This is the latest installment in our Market Snapshot series. We have now completed our run-down of position players and taken a look at the market for lefty relief help, which brings up the market for right-handed relievers.
Teams In Need
Frankly, there isn’t a team in baseball that won’t look at bolstering its relief corps this offseason. A few contending clubs do perhaps stand out more than others, as they’re set to lose high-leverage relievers to free agency. The Red Sox (Craig Kimbrel), Rockies (Adam Ottavino and possibly Seunghwan Oh), Indians (Cody Allen and Andrew Miller) and Athletics (Jeurys Familia) are all facing notable losses.
The Cubs will lose Jesse Chavez and could be extra-motivated to find help following an injury-shortened season for Brandon Morrow. The Cardinals will bid adieu to Bud Norris and didn’t get the help they expected out of Greg Holland, Luke Gregerson and Dominic Leone last winter. The Twins traded from their bullpen depth and have a largely uncertain mix of arms — especially following some injury troubles for Addison Reed.
Teams like the Brewers and Yankees have ultra-deep bullpens and may not consider it their top priority, but even those clubs will be exploring the market. Generally speaking, the increased use of relievers, the diminishing willingness to let starters face a lineup for a third time in a game, and the advent of “the opener” strategy (which will expand in 2019) all figure to make the market for relievers as robust as we’ve ever seen.
High-leverage arms: Craig Kimbrel has been among baseball’s premier relievers since 2010. If he can rediscover success in the World Series, perhaps reinforcing the idea that pitch-tipping was at fault in his struggles earlier this postseason, he could be in line for an enormous deal. Jeurys Familia will pitch next season at 29 and should command a fair bit of free-agent attention. Few, if any, free-agent relievers elevated their profile more in 2018 than Adam Ottavino. David Robertson will be 34 next season, but his consistency and durability may still put him in line for a three-year pact. Joakim Soria somewhat quietly posted a 75-to-16 K/BB ratio in 60 2/3 innings this season with a sub-3.00 marks in FIP and SIERA.
Rebound candidates: A year ago, Cody Allen and Greg Holland both looked like they could cash in on hefty multi-year deals upon reaching free agency. Each had a season to forget. Allen lost his closer’s role in Cleveland and struggled to keep his ERA south of 5.00 amid control and home run issues. Holland was released by the Cardinals after flopping as their closer, though he did turn things around in his late run with the Nationals. Brad Brach had similar struggles in Baltimore before enjoying a similar rebound following a trade to the Braves. Bud Norris finished with an identical 3.59 ERA to Brach but had an inverse season, starting strong before wilting down the stretch (for a second straight season). Zach McAllister, who posted a 2.99 ERA from 2015-17, never found his footing in 2018 as he struggled to an alarming 6.21 ERA despite maintained velocity.
Injury cases: Kelvin Herrera could’ve been viewed as one of the prizes of the market, but he floundered after a trade to the Nationals and ultimately saw his season end with a torn ligament in his foot. His stock is down from when he had a 1.05 ERA and 22-to-2 K/BB ratio upon being traded to the Nats. David Phelps and Trevor Rosenthal will be looking to return to the Majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Each was a quality late-inning arm prior to suffering the elbow tear. AJ Ramos hopes to bounce back from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Tony Barnette was terrific when healthy but pitched just 26 1/3 innings due to shoulder troubles of his own. An oblique injury barely allowed Randall Delgado to pitch in 2018, but he was a quality middle reliever in 2017.
Wildcards: Jesse Chavez came out of nowhere to give the Cubs 39 innings of 1.15 ERA ball with a 42-to-5 K/BB ratio, but his prior track record hasn’t indicated that we should expect a repeat performance. Joe Kelly continued to be one of the game’s hardest-throwing relievers (98.1 mph average heater), but his results didn’t align with his potentially overpowering stuff. Perhaps some team will dream on the upside and give him a sizable payday despite a lack of consistent results.
Depth: John Axford, Chris Beck, Matt Belisle, Christian Bergman, Blaine Boyer, Santiago Casilla, Jeanmar Gomez, Javy Guerra, Chris Hatcher, Daniel Hudson, Drew Hutchison, George Kontos, Peter Moylan, Fernando Salas, Junichi Tazawa
Controllable arms (three-plus seasons): The rebuilding Orioles control hard-throwing Mychal Givens through 2021, and new front office leadership may not be as attached to him as the prior regime. Nate Jones’ contract has three affordable options, making him a logical piece for the White Sox to market, though he comes with a notable injury history. Marlins righty Drew Steckenrider was in high demand at the non-waiver deadline and is controlled all the way through 2023.
It’s far from certain that the D-backs would actually listen to offers on Archie Bradley, who has another three years of control remaining, but he’d command quite a haul and there’s been varying levels of speculation about an Arizona rebuild. Likewise, if the Rangers truly wanted to provide a jolt to their farm system, they could make 2018 breakout star Jose Leclerc available. He’s controlled through 2022, though, so even though Texas won’t compete next season, Leclerc could be around by the time things begin to look more favorable. Then again, the volatility of relievers makes it tough to view them as building blocks, and Leclerc’s value might never be higher.
Shorter-term adds (one to two seasons of control): Kirby Yates has been nails with the Padres, particularly since adopting a splitter prior to 2018, and he’s controlled affordably through 2020 via arbitration. Teammate Craig Stammen is a pure rental but was brilliant for the Friars in 2018 and has just a $2.25MM base salary for 2019. Yoshihisa Hirano proved to be a brilliant signing for the D-backs and is signed through next season at just $3MM. Even if they don’t market longer-term pieces like Bradley, a short-term asset like Hirano would be a logical chip to put out there.
High-priced arbitration arms: Brad Boxberger is in for a notable bump, projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $4.9MM next season despite middling results as the D-backs’ closer. Elsewhere in the division, Sam Dyson projects at $5.4MM with Giants teammate Hunter Strickland at $2.5MM. Depending on who is hired, new Giants leadership could look to move either righty. Up in Seattle, Alex Colome projects at $7.3MM, making him a pricey setup piece to star closer Edwin Diaz. And in Detroit, Shane Greene projects to take home a $4.8MM salary despite a miserable finish to the 2018 campaign that left his ERA north of 5.00.
Change-of-scenery candidates: Bryan Shaw (2 years, $19.5MM remaining), Mark Melancon (2/$28MM), Juan Nicasio (1/$9MM), Addison Reed (1/$8.5MM), Anthony Swarzak (1/$8MM), Luke Gregerson (1/$6MM) and Brandon Kintzler (1/$5MM) are among the free-agent signees of the past two offseasons whose contracts haven’t panned out as hoped just yet. Hector Neris is a vastly more affordable option with a $2MM projected salary in arbitration, but the Phillies are reportedly willing to listen to offers on a wide slate of players; Neris, who lost his closing gig midseason and was even optioned to Triple-A for awhile, has seen hi standing in the organization slip a bit.