Gotta have a top closer! You shouldn’t pay for saves! Deep relief units are cost-efficient! The prevailing sentiment regarding relief pitching has been near as volatile as relief pitchers themselves.
Did you see how the Rays used all those arms to make it into the postseason?! The Nats won the World Series with that bullpen?! The Yankees had a really good, really expensive group of relief hurlers; the Indians had a really good, mostly cheap unit.
Let’s just be honest with ourselves: there’s no single right way to compile a roster and no single, lasting trend in this arena. There are more hard-throwing, talented young arms in the game than ever before. But the craft of pitching is only getting tougher to master. More and better arms, as durable and versatile as possible, in as cost-efficient a manner as possible. That’s what teams are pursuing, first and foremost.
With long flies leaving the yard with startling frequency last year, many organizations were left with odious results from their relief units. The Braves have already acted decisively in favor of veteran hurlers rather than toolsy youngsters. The Yanks doubled down on premier relief ace Aroldis Chapman. Everyone else is left to grab what they can from a free agent and trade market that is short on especially interesting arms.
Could the supply/demand imbalance help boost the earnings for the top-of-class hurlers that remain and the trade returns for the teams with the best-available targets … or will teams stick to their valuations and hope for the best? Will some marginal hurlers end up with surprisingly solid earnings … or are we just going to see a huge array of minor-league signings and camp battles?
That remains to be seen. But these are the players who are now being considered and negotiated over:
Top Available Arms
Did I mention a lack of supply? Ken Giles of the Blue Jays is perhaps the only capital-C Closer that seems likely to remain available at this point in time. He has had his stumbles over the years and had a health blip in 2019, but otherwise turned in excellent results with the peripherals to match and seems an obvious trade candidate with just one season of arbitration control remaining.
There are some major wild cards here. While the Padres want to win in 2020, they’ll have to at least consider scenarios involving Kirby Yates in his walk year. He was exceptionally good last year, completing a surprise San Diego emergence that was reminiscent of former Friars closer Brad Hand … who is himself a conceivable (but by no means certain) trade candidate this winter. We haven’t heard talk of the Indians putting him on the auction block, but it can’t be ruled out with two seasons of control remaining.
Otherwise, Drew Pomeranz may be the most interesting hurler to watch. He and the Brewers seemed to find a formula that worked, as he morphed into Josh Hader Jr. down the stretch. If there’s anyone with the potential to really surprise in earnings, it’s probably DrewPom. Teams that believe he can remain as effective as he was in Milwaukee may see him as a multi-inning monster. It’s hard to get quite as excited at the sheer upside when it comes to free agent Will Harris. He is a durable, high-quality setup man but is already 35 years of age. We predicted this profile to be worth slightly more on the open market than that of Pomeranz, though Harris’s range of reasonably expected contractual outcomes falls in a tighter band.
Second Tier Relievers
Let’s start with free agency, which has a large volume of useful but not great pitchers. Several recent Cubs hurlers warrant consideration here, led by Steve Cishek. Long-time setup man Pedro Strop is something of a bounceback candidate. Brandon Kintzler showed there’s still gas left in the tank after finishing rough in 2018. Though he was dumped in the middle of the season by the Cubbies, Brad Brach had a solid late showing with the Mets. Much like Harris, now-former Astros hurler Joe Smith remains effective into his mid-thirties. There are a few others from the Chicago and Houston ranks to be considered here as well: Collin McHugh, David Phelps, and Hector Rondon (who has pitched for both organizations in recent years).
Daniel Hudson was effective in 2019 and came up big in key moments for the Nationals. He’s a candidate for a solid two-year pact. And how about a pair of former Nats stalwarts? Craig Stammen and Tyler Clippard are both coming off of strong seasons and have reestablished themselves after some tough years. Nats nemesis Sergio Romo is still flinging unhittable sliders and finished with a particularly strong stretch for the Twins.
The market for lefties is rough. Jake Diekman is probably the top option after Pomeranz. The 32-year-old didn’t impress in the earned run department and continues to have big problems with command, but he has a big arm that produces lots of strikeouts. Francisco Liriano, Jerry Blevins, and Derek Holland are arguably the top alternative southpaws.
So … trade market to the rescue? Meh. Volatile Pirates setup man Keone Kela arguably has a closer-worthy ceiling but has struggled with consistency and off-field issues. MLBTR projects him to earn $3.4MM in his final season of arbitration eligibility, so he’s a one-year rental shot. The Marlins have some arms that could draw interest, with Jose Urena and Jarlin Garcia the easiest to imagine moving. Joe Jimenez of the Tigers has reportedly drawn pursuers even though he hasn’t quite turned the corner. Fellow high-K hurler Mychal Givens of the Orioles also had hiccups last year. It’s always possible that other names will be discussed, and no doubt some will change hands, but as things stand it’s tough to identify obvious candidates to be moved.
If you’re looking to throw down a dunk off a rebound, Dellin Betances is the top target. The long-excellent Yankees hurler had an agonizing season, making it all the way back from shoulder and lat issues only to blow out his Achilles tendon in his first appearance in the majors.
Otherwise, Blake Treinen is an intriguing target. He’s still under control with the Athletics, who are likely trying to see if they can find a taker in trade before the non-tender deadline. Treinen was a monster in 2018 but reverted to his frustrating form with the Nationals last year and ended up being shut down after experiencing rotator cuff and back problems.
Rehabbing southpaw Tony Cingrani has done some interesting things in recent campaigns and could be of particular interest given the dearth of good lefties. Arodys Vizcaino will hope to be ready for a full 2020 campaign after missing all of 2019 due to shoulder surgery. Can Brandon Morrow make it back from his long layoff? That remains to be seen, but if he can show he’s throwing well he’ll surely draw interest. Sam Dyson will also be looking to return from a shoulder procedure, but likely not until the 2021 campaign. He’s a possible candidate for a rehab-and-return type of contract. A pair of former Phillies relievers, venerable veteran Pat Neshek and younger hurler Edubray Ramos, are also injury recovery targets.
There are also a host of other notable names looking to bounce back from some combination of performance and injury woes. Jeremy Jeffress is a notable possibility. Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, and Carl Edwards Jr. still have interesting arms but are utterly speculative at this point. Veterans including Cody Allen and Luke Gregerson will be available and could always recapture some glory.
There’s a reasonable number of other hurlers that could garner consideration for guaranteed contracts or high-priority non-roster deals this winter. Top among them, in my book: Josh Tomlin, Fernando Rodney, Anthony Swarzak, Greg Holland, Jared Hughes, Cory Gearrin, and Yoshihisa Hirano. Though he’ll likely draw consideration as a starter, Andrew Cashner is also an interesting possible target.
Want a full rundown? Check out MLBTR’s list of 2019-20 free agents.
Does anyone have any info on the contest leaderboard?
I would like to know too. I even emailed them about it and haven’t received a response.
the leaderboard will likely be out sometime in December
You don’t need to wait until December I have an update.
Last Place – AZBraves20
I like Greg Holland, Cody Allen, Jeremy Jeffress, Brad Bach & Tyler Cippard. I believe the Phillies are planning to convert Vince Velasquez into a closer and all 5 of the guys I just mentioned could be viable “Plan B’s” if that experiment fails, or be reliable 7th & 8th inning options. Relievers are so hard to predict from year to year, so why not cast a wide net and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with one or two of them? The Phillies could sign all 5 of the guys I just mentioned for about 12mil plus incentives. Why not sign as many as possible and see what ya got in the spring? Low risk moves.
Andrew Cashner & Derek Holland could be nice multi-inning middle releivers.
All of those guys except Jeffress and maybe clippard can’t throw strikes. Holland is awful and Cody Allen can’t seem to find his game. They aren’t the worst guys possible but I personally don’t like this options.
They would all reasonably accept minor league contracts or 2-3mil 1 year deals. What’s the risk? If 2 out of the 5 regain their old form it’s a win.
My buddy played golf with Jeremy Jeffries a couple of weeks ago in Scottsdale. Apparently he hits it 300 yards on the fly.
Interesting article Jeff!
Solid indeed. The list in my view is so underwhelming that Pomerania is the best name on that list in that if he found his niche last year, a lefty in the pen that can actually get someone out! The problem his if he gets an exclamation point for last year, three are needed for his past inconsistencies and injury history!!! Depending on the cost though, he’s the only one I’d seriously be looking at as I’ve never been a Giles big game fan.
*Pomeranz. He’s done nothing to deserve a frenzy nickname.
*Hudson too. Missed him in the article. Thanks jvent.
stan lee the manly
Pomerania is a pretty dope nickname though, here’s to hoping it sticks.
When he gets lit up he can be renamed Pomsprings.
Only if he comes back to Boston on a friendly deal and either becomes the stop’m closer or that bulldog number one ace that allows Sale and others to rest more. Not going to happen…
Realistically, I can see the Dodgers taking a flyer on him.
Mets should go after Hudson,Smith and Pomeranz
Grandal just signed to 4 year deal with White Sox
This is the post you wanted to get credit for since it came before the MLBTR article? MLBTR actually had to take the time to write an article. This is just one sentence. No wonder thier’s took a few minutes longer.
Hoping the Dodgers would be willing to trade Jansen and/or Baez for at least a bag of rocks.
Please Twins re-sign Sergio Romo!!!
Seeing these names on the market makes the Braves early moves look more meaningful. We’re likely to see teams having to overpay for mediocrity.
Braves BP looks good. Let’s see what happens
Pomz is going to get a lot of cash. My bet is the Dodgers. They need him. I hope other teams are taking note and looking at FA failed starters they could potentially convert to the pen.
What an underwhelming group.
Depends on you take on Betances. If he comes back to 100% and pitches like he has in the past, some team is getting a stud. If he doesn’t come all the way back, some team is going to be very disappointed.
Even if Betances returns to form this is largely an underwhelming group of arms. Compared to last year when there was your big names. Kimbrel, Miller, Britton, Ottavino, D-Rob, Familia etc.
Obviously this class could end up more productive given the extreme volatility of relievers. But as far as guys coming off big seasons this a relatively thin class.
A guy coming off an injury plagued season like Betances probably wouldn’t have done so well in last years class but given the lack of supply this year he ought to do okay.
fair enough. I wasn’t taking the entirety into consideration.
what a bunch of gascans
I think Jake McGee would be a great pick up for someone. Get him out of Colorado.
Personally I don’t think there’s any chance the 35 year old RH will Harris gets more cash than Pomeranz. Left handed and lethal out of the pen last year. Someone’s going to give him a lot of money. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get close to the Will Smith deal. Given how weak the supply is this year I believe Smith might’ve been able to do a little bit better had he waited it out. Can’t fault him for getting the guarantee with his hometown team but I believe Pomeranz is probably getting something similar in the 3/36-39 range.
Which seems like a lot of cash for a guy with a limited bullpen track record but this guy was not that long ago a very good SP. I think there’s enough data out on the guy to see he’s a multi-inning weapon from the left side. That’s hard to find.
Wouldn’t Pomeranz be Josh Hader Sr?
Edwin Diaz should at least get a mention, even if he’s unlikely. Yes, BVW said he isn’t moving him. And he probably won’t because he’d be selling low.
But if someone believes last year was an aberration or that he’s just not built for NY and they offered the Mets 80 cents on the dollar they paid- I’d bet they’d move him.
Probably expect more trades in the offseason and into the season when it comes to relievers. And expect more young bullpen arms to come up and more young starters who are struggling in the minors to be tried out in relief.
The list in the ‘Bounceback’ category has an incredible amount of talent and great years behind them. I’d imagine rebuilding teams will take stock in this category.