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)

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.