In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, third basemen, center fielders, corner outfielders, and lefty relievers who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Now we’re on to the right-handed relievers (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).
Top of the Class
All four of these hurlers ranked in the top-ten leaguewide in fWAR in 2019. But can they all repeat that showing in their platform seasons?
- Ken Giles (30): There have been some ups and downs, to say the least, but Giles was a beast again in 2019. He worked through some arm issues and spun 53 frames of 1.87 ERA ball with 14.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. And he’s younger than the other major options.
- Liam Hendriks (32): Dropped from the MLB roster in 2019, Hendriks emerged as … arguably the game’s best reliever last year. He was not only exceptionally dominant but did it over a hefty 83-inning workload.
- Brandon Workman (32): Ramping up his curveball usage sure did work out. Workman broke out with a 1.88 ERA in 71 2/3 innings. While walks (5.7 per nine) pose a concern, he only allowed one home run all season long, generated a 51.1% groundball rate, and produced 13.1 K/9 despite a less-than-astronomical 12.7% swinging-strike rate.
- Kirby Yates (34): Think some of those above numbers popped? How about these: 1.19 ERA, 15.0 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 47.9% groundball rate, 0.30 HR/9. Yates was an animal in 2019 and has a few seasons of proof that he is very hard to square up — if you can make contact at all. He’s the odds-on favorite to be the top free agent target (though Giles arguably has the most earning upside given his age).
It’s possible any or all of these three could be big-time open-market targets … but each has much to prove in 2020.
- Dellin Betances (33): If he bounces back to his pre-injury form, Betances will take a $3MM buyout from the Mets and head back to free agency in search of the major deal he had hoped to pursue the last time. His ceiling on the mound is about as high as any reliever in baseball.
- Blake Treinen (33): The stuff is absolutely monstrous and Treinen made it play in a huge 2018 season. But he stepped back last year and has had a lot of trouble with consistency over time. The Dodgers placed a pretty big bet on his ability to put it all back together.
- Keone Kela (28): He has consistently produced double-digit K/9 rates and ran up a 2.12 ERA in 29 2/3 innings last year. There’s a clear path to ninth-inning responsibilities in Pittsburgh and Kela is pretty young. Could he fully emerge in 2020?
But are the certifications out of date? All of the players listed in this section have more than one hundred career saves, though odds are most won’t be considered first-option closers in the 2020-21 offseason.
- Alex Colome (32): You can’t argue with thirty saves and 61 innings of 2.80 ERA ball. But Colome’s 2019 peripherals (8.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 45.2% groundball rate) weren’t nearly as exciting.
- Wade Davis (35): Davis is looking to bounce back after an absolutely brutal 2019 season. His $15MM mutual option would convert to a player option if he finishes thirty games … so the Rockies might be wise to utilize recently extended hurler Scott Oberg in the 9th (if they weren’t already so inclined).
- Mark Melancon (36): He threw well enough to get the value-focused Braves to take over the back end of his hefty free agent contract, so obviously the veteran still has some gas in the tank. He was tough to take deep and ran up a big 62.1% groundball rate last year while averaging better than a strikeout per nine.
- David Robertson (36): Still working back from Tommy John surgery, Robertson is likely to be sent back to the open market with a $2MM buyout rather than playing on a $12MM club option for the Phillies. Robertson has been very good for a very long time, with a lifetime 2.90 ERA in 663 2/3 innings.
- Steve Cishek (35): Though his days as a ninth-inning stalwart are probably over, Cishek is still a quality hurler and the experience doesn’t hurt. He could end up remaining with the White Sox ($6.75MM club option, $750K buyout) if he turns in a strong campaign.
- Sergio Romo (38): Here’s another established vet who could remain with his current team (Twins) via club option ($5MM; $250K buyout).
- Joakim Soria (37): The results weren’t there in 2019, but Soria still ran up 10.3 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. He still throws as hard as ever and generated swinging-strikes at a rate (13.1%) above his career average.
- Fernando Rodney (44): Are you going to bet against Rodney launching arrows into his mid-forties? I didn’t think so.
Established Setup Options
- Pedro Baez (33): He has been a steady presence for the Dodgers, spinning 339 innings of 3.03 ERA ball since the start of the 2014 season.
- Jesse Chavez (37): Things didn’t go well last year but Chavez will have a chance to bounce back in the final season of his deal with the Rangers.
- Tyler Clippard (36): Clipp seemed on the decline before turning things back on. He was good for 62 innings of 2.90 ERA ball last year.
- Chris Devenski (30): He’ll need to tamp down on the long balls (1.7 per nine in each of the past two seasons) in order to rediscover his early-career, sub-3.00 ERA form.
- Shane Greene (32): Though he blossomed as a closer early in 2019, Greene struggled in the second half with the Braves and lost the ninth to Melancon. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
- Kelvin Herrera (31): If he can rediscover his form the White Sox could pick up a $10MM club/vesting option rather than paying a $1MM buyout, but Herrera has a long ways to go after a brutal 2019.
- Yoshihisa Hirano (37): Though he ramped up his strikeout rate, Hirano went from a 2.44 ERA debut to an ugly 4.75 ERA mark in 2019. If he can return to something like his 2018 results, the veteran Japanese hurler could have another year or two in the majors.
- Jeremy Jeffress (33): The roller coaster has continued, as Jeffress went from a dream 2018 showing (1.29 ERA) to a rough 2019 (5.02 ERA).
- Brandon Kintzler (36): The sinkerballer recovered from a brutal 2018 second half. If he’s able to carry forward the good work of last season, he’ll be a pretty easy pick up at a $4MM club option ($250K buyout).
- Trevor May (31): There’s some possible upside potential here, as May has shown real strikeout capabilities since returning from Tommy John surgery and ramped up to a career-high 95.9 mph average fastball last year.
- Brad Peacock (33): The useful swingman wasn’t at his best in 2019 but could end up featuring as an appealing volume inning contributor.
- Yusmeiro Petit (36): He’s aging like a fine wine, with a 2.83 ERA in 267 1/3 innings since the start of his age-32 season.
- David Phelps (34): 2019 was about getting back to full health after a Tommy John layoff. Phelps is controlled by a $4.5MM club option ($250K buyout).
- Hector Rondon (33): Another veteran late-inning stalwart who can be controlled at a pretty low price ($4MM club option, $500K buyout), Rondon’s strikeout rate fell off quite a bit last year but he still managed a 3.71 ERA.
- Bryan Shaw (33): After two brutal seasons, there’s almost no chance the Rockies are picking up his $9MM club/vesting option rather than paying a $2MM buyout. Shaw had experienced nothing but success before landing in Colorado, so perhaps there’s a chance he rediscovers it.
- Pedro Strop (36): The long-time workhorse ran into hard times in 2019 but had delivered year after year of sub-3.00 ERA ball for the Cubs before that.