MLB: Top Five Free Agent Relief Pitchers
One of the greatest cliches in baseball since the dawn of its founding has been, “Great baseball starts and ends with pitching.” However, what often gets lost is all of the action in the middle from a pitching standpoint. People pay a lot of attention to starters, as well as closers, but it’s often the guys who pitch from innings six through eight who don’t get the recognition they deserve.
In fact, some of the best bullpen arms on the market this upcoming winter are not closers. In fact, the majority are not. Although, the question that remains: Where will the following pitchers end up in 2019?
Ever since going back to the Yankees, David Robertson has gone back to the lights out bullpen arm he was when he began his career. As a result of his 2018 campaign — where he went 8-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 69 outings — he has emerged as one of the most reliable, as well as durable relievers on the market. His ability to attack opposing hitters, but also having the ability to dot up the corners of the plate, are going to have many teams making phone calls to him this winter. Yet, it wouldn’t make much sense for him to leave the Yankees. He has had his best seasons in pinstripes, and there aren’t many situations he’d be better suited for than in the Bronx.
Notice a theme here? Another Yankees reliever that is a marquee name on the free agent market. He had an up-and-down season in 2018, but balanced out a 2-0 record with a 3.10 ERA in 41 outings between Baltimore and New York. The problem with Britton was his lack of command, especially at times in his 25 appearances for the Yankees — combine that with the struggles both Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez had catching him, and it wasn’t a recipe for success. He needs to go somewhere that has a catcher that has shown the ability to be a brick wall on a consistent basis. The team and catcher that comes to mind are the Houston Astros and Martin Maldonado (pending Free Agent as well).
The first non-Yankee to appear on this list is coming off of a career year in Colorado. Posting career-best numbers in appearances, strikeouts, and ERA, all while pitching 34 out of his 75 games at Coors Field — where he posted a 2.10 ERA. At 32 years old, Ottavino is likely not going to command a long-term deal; while the dollars are still going to be large for a middle reliever, the tall right-hander will be a hot commodity for teams looking to bolster the bridge to their closer. What team makes the most sense? Easily the Boston Red Sox. While the bullpen hasn’t bit them in the butt in the postseason so far, it is safe to say the Red Sox would like to get a more sure thing in the back-end of the bullpen; and Ottavino would be the best fit for them outside of David Robertson.
In what was a tale of two seasons for Kelvin Herrera, there is no doubting the talent surrounding the flamethrower. While his average fastball velocity dropped from 97.4 MPH in 2017, to 96.5 MPH in 2018, Herrera still put up impressive numbers overall. What Herrera possesses that a lot of relievers in this game lack is a fiery attitude. While sometimes he can lose control of his emotions, he backs it up with his performance. As a key component on the Kansas City Royals teams that made it to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, he brings postseason experience to the table too. What team will be a good destination for him? The Atlanta Braves make a lot of sense. Their bullpen looked shaky at best in the playoffs, and they’ll be looking to add some experience on the back end.
In no sense of the word would Andrew Miller find any sort of satisfaction in his 2018 season. Battling injuries from start to finish, it seemed like the lanky left-hander was competing more with his body, than he was with the Indians last season. The average velocity dropped in all of his pitches in his arsenal, and he had statistically his worst year as a reliever in the major leagues. He’ll be going into his age-34 season next year, and will not be asking for a lot of money this winter. The best guess is he re-signs in Cleveland for a one-year “prove it” contract, then will re-test the free agent of waters in the winter following the 2019 season.