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What a relief: Bullpen arms remain on market

Teams needing boost in late innings have long list of options
January 10, 2018

This has truly been a backward Hot Stove season. The prioritized pieces in the free-agent market were relievers, many of whom received multiyear deals in a market in which the vast majority of starting arms and bats are still looking for homes. It's no secret that the game has evolved

This has truly been a backward Hot Stove season. The prioritized pieces in the free-agent market were relievers, many of whom received multiyear deals in a market in which the vast majority of starting arms and bats are still looking for homes. It's no secret that the game has evolved to more of a bullpen-oriented model (in 49.7 percent of games last season, the starting pitcher did not complete six innings), and that means teams have to have a particularly strong stash of trustworthy arms if they're going to survive and thrive.
Though much of this market has been picked over, there are still a number of clubs on the hunt for bullpen help. Here, divided into five tiers, are 20 relievers who remain available in free agency, and this list does not incorporate potential trade options like Alex Colome or Kelvin Herrera.
Hot Stove Tracker
I. The proven closer
RHP Greg Holland
Wade Davis and his $17.3 million in average annual value can attest that the ninth still gets you paid. Holland, a Scott Boras client, is looking for a similarly sizable score after opting out of a $15 million option with the Rockies and turning down the $17.4 million qualifying offer for 2018. His second half of '17 was a little -- ahem -- rockier than the first, but he's entering his second season following Tommy John surgery, which has been known to provide improved command. He's also leaving Coors Field behind.
Good fits: Cardinals, Astros, Nationals
II. The sterling setup man
RHP Addison Reed
Not that Reed hasn't closed before (125 career saves), but his real value in recent years has rested in his ability to suppress offense regardless of exact late inning. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his excellent control has resulted in a 5.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 0.996 WHIP over the past two seasons. Reed went into the offseason looking for a four-year commitment, a la Andrew Miller and Darren O'Day, but to date we haven't seen anybody get more than three in this marketplace.
Good fits: Cubs, Astros, Cardinals, Rangers, Dodgers, Nationals

III. Somewhat spiffy, somewhat iffy
RHP Matt Albers
Beyond the glory of that first career save, there was the sparkling 1.62 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 61 innings for the Nats. But the .203 opponents' batting average on balls in play for a pitcher with a .289 career mark means regression is likely in order here.
LHP Tony Watson
A real workhorse, Watson has averaged 72 appearances and 69 innings over the past six seasons. The concern is an elevated home run rate the past two seasons and, of course, the wear and tear of all those innings.
RHP David Hernandez
In 2017, Hernandez was signed by the Giants, released by the Giants (he requested it when he didn't crack the club's Opening Day roster), signed by the Braves, traded by the Braves to the Angels and traded by the Angels to the D-backs. Despite all the movement, he delivered a 1.04 WHIP and a 5.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 55 innings.
LHP Brian Duensing
Duensing was terrific on a one-year pact with the Cubs, with a 2.74 ERA over 62 1/3 innings. It was possibly his best big league season, and it came at age 34. Prior to that, Duensing pitched to a less-inspiring 4.66 ERA over the previous six years, so it's hard to say if 2017 was aberration or new norm.

RHP Peter Moylan
No reliever took the ball more than Moylan last year with Kansas City -- 79 appearances, and they were predominately good appearances, as evidenced by the 1.10 WHIP. That workload is both satisfying and scary, because the Aussie is 39 and a two-time Tommy John recipient.
RHP Bud Norris
He rose back from the dead as a reborn reliever with the Angels in the first half of 2017 (2.23 ERA, .492 opponents' OPS), only to go cold in the second (7.01, .874).
RHP Matt Belisle
The 37-year-old was tough on lefties (.595 OPS against) and ably filled the closer role for the playoff-bound Twins after the Brandon Kintzler trade. But the .253 opponents' BABIP was well below his career norm (.317).
LHP Fernando Abad
If he's more in line with the 139 ERA+ in 2017 than the 72 ERA+ in '16, that's not Abad pickup.
Good fits: Any of the above, plus Indians, Angels, Brewers, Red Sox, Giants (teams that could still upgrade but likely not at major prices)
IV. The bounce-back bunch
RHP Seunghwan Oh
"The Final Boss" went backward in his second stateside season with St. Louis, his ERA jumping from 1.92 to 4.10, his WHIP from 0.92 to 1.40, his homer rate from 0.6 per nine to 1.5, etc. Oh's stuff is still there, so he just needs to find a place where he can rediscover his command.
RHP Tyler Clippard
When you call, ask for the Clippard who had a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings for the White Sox last season and not the one who had a 5.36 ERA (and 10 homers allowed) in 50 1/3 innings for the Yankees and Astros.

RHP Sergio Romo
The rebound might have already begun. Romo had a 6.12 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in 30 appearances with the Dodgers, as if the baseball gods simply wouldn't let such a signature member of the Giants' championship squads succeed in L.A. But he went to Tampa Bay midyear and turned in a 1.47 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP in his final 30 2/3 innings of the season.
RHP Koji Uehara
He had some great years in the back end with Boston, but he's 43 years old and throws 87 mph. So buyer beware, assuming there is a buyer here.
LHP Francisco Liriano
Whether he's a starter or reliever at this stage is ultimately up to the signing squad. The Astros acquired Liriano in an effort to fill their huge need for left-handed relief at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, and the results there were nothing to write home about. But remember: This guy's a two-time Comeback Player of the Year Award winner.
RHP Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod had a horrendous year with Detroit (7.82 ERA in 25 1/3 innings) and will likely be reduced to Minor League invitee status, if that. But he's somehow only 36 (which doesn't seem possible). Maybe he'll put together one more reinvention.
RHP Joe Blanton
He went from a 2.48 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP with the Dodgers in 2016 to a 5.68 ERA and 1.49 WHIP with the Nats in '17. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
RHP Jason Grilli
Grilli surrendered 12 homers in only 40 innings last year, and he's also 41. But two years ago, he had a solid showing (3.64 ERA, 118 ERA+) in 42 innings down the stretch for the Blue Jays.
RHP Huston Street
The once-effective closer for the Angels has managed just 26 1/3 innings over the past two years.
Good fits: These are budget, likely short-term buys and nobody can have too much 'pen help. So pick a team, any team.
V. The fixer-upper
RHP Trevor Rosenthal
There's a good chance he will miss all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery, but that might not dissuade a team for signing the former Cards closer with '19 in mind.
Good fits: Teams like the Indians, Red Sox, Nats and Orioles who have prominent bullpen free agents after 2018.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.