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2016-17 Free Agency Preview: Relief Pitchers

You can hardly avoid tripping over a FA relief pitcher out there!

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are probably a few years (at least) away from being major players in free agency, and one gets the feeling that they might never really go after the big money guys as long as David Stearns is the GM. But who signs whom might make some other whom available, and sets the prices, so we will look at the top available players by position groups this week.

Friday’s group is the relief pitchers. There will be some big money spent here, with perhaps two deals eclipsing Mariano Rivera’s record $15 million/per. It is unlikely that the Brewers would be involved with any of the pitchers listed, but who knows. Closers can be traded at the deadline, and getting one for only money might be a good investment. Several of those on the top ten list were traded during the 2016 season so no Qualifying Offer can be made, making their signing cheaper in that they won’t cost a draft pick.

Top 10 (my disclaimer again: this is a consensus grouping influenced heavily by my considerable biases)

  1. LHP Aroldis Chapman
  2. RHP Kenley Jensen
  3. RHP Mark Melancon
  4. RHP Neftali Perez
  5. RHP Greg Holland
  6. RHP Brad Ziegler
  7. RHP Santiago Casilla
  8. RHP Joaquin Benoit
  9. RHP Fernando Rodney
  10. RHP Koji Uehara

Aroldis Chapman (29) has no QO, throws about a thousand mph, has a nasty slider, and was the “winning pitcher” in World Series Game 7 for the Cubs (after blowing a 3 run eighth inning lead). He is a sure thing, and will sure get a lot of money. Aroldis will be pitching in a big market next year.

Kenley Jensen (29) does have a QO, which is probably the main reason he comes in behind Chapman in my list. He is good...really good. He had a WHIP of 0.67 last year for the Dodgers, his only major league team so far, with a 9.45 K/BB ratio. His seven year career WHIP? 0.89. Oh my. Those stats and Jensen’s stuff will get him a huge deal, and he too will be back in a big market. I expect the Dodgers to push hard to get him back.

In many years, Mark Melancon (32) would be getting a ton of interest as the top closer/reliever available. This year he is a distant third, but he has been very good since joining the Pirates in 2013. He does not have a QO. In that four year stretch, his ERA has been between 1.39 and 2.23; he has pitched in over 70 innings each year; in 290 innings, he has allowed 230 hits and walked only 45 - a four year WHIP of 0.95. He has struck out 268; in today’s baseball that is probably about average, but as a groundball pitcher it’s fine. He has allowed only 10 homeruns. That is a WOW number.

Greg Holland had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and didn’t pitch last year, but at age 27 that is perhaps not as large a concern as it would be for more “mature” pitchers. He “struggled” in 2015 prior to his surgery (3.83 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 1.46 WHIP), but was dominant in 2013 and 2014 for the Royals; 121 appearances, 93 saves, 129.1 innings, 77 hits, 38 walks, 193 strikeouts. This will be a risky signing, and Holland won’t get the long term deal that the top three will, but oh my - the reward could be huge. No QO. Scott Boras is his agent.

Neftali Feliz will be 29 next season. He has no qualifying offer. He has struggled since his 72 saves for Texas in 2010 and 2011. Why do I rank him so highly? Well, he has returned his fastball to the 96 mph level after being at 91-92 for the past several (and ineffective) seasons. My guess is a one or two year deal at a pretty high rate, and he will probably be signed as a set-up pitcher with closer experience. Another boom or bust proposition.

Brad Ziegler is 37 , which isn’t good, but has no QO, which is. He is a groundball pitcher who doesn’t strike out hitters (career 6.1/9) but oddly notched 9.4 k’s/9 after joining the Red Sox from Arizona last year (SSS). Ziegler is a set-up guy, and will get you 65-70 innings a year. Probably a two year deal.

Santiago Casilla has closed off and on for the Giants the past five seasons, having experienced mixed results. He has been a solid, if not spectacular reliever - career 1.28 WHIP, 3.19 ERA, 3.89 FIP. My guess is that he is headed somewhere as a set-up/emergency closer type, and at 36 next year will probably also be looking at a two year deal.

Joaquin Benoit will be 40 next July, and will come with no QO. He has been tough to hit the last couple of seasons, but walks too many (4.5/9 last year). He did strike out 9.4/9 last season for Seattle and Detroit, and my guess is a one year deal for a team with closer questions and the need of a power arm in the pen.

Fernando Rodney will also be 40 next season, wears his hat funny, pitched superbly for the Padres last year, and pitched quite poorly for the Marlins last year. He had 4.1 hits/9, 3.8 walks/9, and 10.4 k’s/9 in San Diego in 2016. In Florida he maintained his strikeout (10.2/9) but hits jumped to 7.4/9 and walks to 5.1/9. He might be good; he might be done. Were I a GM, some other team would be finding out.

Koji Uehara will be 42 next year, and has no QO. Since his 2010 season in Baltimore, he has never had a WHIP over 1. His career K rate is 10.7/9, and was 12.1 last year. He remains effective, and is the one guy here that I wouldn’t mind seeing the Brewers make a run for...maybe one year with an option at $8 mil in 2017? He made $9 mil last year for the Red Sox. There will be suitors here, so that is probably a pipe dream.

Beyond this, there are over 50 other relievers available. Another arm or two will probably be signed by the Brewers - I mean, there are only 30 teams so they have to sign somewhere.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs