A year ago, 15 relievers landed free-agent deals worth at least $10 million, with all of them averaging no less than $5 million per season. Six of those pitchers signed deals worth an average annual value of at least $9 million, further proof that bullpens are as important as they've ever been.
The relief-pitching market is flush with talent this offseason, with more than a dozen quality late-inning arms available via free agency. With all 30 teams seemingly in need of at least one bullpen arm, relievers should cash in again in the coming weeks and months.
• This is each club's biggest offseason need
The market actually kicked into gear before this year's free agents could even talk with other teams, as Trevor Rosenthal, who sat out the entire 2018 season following Tommy John surgery, agreed to a deal guaranteeing him $7 million in '19 with incentives that could make it worth as much as $14 million. A vesting player option for '20 could double the value of the contract.
So which relievers will garner the most attention this offseason? Here are 15 names you'll surely hear about:
The top closer available on the market, Kimbrel will surely be seeking a deal similar to the ones signed by Albertin Chapman (5 years, $86 million) and Kenley Jansen (5 years, $80 million) after the 2016 season. The seven-time National League All-Star has averaged 42 saves and a 1.97 ERA over his eight full seasons in the Majors, and if the pitch-tipping situation was the cause for his postseason inconsistency, teams looking for a proven closer should gravitate toward Kimbrel. The Braves, for whom Kimbrel pitched from 2010-14, could look for a reunion with the closer.
Miller's four-year, $36 million deal that he signed with the Yankees after the 2014 season proved to be one of the best bargains in baseball. Miller provided three stellar seasons for the Yanks and Indians from 2015-17, though he battled injuries in 2018, resulting in an uncharacteristic 4.24 ERA in 37 appearances. If Miller can convince teams he's past his health issues, he should land another multiyear deal to pitch at the back end of a bullpen. If the Red Sox opt to move on from Kimbrel, Miller, who was drafted by the Tigers during Dave Dombrowski's tenure and has also pitched for the Red Sox, could be an option to close in Boston.
• Indians pass on QOs for Brantley, Miller, Allen
It was only two years ago that Britton was considered to be one of the elite closers in the game, but he missed two months in 2017 with a left forearm strain and then sustained a torn right Achilles tendon after the season that cost him the first two-plus months of 2018. It took some time for the left-hander to regain his form after returning in mid-June, and he then had some ups and downs after being traded to the Yankees before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Britton finished the season well, allowing only two earned runs over his final 17 appearances (1.02 ERA), including none in his 10 September outings. Heading into his age-31 season, Britton figures to sign as a closer somewhere on a multiyear deal.
Player Page for David Robertson
Robertson just completed the four-year, $46 million pact he signed with the White Sox after the 2014 season. He served as the South Siders' closer for 2 1/2 seasons, saving 84 games before being traded back to the Yankees, where he's been a reliable late-inning option. Robertson, who severed ties with his agent and plans to represent himself this offseason, will likely land a three-year deal despite turning 34 next April, as his game hasn't been reliant upon a high-90s fastball. A return to the Yanks is certainly possible, though another team could try to scoop him up as a closer.
The right-hander did a good job closing games for the Royals during parts of three seasons, though after a superb start to 2018 (1.05 ERA in 27 games), his three-plus months with the Nationals weren't quite as successful (4.34 ERA/5.68 FIP), marred further by a shoulder issue and a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot. The latter could impact his 2019 season, as that injury can take months to heal, so Herrera could find himself having to sign an incentive-laden deal and prove that he can remain healthy.
Familia made his name with the Mets, recording 94 saves in 2015-16. He was traded to the Athletics this past July, pitching well for Oakland to help his new club earn a berth in the American League Wild Card Game. Familia's 2.96:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio is in the middle of the pack in terms of free-agent relievers, but his experience closing games should work to his advantage given the teams seeking ninth-inning arms this offseason.
Soria turned down a $10 million mutual option with the Brewers for 2019, a sign that the right-hander expects to find more money on the market heading into his age-35 season. Soria has been a quality late-inning option for most of the past decade, posting a 3.12 ERA/2.44 FIP with a solid 4.69:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in '18 between the White Sox and Brewers. He's unlikely to be viewed in the same class as Kimbrel or Miller, but Soria is a quality option among the second tier of relievers.
After stumbling through a subpar 2017, Ottavino bounced back with a strong season in '18. He pitched to a 2.43 ERA while striking out 112 batters in 77 2/3 innings, with his 2.6 bWAR ranking sixth among all relievers. Ottavino will turn 33 this month, but a multiyear deal as a lockdown setup man should be in the cards for the longtime Rockies reliever.
• Ottavino will be in high demand this offseason
Allen had an outstanding five-year run with the Indians from 2013-17, saving 122 games with a 2.59 ERA/2.86 FIP and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings during that stretch. The soon-to-be 30-year-old took a step backwards in 2018, though, posting full-season career-high marks in ERA (4.70), FIP (4.56), WHIP (1.358), walks per nine innings (4.4) and home runs per nine innings (1.5). His 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings were also his lowest. Allen could be signed to close, though it seems just as likely that a team would bring him in as a setup man.
Brach was on the other side of the spectrum as Allen, struggling with the Orioles through the first four months of the season before thriving with the Braves following his late-July trade. Brach posted a 1.52 ERA (albeit with a 3.12 FIP) in 27 appearances with Atlanta, though his peripheral numbers including hits, walks and home runs allowed all dropped significantly following the trade. Brach has some experience closing (30 saves in 2017-18), but the right-hander is likely to land a multiyear deal as a setup man as he enters his age-33 season.
Aside from Nathan Eovaldi, nobody helped their free-agent cause more in the postseason than Kelly, who was part of Boston's stellar bullpen effort en route to the World Series title. After posting a 4.39 ERA and walking 32 batters in 65 2/3 innings during the regular season, Kelly threw 11 1/3 innings of one-run ball during the postseason, striking out 13 without issuing a walk in his nine appearances. Small sample sizes can be dangerous, but given Kelly's superb stuff, it's not difficult to believe a team will dream big and sign him to be a big piece of its bullpen.
• Will Kelly's postseason boost free-agent value?
The 35-year-old right-hander thrived with the Cubs following a midseason trade, pitching to a 1.15 ERA in 39 innings over 32 appearances. Chavez was having a nice season with the Rangers before the deal (3.51 ERA), but teams will have to decide whether they'll be getting the Texas or Chicago version, the latter of which had superior numbers in his hit, strikeout, walk and home run rates. Chavez indicated at the end of the season that he wanted to return to the Cubs, and given Brandon Morrow's injury history, a reunion appears quite plausible.
There were plenty of questions about Kelley's future after the Nationals designated him for assignment on Aug. 1 following an emotional outburst that saw him throw his glove and glare at Washington's dugout after he gave up a home run in a blowout win. He was traded to Oakland a few days later and wound up pitching quite well for the Athletics, posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 19 appearances. The 34-year-old Kelley should have several suitors this offseason and wind up as part of a mid- to late-inning mix.
Beyond Miller and Britton, Wilson represents the top of the second tier of lefty relievers. The 31-year-old was mostly effective for the Cubs despite posting 5.4 walks per nine innings for the second consecutive season, a major factor in his career-high 1.43 WHIP. Wilson worked as the Tigers' closer for the first half of 2017 before being traded to Chicago, but he's likely to land as a middle- to late-inning reliever with a specialty of facing left-handed hitters, whom he held to a .190/.301/.342 slash line in 2018.
Holland signed with the Cardinals on March 31 and made his debut just nine days later. The lack of Spring Training may have played a part in his dreadful run with the St. Louis, where he posted a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances before he was released on Aug. 1. Holland caught on with the Nationals less than a week later, looking like his old All-Star self as he pitched to a 0.84 ERA in 24 outings. Whether that was enough for a team to bring him in as a closer remains to be seen, but Holland will help a bullpen somewhere.