Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News reports that Billy Wagner is expected to return from the disabled list and rejoin the Mets’ bullpen Sunday, assuming that his final minor-league rehab outing goes smoothly Friday at high Single-A. Wagner is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last September and has thrown five scoreless innings with six strikeouts and zero walks during his rehab stint.
Wagner is making $10.5 million this season, but because the Mets are all but guaranteed to buy out the final year of his contract for $1 million rather than exercise their $8 million team option for 2010 the 38-year-old will likely be auditioning for a new team. In fact, there’s some speculation that the Mets could look to pass Wagner through waivers and trade him before the end of the month.
While in Washington, D.C. last month for the annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention, my dorks friends and I had a debate about the greatest left-handed relief pitcher in baseball history while eating sushi one afternoon. Lots of names were tossed into the mix and compelling cases were made for a handful of guys, but at the end of the day the consensus was that Wagner reigns supreme.
If that strikes you as unlikely you’re not alone, but it turns out that the vast majority of elite relievers throughout baseball history are right-handed, whether because of random chance, platoon effects, or teams being less likely to convert an effective southpaw to the bullpen. Whatever the case, here are the top adjusted ERA+ marks from left-handers who totaled at least 600 career innings and worked primarily as relievers:
BILLY WAGNER 818 180
John Franco 1246 137
John Hiller 1242 134
Steve Howe 606 129
Sparky Lyle 1390 127
Jesse Orosco 1295 125
Gary Lavelle 1085 125
Steve Kline 682 124
Ron Perranoski 1175 123
Randy Myers 885 122
No one even comes close to Wagner on a per-inning basis, but perhaps a decent argument could be made for guys like John Franco, John Hiller, Sparky Lyle, and Jesse Orosco based on their throwing significantly more innings. Still, it would be tough not to pick Wagner, who checks in with a 180 ERA+ while the rest of the top 10 are bunched between 122 and 137, ranks sixth all-time in saves, and has six All-Star appearances. Now we’ll see if he can add to that resume.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.
Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.
The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.
Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.
While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.
Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.
After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.
It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.
Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.
LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.
Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.