never been a closer – the 36-year-old has mostly worked as a starter, in fact – but not many have been better out of the bullpen over the past couple seasons. Last year was Blanton’s first as a full-time reliever, and the then-Dodger finished sixth in innings (80) and compiled a 2.48 ERA, 9.00 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9. The slider-heavy Blanton also got swinging strikes a career-high 14.2 percent of the time (up from 13.0 in 2015), though both his 32.3 percent ground-ball rate and 5.3 percent infield pop-up mark stand out as concerns.
While these five aren’t in the Chapman-Jansen-Melancon class, all could serve as boons to their next teams’ bullpens. In your opinion, which member of the group is the most desirable target? Or, rather than this quintet, maybe there’s another free agent reliever you’d rather have instead.
(Poll link for Trade Rumors app users)