Many different types of free agents end up receiving relatively expensive, one-year deals. Some are looking for the right opportunity to earn a nice single-season paycheck while (hopefully) building up to a multi-year deal in the ensuing winter. Others settle for a solo campaign after trying and failing to find more. Some are younger players who have enough upside to draw a significant offer despite a rough platform campaign. Others are steady veterans that are being paid more for their floor than their ceiling. All such players necessarily receive only a limited commitment from their new teams; those that end up with non-contenders must be prepared for a mid-season scramble for new lodging in the event of a swap.
With about a quarter of the season in the books, we’re looking at how things are shaping up for the highest-paid rental free agents. We already performed this exercise for position players. and for starting pitchers. Now, we’ll take a look at the ten most expensive one-year relief pitchers:
Cody Allen, Angels, $8.5MM: Allen jumped right into the closer’s role for the Halos, but hasn’t bounced back as hoped. Instead, his struggles have deepened. Allen’s 4.80 ERA through 15 innings is actually rather deceptive. He is allowing a walk an inning along with 2.40 homers per nine. His average fastball velocity has fallen off by nearly two mph, with his swinging-strike rate dipping all the way down to 9.5%. Allen has turned in five-straight scoreless appearances, but has issued a free pass in every one of those outings.
Trevor Rosenthal, Nationals, $7MM: The issues are even deeper for Rosenthal, who is trying to find his way on the mound during an expansive rehab assignment. Despite showing ample arm strength, the occasionally wild reliever has completely lost the zone. In seven MLB appearances, Rosenthal recorded as many walks as outs (nine apiece), uncorked five wild pitches, and hit three batters. Needless to say, this investment has not turned out as hoped.
Greg Holland, Diamondbacks, $3.25MM: It has been a roller coaster ride in recent years for Holland, who reestablished himself late last year with the Nats but has still surprised with his strong early showing. Through 16 innings, he owns a 1.69 ERA with 12.4 K/9 and 5.6 BB/9 and has closed out eight games for the Snakes. There’s quite possibly some regression in store, with opposing hitters batting under .200 on balls in play, but Holland looks to be quite a nice value.
Brad Brach, Cubs, $3MM: Though he’s through 19 2/3 innings of 2.75 ERA pitching, there’s reason for concern with Brach’s opening to the year. He has not yet allowed a home run, which is both a feather in his cap and a sign of some good fortune. Worryingly, he has allowed 19 walks to go with his twenty strikeouts. He has also seen his swinging-strike rate drop to 10.1% and his chase rate drop to 25.7% — both well below his career mean. Brach isn’t having trouble putting the ball in the zone when he wants to, as he carries a 64.7% first-strike rate, but it seems opposing hitters may be seeing him better than they have in the past.
Jake Diekman, Royals, $2.75MM: Walks have always been a big part of Diekman’s game, so it’s not surprising to see him dishing them at over four per nine innings. But he’s also getting lots of strikeouts. To this point, Diekman carries a 24.4% K%-BB%, the best mark of his career, on a personal-high 15.4% swinging-strike rate. Ramped-up slider usage is paying dividends. Diekman carries a 3.15 ERA through twenty frames and is looking like a nice trade deadline chip.
Shawn Kelley, Rangers, $2.75MM: This signing is paying dividends, as the 35-year-old carries a 1.80 ERA in 15 frames. He has regained some lost velocity and issued just one walk on the year. That said, there are some areas of concern. Home runs remain a problem (1.80 per nine). Kelley is only generating swings and misses at about 2/3 of his former capacity. And the .189 BABIP-against and 100% strand rate he’s carrying are bound to rise.
Oliver Perez, Indians, $2.5MM: He isn’t getting any younger, but Perez has found new baseball life in Cleveland. He hasn’t been quite as excellent this year as he was in a bounceback 2018, but the 38-year-old has still maintained an excellent combination of 13.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 to open the new year. He has actually raised his swinging-strike rate yet further to a lofty 16.7%. The club is using him judiciously, with short outings focused mostly on lefty batters, but is getting what it bargained for.
David Phelps, Blue Jays, $2.5MM: The Jays knew they’d have to nurse Phelps back to health before getting him on the field, as he underwent Tommy John surgery just before the start of the 2018 season. He has yet to launch a rehab assignment, and it has been a while since we’ve seen a meaningful update on his status, but there’s no indication that he won’t be ready to go at some point in the relatively near future. That’s just what the Toronto organization needs Phelps to do if it is to utilize him as a summer trade chip.
Sergio Romo, Marlins, $2.5MM: Another potential trade candidate with an asterisk, the veteran has struggled to begin the year for Miami. He’s carrying a 5.06 ERA in 16 innings, with 9.6 K/9 but also an uncharacteristic 5.6 BB/9 and 1.69 HR/9. Interestingly, the hurler who once leaned on his slider more than anyone has dropped its usage below 50% for the first time in a long time even as the rest of the game increasingly leans on that pitch. Romo has increasingly gone to a change-up. He’s getting lots of chases out of the zone (39.4%) and a solid volume of swinging strikes (13.7%) but has obviously produced less-than-inspiring overall results. Whether Romo can tune up his pitch mix and return to his longstanding effectiveness remains to be seen.
Adam Warren, Padres, $2.5MM: It made eminent sense for the Friars to nab Warren after spending big on Manny Machado, but he hasn’t been in great form early. True, his 3.54 ERA through 20 1/3 frames is just fine. But Warren is giving up way too many walks (4.9 per nine) and home runs (2.66 per nine). He’s getting by on unsustainable BABIP-against (.160) and strand rate (100%) figures.