Free Agency Preview: Relievers

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Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
Free Agency Preview – Shortstop
Free Agency Preview – Outfield
Free Agency Preview – Starting pitchers
This is the last in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here’s a look at the relievers.
Jose Valverde (Astros) – Regardless of whether he’s actually the best option going forward, Valverde will be viewed as the one big-time closer available in free agency this winter. The 32-year-old led the NL in saves in both 2007 and ’08, and while he did miss a chunk of last season, it wasn’t with an arm problem and he finished with a 2.33 ERA in 54 innings. He’d seem to be the only free agent reliever with a chance of landing a four-year deal. Free of arm woes since the first month of 2005, he’s about as good of a bet as Francisco Cordero was when he got $46 million from the Reds two years ago. The Braves would seem to be the favorites to land him, particularly if they can move Derek Lowe in the near future. Prediction: Braves – three years, $30 million
Rafael Soriano (Braves) – By allowing just one run in his final eight appearances, Soriano was able to take a sub-3.00 ERA with him into free agency. 2008 was a lost season for him, but he combined to throw 147 2/3 innings between 2007 and ’09 and he ended his three-year stint in Atlanta with a 2.95 ERA and a 188/51 K/BB ratio. That should make him one of the top closing options this winter, though the team that signs him will want to have ample protection behind him. He’s made 60 appearances just twice in his seven seasons as a major league reliever. Prediction: Rays – two years, $14 million
Mike Gonzalez (Braves) – While Soriano is almost certainly a goner, Gonzalez is likely to get an arbitration offer to remain in Atlanta. Still, indications are that both will depart. The Braves did their best to use both up last season, as they combined for 157 appearances. Gonzalez, whose previous high for innings pitched in a season was 54, worked in 80 games and threw 74 1/3 innings, amassing a 2.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in the process. He lost closing duties due to some poorly timed blown saves, but he still has a pretty good history in that role and there should be several teams interested in using him there. He could also receive offers from the Yankees and Red Sox to work as a setup man, but I doubt he’ll pass up the chance to close. Prediction: Astros – three years, $18 million
Billy Wagner (Red Sox) – Judging by the way he looked after returning from Tommy John surgery last season, there’s a definite case to be made for Wagner as the top one-year option from the available closers. The 38-year-old lefty allowed eight hits, walked eight and struck out 26 in 15 2/3 innings for the Mets and Red Sox. The big downside here is that Wagner is expected to receive an arbitration offer, and as a Type A free agent, he’ll cost the team that signs him a draft pick. That figures to scare off the Rays, who could have really used him otherwise. At least the Nationals and Orioles — the two teams closest to Wagner’s home in Virginia — would only have to surrender a second-round pick to sign him. Prediction: Orioles – one year, $7.5 million
Fernando Rodney (Tigers) – The profile hardly screams for a multiyear deal: Rodney turns 33 in March, he posted a 4.40 ERA last season and his career ERA is 4.28. Still, the fact is that, given an extended chance for the first time, he was a brilliant closer last season, converting 37 of 38 save chances. He also has very legitimate stuff, as he throws 94-97 mph and possesses one of the game’s better changeups. It certainly makes him an interesting case. The Tigers will likely make a strong effort to re-sign him, and the Phillies appear to have identified as their top choice to serve as a setup man for Brad Lidge. The Braves and Astros could also look at him for their ninth-inning openings. Prediction: Tigers – three years, $15 million
Octavio Dotel (White Sox) – Dotel has turned in back-to-back healthy seasons since coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he continues to post excellent strikeout numbers. Still, he probably won’t be looked at as a closer after struggling in that role at times early on in his career. A Type A free agent, he’d likely accept arbitration if the White Sox offered it, especially since the offer would limit his market. As a flyball pitcher, he’d be a better fit in a bigger ballpark. Prediction: Mets – two years, $10 million
LaTroy Hawkins (Astros) – No American League team figures to display much interest, but Hawkins has been an outstanding reliever for the Astros over the last year and a third, compiling a 1.71 ERA in 84 1/3 innings. He even filled in well when the Astros needed to replace Valverde last season. He turns 37 next month, but he should land a multiyear deal anyway. Prediction: Astros – two years, $9 million
Brandon Lyon (Tigers) – Lyon was originally expected to be the Tigers’ closer, but a brutal spring cost him the job and he struggled to a 6.89 ERA through mid-May. From then on, he had a 1.86 ERA and a 52/20 K/BB ratio in 63 innings. The showing will earn him consideration for closing jobs this winter, though with his modest strikeout rate, he’s always seemed like a better fit as a setup man. A return to the NL with the Phillies or Nationals could be a possibility. Prediction: Phillies – two years, $8 million
Takashi Saito (Red Sox) – The Red Sox never displayed a lot of faith in Saito as a setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, but at season’s end, he had a 2.43 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. His career mark stands at 2.01 in four major league seasons. Handled carefully, the soon-to-be 40-year-old should remain very effective. Since it’s unclear whether he’s still capable of pitching on back-to-back days, he makes more sense as a setup man than as a closer. Prediction: Diamondbacks – one year, $4 million
Chan Ho Park (Phillies) – Park certainly made himself some money in the postseason, opening eyes with his stuff even if he did finish with an unexceptional 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 innings. The 36-year-old had a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings out of the pen last season, compared to a 7.29 ERA in seven starts. The rotation, though, is where Park wants to be. He’ll have no shortage of suitors if he merely embraces the idea of serving as a setup man and middle reliever. Prediction: Phillies – one year, $4 million
J.J. Putz (Mets) – Putz has gone from a 1.38 ERA in 71 2/3 innings in 2007 to a 3.88 ERA in 46 1/3 innings in 2008 to a 5.22 ERA in 29 1/3 innings last season. Also, there are still questions about the condition of his elbow after he was diagnosed with a slight tear in his UCL in August. A heavily incentive-laden one-year deal would be appropriate, and it’s likely that he’ll want to sign with a team that would give him a chance to close. He’d seem to fit best with the Nationals or Marlins. Prediction: Nationals – one year, $2.5 million plus incentives
Rafael Betancourt (Rockies) – Betancourt stabilized the Rockies pen after being picked up from the Indians, amassing a 1.78 ERA in 25 1/3 innings. Still, the team declined to pick up his expensive $5.4 million option for 2010. It appears likely that the Rockies will instead offer him arbitration, and given his status as a Type A free agent, he may have little choice but to accept it. Prediction: Rockies – one-year, $4 million
Ryota Igarashi (Japan) – Igarashi will be the more heavily pursued of the two Japanese pitchers attempting to make the jump to MLB this winter. The 30-year-old right-hander had a 3.19 ERA and a 44/20 K/BB ratio in 64 innings out of the pen last season. He’s known for being one of Japan’s hardest throwers, but he doesn’t have a legitimate strikeout breaking ball, which could hold him back. He’d still be worth trying on a modest two-year deal. Prediction: Cubs – two years, $6 million
Kevin Gregg (Cubs) – In three years since moving to the National League, Gregg has struck out 216 and allowed just 174 hits. Unfortunately, subpar command and, particularly in 2009, a tendency to give up homers doomed him as a closer. That he also struggled as a setup man for Carlos Marmol late last season, surrendering 18 runs in 20 1/3 innings over the last two months, won’t help his case this winter. At least he’ll probably come cheap, something that could make him attractive to the Nationals, Tigers, Astros and Orioles. Prediction: Nationals – one year, $3.5 million
Kiko Calero (Marlins) – Calero had the best ERA of any reliever in this group last season, coming in at 1.95 in 60 innings. The league hit just .180 off him, and he struck out 69 in 60 innings. Calero, though, has an ugly injury history. The 60 innings were a new career high for him. Shoulder problems limited him to 45 1/3 innings between 2007 and ’08, and he had a 5.56 ERA over the course of the two seasons. Calero’s season was no fluke from a performance standpoint — he has one of the game’s better sliders — but he can only be trusted on a one-year deal. Prediction: Red Sox – one year, $3 million
Other free agents: Darren Oliver (Angels), Russ Springer (Rays), David Weathers (Brewers), Bob Howry (Giants), Guillermo Mota (Dodgers), Chad Bradford (Rays), Mark Hendrickson (Orioles), Joe Beimel (Rockies), Scott Eyre (Phillies), Hisanori Takahashi (Japan), Troy Percival (Rays), Danys Baez (Orioles), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Joaquin Benoit (Rangers), Fernando Cabrera (Red Sox), Chad Cordero (Mariners), Eric Gagne (FA), Miguel Batista (Mariners), Ron Mahay (Twins), Alan Embree (Rockies), Ron Villone (Nationals), Brian Shouse (Rays), Scott Schoeneweis (Diamondbacks), Jamey Wright (Royals), Joe Nelson (Rays), Jason Isringhausen (Rays), Justin Speier (FA), Jason Jennings (Rangers), Jason Grilli (Rangers), Josh Fogg (Rockies), Jesus Colome (Brewers), Brendan Donnelly (Marlins), Luis Ayala (Marlins), Matt Herges (Rockies), Eddie Guardado (Rangers), Luis Vizcaino (Indians), Horacio Ramirez (Nationals), Javier Lopez (Red Sox), Geoff Geary (Astros), Philip Humber (Twins), Logan Kensing (Nationals), Doug Waechter (Royals), R.A. Dickey (Twins), Tyler Walker (Phillies), Justin Miller (Giants), B.J. Ryan (FA), Roy Corcoran (Astros), Derrick Turnbow (Rangers), Jorge Julio (Rays), Juan Rincon (Rockies), Russ Ortiz (Rockies), Kip Wells (Reds), Oscar Villarreal (Royals), Elmer Dessens (Mets), Marcus McBeth (Red Sox), Tony Pena Jr. (Royals), Casey Fossum (Yankees), R.J. Swindle (Indians), Alfredo Simon (Orioles), Chris Britton (Padres), Steven Register (Phillies), Jimmy Gobble (White Sox), Glendon Rusch (Rockies), Ryan Speier (Rockies), Randy Messenger (Mariners), Yasuhiko Yabuta (Royals), Tomo Ohka (Indians), Vladimir Nunez (Braves), Chris Bootcheck (Pirates), Rudy Seanez (FA), Chad Fox (Cubs)
As a Type A free agent, Oliver could well accept arbitration from the Angels for the second year in a row. He’d earn about $4 million next year. … Ex-Rays Bradford, Percival and Isringhausen might all head into retirement this winter. Guardado is another expected to call it a career.
Trade candidates: Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Joakim Soria (Royals), Heath Bell (Padres), Huston Street (Rockies), Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Francisco Cordero (Reds – limited NTC), Matt Capps (Pirates), C.J. Wilson (Rangers), Matt Lindstrom (Marlins), Manny Delcarmen (Red Sox), Sean Marshall (Cubs), Carlos Villanueva (Brewers), Manny Corpas (Rockies), Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Brandon League (Blue Jays), Jared Burton (Reds), Jesse Crain (Twins), Jeremy Accardo (Blue Jays), Jesse Carlson (Blue Jays), Shawn Camp (Blue Jays), Chris Ray (Orioles), Renyel Pinto (Marlins), Bobby Seay (Tigers), Radhames Liz (Orioles), Brian Stokes (Mets), Jonathan Albaladejo (Yankees), Edwar Ramirez (Yankees), Seth McClung (Brewers), Manny Acosta (Braves), Josh Kinney (Cardinals), Cla Meredith (Orioles), Sean Green (Mets), Jason Bergmann (Nationals), Jeff Karstens (Pirates), Alex Hinshaw (Giants), Merkin Valdez (Giants), Santiago Casilla (Athletics), Stephen Marek (Braves), Luis Mendoza (Rangers)
Of the seven closers that start off this list, Jenks looks like the best bet to go. Unfortunately for the White Sox, there won’t be a large market for him given his likely $7 million salary and rising ERA. I still think it’s pretty unlikely, but there is the chance that the White Sox could non-tender him. … Capps has been shopped, but his trade value is well down from where it was a year ago. The Pirates might as well hold on to him and hope for the best. … Lindstrom is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and that means the Marlins are about to lose patience with him.
The Jays have some sorting out to do, so I’ve listed pretty much all of their relievers here. I think League and Accardo are the top candidates to go, but it’s possible the Jays will go get themselves a true closer and then make both Downs and Frasor available.

Non-tender candidates: Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Mike MacDougal (Nationals), Chad Gaudin (Yankees), Bobby Seay (Tigers), Brian Bruney (Yankees), Sergio Mitre (Yankees), Seth McClung (Brewers), Jeremy Accardo (Blue Jays), Jason Bergmann (Nationals), Saul Rivera (Nationals), Santiago Casilla (Athletics), Chris Sampson (Astros), John Bale (Royals), Roman Colon (Royals), Doug Slaten (Nationals), Taylor Tankersley (Marlins), Jose Veras (Indians), Jose Ascanio (Pirates), Yusmiero Petit (Mariners), Blaine Boyer (Diamondbacks), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Jack Taschner (Phillies), Jeff Bennett (Rays), Brian Bass (Orioles), Mark Worrell (Padres), Bobby Keppel (Twins), Nelson Figueroa (Mets), Brian Wolfe (Blue Jays), Dale Thayer (Rays), Clay Rapada (Tigers), Willie Eyre (Rangers), Doug Mathis (Rangers), Yorman Bazardo (Astros), Boone Logan (Braves), Lance Broadway (Mets), Jay Marshall (Athletics), Alberto Castillo (Orioles), Randy Williams (White Sox), Dick Hayhurst (Blue Jays), Dusty Hughes (Royals), Victor Marte (Royals), Sean Henn (Blue Jays), Zack Segovia (Nationals), Arturo Lopez (Mets)
It sounds like the Nationals are leaning towards keeping MacDougal, even though he’ll probably cost about $3 million in arbitration. He did a fine job as their closer last season, converting 20 of his 21 save chances, but he had a 1.52 WHIP and a 31/31 K/BB ratio in 50 innings. … The Yankees have to decide whether it’s worth paying Gaudin $2.5 million, Bruney $1.5 million and Mitre $800,000. They can afford them all, but Gaudin is the only one of the three clearly worthy of a roster spot.
2010-11 free agents: Mariano Rivera (Yankees), Huston Street (Rockies), Brian Fuentes (Angels)*, Kerry Wood (Indians)*, Trevor Hoffman (Brewers)*, Chad Qualls (Diamondbacks), Frank Francisco (Rangers), Matt Thornton (White Sox)*, Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Koji Uehara (Orioles), Jeremy Affeldt (Giants), Matt Guerrier (Twins), Grant Balfour (Rays), Pedro Feliciano (Mets), J.C. Romero (Phillies)*, Dan Wheeler (Rays)*, Chad Durbin (Phillies), Jon Rauch (Twins), Juan Cruz (Royals)*, Mike MacDougal (Nationals), Scot Shields (Angels), Jesse Crain (Twins), Aaron Heilman (Diamondbacks), Dennys Reyes (Cardinals), Trever Miller (Cardinals)*, Arthur Rhodes (Reds), Kyle Farnsworth (Royals)*, Seth McClung (Brewers), David Riske (Brewers)*, Neal Cotts (Cubs), Randy Choate (Rays), Mike Lincoln (Reds), Randy Flores (Rockies)
2011 options: Fuentes – $9 million (vests w/55 games finished in 2010), Wood – $11 million (vests w/55 games finished in 2010), Hoffman $7 million-$8.5 million ($500,000-$1 million buyout), Thornton – $3 million ($250,000 buyout), Romero – $4.5 million ($250,000 buyout), Wheeler – $4 million ($1 million buyout), Cruz – $4 million ($500,000 buyout), Miller – $2 million (vests w/45 games in 2010), Farnsworth – $5.25 million ($500,000 buyout), Riske – $4.75 million ($250,000 buyout)
2011-12 free agents: Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Jonathan Broxton (Dodgers), Francisco Rodriguez (Mets)*, Joe Nathan (Twins)*, Francisco Cordero (Reds)*, Heath Bell (Padres), Brad Lidge (Phillies)*, Bobby Jenks (White Sox), Ryan Madson (Phillies), George Sherrill (Dodgers), C.J. Wilson (Rangers), Michael Wuertz (Athletics), Chris Ray (Orioles), Ryan Franklin (Cardinals), Joel Zumaya (Tigers), Scott Linebrink (White Sox), Damaso Marte (Yankees)*, John Grabow (Cubs), Chad Gaudin (Yankees), Brian Tallet (Blue Jays), Todd Coffey (Brewers), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Tim Byrdak (Astros), Lance Cormier (Rays), Shawn Camp (Blue Jays), John Bale (Royals), Tyler Walker (Phillies), Matt Belisle (Rockies)
2012 options: Rodriguez – $17.5 million ($3.5 million buyout), Nathan – $12.5 million ($2 million buyout), Cordero – $12 million ($1 million buyout), Lidge – $12.5 million ($1.5 million buyout), Marte – $4 million ($250,000 buyout)

Mark McGwire to become the Padres bench coach

Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach Mark McGwire roams the field during practice for the National League baseball championship series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in St. Louis. The Dodgers are scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The other day Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres were in discussions with former Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire about their bench coach job. Today Jon Heyman reports that the deal is done and will soon be announced.

McGwire has been the hitting coach for Los Angeles for the past three seasons. When his contract was not renewed following the end of 2015 he was rumored to be up for the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach job. He likely view staying in Southern California to be a plus, as he makes his home in Irvine, which is around 90 miles from Petco Park. That’s a long commute, but Mac can afford the gas, I guess.

How to talk to your family about the designated hitter at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner

While political topics are normally the subject of awkward conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table, hardcore baseball fans know that it can be just as awkward to talk about the game with relatives.

They don’t know baseball as well as you do — not by a long shot — but for some reason everyone thinks they have the God-given right not only to offer their baseball opinions but to demand acknowledgement that those opinions are correct. Baseball may be dying, you guys, but it’s vestigial status as our National Pastime makes everyone think they’re an expert by simple virtue of being an American. It’s maddening.

I can’t tell you how to keep your family away from sensitive topics, but here are brief answers to some frequently asked questions about the state of the game, and how you can defuse combustible conversations:

Will the National League adopt the designated hitter?

Despite the fact that the DH has been around four 43 seasons, your relatives — even those far younger than 43 — will loudly proclaim it to be a new-fangled abomination as they pass the sweet potatoes. While the best way to avoid conflict here is to say something like “I think the differences between the leagues are special and should be preserved” and try to quickly move on to something else, we don’t progress as a civilization by indulging foolishness in the name of peace. Tell your relatives that pitchers batting is dumb and that the DH should be universal. And then tell them to get their own sweet potatoes. You’re trying to eat here for cryin’ out loud.

Where will the big free agents go? Don’t the Yankees spend all of their big money and buy championships anyway?

My god, your uncle/cousin/sister’s boyfriend who probably shouldn’t be piping up about ANYTHING right now given that none of you really like him and it’s not going to last anyway is out of touch when it comes to such things. Tell them that the Yankees haven’t won jack since the first year of Obama’s first term and that even when they were winning the World Series all the time they did so on the back of homegrown talent, savvily-developed. Indeed, they STOPPED winning championships once they went huge on free agency and jacked up payroll and, despite the fact that they still owe a lot of old guys money, they are back to developing talent again and are way less likely to spend stupid money in free agency than they used to be. Careful here, though: people have strong feelings about the Yankees regardless of their ignorance and will likely fight back on this point. Maybe it’s safer just to discuss Obama. Here’s an idea to that end: how — as your drunk uncle claims — can Obama simultaneously be the least effective president ever AND a total dictator? Maybe Obama is one of those two things, but my drunk uncle has never given me a satisfactory answer to how he can be both.

Why doesn’t baseball have a salary cap? The players make too much money.

The idea of a salary cap in baseball is dead. Deader than vaudeville. It blew up the game in 1994-95, and the owners blinked rather than try it again in 2002.  Since then the money has been flowing, competitive balance has been better than most people will admit, and the owners seem to have very little desire to fight that fight again.  It’s not going to happen. Yet, for some reason — likely the Football Industrial Complex’s propaganda machine — every sports dilettante thinks that baseball not only needs a salary cap but that it’s actually something that could happen, even though it isn’t.

Here some ju-jitsu is in order. Rather than bog things down with facts which show that there is no need for a salary cap, turn the question around on them and ask them when the billionaires who own baseball teams will accept a cap on how much they should earn for their “labor.” When they spout off about how owners built the business themselves and are entitled to whatever they can get, ask them which of the current owners, who form a veritable Who’s-Who of Paper Movers, Genetic Lottery Winners and Men Who Were Born on Third Base Yet Think They Hit a Triple, built a dang thing. Peter Angelos, maybe. Just don’t tell them that he’s a rich plaintiff’s lawyer who had the union’s back during the 1994-95 strike.

What’s wrong with young players today? Why don’t they act professionally and respect the game? 

By this time your uncle may be so drunk on the Beaujolais Nouveau that he may actually slip and say “Latin players” instead of “young players,” and that’s assuming he’s polite enough to use words like “Latin” to refer to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America. If so, skip the lecture about how arguments regarding baseball decorum and “playing the game the right way” are really just proxies for cultural anxiety and creeping xenophobia and go directly to the inevitable conversation about immigration, refugees and Donald Trump. It’ll save you time and make everyone angrier way, way faster. And this is a wonderful thing.

Or, at least it is for me. I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and the quicker people get to open warfare the quicker I can kick everyone out, bringing some peace and quiet back to my house. Plus: more pie for me.


(with both thanks and apologies to Brendan Nyhan of the New York Times)

Jerry Dipoto refutes the notion that Robinson Cano is unhappy

Robinson Cano

Yesterday John Harper of the Daily News reported that, according to a friend of Robinson Cano‘s, Cano is unhappy in Seattle and would like to go back to New York. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto responded to that report, saying that it’s totally false based on his conversations with Cano and his agent:

“[Cano’s agent] reached out to let me know that did not come from Robbie and that’s not at all reflective of how he felt,” said Dipoto, who replaced former GM Jack Zduriencik two months ago. “Shortly after the season ended, I sat down with Robinson in my office for two hours and we had a great talk and I think we left with a very clear understanding of who one another might be.

There are official lines and things one says to one’s friends. Then again, there are also friends who know things and “friends” who assume things thought by others and then talk to newspapers about it too. Where all of this falls on the truth/knowledge spectrum is something none of us can ever know.

What can be known for sure is that (a) Cano had a rough season from both a health and baseball perspective; (b) Cano is a professional who knows that there is zero upside to communicating displeasure with one’s current team to the press, either directly or through surrogates; and (c) when one is productive and one’s team is winning, one feels very differently about life than if one is not productive and not winning.

In short: there could very well be truth from both sides of this little happening.

Mariners looking to trade Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo

Seattle acquired Mark Trumbo from Arizona in June, but that was the Mariners’ old front office regime and new general manager Jerry Dipoto is remaking the roster. And he already traded away Trumbo once, back when he was the Angels’ general manager.

Jerry Crasnick of reports that “several rival executives said they expect” the Mariners to trade Trumbo, who is due to make around $9 million in 2016 via arbitration before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Trumbo has huge power, but he swings at everything and is a negative defensively as a corner outfielder/first baseman. He’s a career .250 hitter with a lowly .299 on-base percentage and modest .758 OPS thanks to averaging 160 strikeouts and 40 walks per 160 games.

It’s hard to imagine any team giving up a quality prospect for the right to pay $9 million for one season of Trumbo, but if Dipoto simply wants to be rid of the low-OBP slugger it might not take much to make a deal happen.