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What does the free agent reliever market look like?

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Could Trevor Rosenthal return?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The free agent market finally seems to be moving, and with less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report, we may start to see more action. The Royals were fairly aggressive early on in the off-season, but seem to be waiting out the market to find a good deal at this point.

Dayton Moore has already re-signed reliever Greg Holland on a one-year deal, and brought back Wade Davis and Ervin Santana on minor league deals to compete for bullpen roles. But with a young and inexperienced bullpen with Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, and Kyle Zimmer, he may look for some more depth in the free agent market.

How does the market look for relievers right now?

Could still get a multi-year deal

Alex Colomé was terrific last year with a 0.81 ERA, although his strikeout-to-walk numbers weren’t good at all. He has a 2.62 ERA since 2016 and led the league in saves in 2017, but the 32-year old may command a two-year deal at a price higher than the Royals are willing to go.

Shane Greene was an All-Star in 2019, although he finished poorly and his strike ut rate went down significantly this year. His fastball velocity has dropped a bit for the 32-year old right-hander which could be why teams have stayed away and he may have to settle for a one-year deal.

Trevor Rosenthal was a terrific reclamation project for the Royals last year, and he seemed to enjoy pitching for his hometown team. He is still just 30 years old and had one of the best strikeout rates by any pitcher on this list, but if Fangraphs is right and he can land a two-year, $16 million deal, he may be priced out for the Royals.

Probably a decent one-year deal

Mark Melancon lost a bit of zip on his fastball and his strikeout numbers weren’t great in 2020, albeit in a handful of innings. He has a pretty consistent track record when healthy, but he is 35 now and you may not want to commit to him past this year.

Joakim Soria could be up for a third tour with the Royals after a solid 2.82 ERA at age 36 last year with Oakland. Soria is throwing more breaking balls these days and has proven himself a pretty crafty veteran.

Incentive-laden deals

Sean Doolittle pitched just 7 23 innings last year due to separate knee and oblique injuries. He was an All-Star in 2018 with a 1.60 ERA, but the 34-year old lefty has a 4.26 ERA since then, although with good strikeout numbers.

Ken Giles was great in 2019 with a 1.87 ERA and 14.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings but missed most of last year and will miss most of this year due to Tommy John surgery. If he signs, it would probably be for a cheap two-year deal with a team hoping to get him back in 2022.

Keone Kela is just 27 years old and has a 2.87 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings since 2017 with one of the best curveballs in the game. He was also demoted earlier in his career for not giving enough effort, and he missed a lot of time last year with a forearm injury.

Roberto Osuna is battling a UCL injury that would typically require Tommy John surgery, hoping to recover by the early part of next season, but he’d be a risk. He did lead the league in saves with a 2.63 ERA and outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he also served a suspension in 2018 for domestic violence.

Brad Peacock was a versatile swingman for the Astros who could start or relieve, but he missed most of last year with a shoulder injury and is a question mark for the start of this season following arthroscopic surgery. The 32-year old has a 3.49 ERA with 11 strikeouts-per-nine innings since 2017.

Could be a bargain

José Álvarez has been a fairly solid lefty reliever with a 3.32 ERA since 2015. He missed a lot of time last year after he suffered a testicular contusion due to a comebacker to the groin.

Andrew Chafin was a fairly effective lefty reliever for the Diamondbacks with a 3.46 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings from 2017 to 2019. The 30-year old was limited to just seven innings last year and battled a finger injury.

Tyler Clippard is 35 years old but continues to put up pretty good numbers as a flyball pitcher who can still miss some bats, putting up a 2.77 ERA with the Twins last year. His fastball sat at under 90 mph last year, and home runs will always be a concern, but Clippard throws strikes and can serve as a middle reliever.

Jeremy Jeffress is a former Royals reliever who posted a 1.54 ERA with the Cubs last year, although with poor peripherals. His fastball is down to 93 mph, but the 33-year old may be effective if he can keep the walks down, and he is drawing interest from a lot of teams.

Brandon Kintzler is 36 years old and can’t miss bats, but somehow finds a way to get hitters out. He has a 2.55 ERA over the last two seasons, despite a 6.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate, and the Marlins are interested in bringing him back.

Jake McGee was let go by the Rockies after being a free agent bust, then the Dodgers got him to ditch his slider and become almost exclusively a fastball pitcher and - voilà - he is a dominant 2.66 ERA lefty reliever with 14.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings.

Spencer Patton was drafted and developed by the Royals before they traded him to the Rangers for Jason Frasor. He went to Japan and has been a solid reliever for Yokohama the last four years, although he posted a 4.92 ERA last year. Now 32, the right-hander impressed several teams at a workout in which the Royals were present.

Yusmeiro Petit continues to get hitters out with his high-80s fastball, posting a 1.66 ERA for the A’s last year. The 36-year old right-hander has one of the best walk rates in baseball over the last six seasons and was suddenly dominant against lefties last year.

Hirokazu Sawamura throws a low-90s fastball with a sinker and has been a solid reliever for ten years in Japan. The 32-year old is a free agent and not subject to posting rules.

Justin Wilson is a lefty reliever who can still bring a fastball in the mid-90s. The 33-year old has a 3.26 ERA and has struck out 34 percent of lefty hitters he has faced since 2017.

Brandon Workman had the best curveball among relievers in 2019 and struck out 104 hitters in 71 23 innings with a 1.88 ERA. His numbers regressed badly last year and he has always had very high walk rates, but the 32-year old could be a bargain if he repeats his 2019 performance.

Looking at minor league deals

Junior Guerra has had a 3.44 ERA over the last two seasons, but a 4.43 FIP and poor walk numbers. The Diamondbacks turned down his $3.5 million option, so the 36-year old is likely to come very cheap.

Tommy Hunter had a flexor tendon injury in 2019, but returned last year to put up a 4.01 ERA and 3.31 FIP with a strikeout-per-inning. The 34-year old sinkerballer has been a solid reliever in his career, but at his age he’ll likely need to prove his health and effectiveness in camp.

Ian Kennedy revived his career in 2019 by becoming an effective reliever with the Royals, but he battled injuries and ineffectiveness in 2020. Jeffrey Flanagan reported earlier this off-season the Royals had some interest in bringing back the 36-year old on a club-friendly deal.

Oliver Pérez began his Major League career when Tony Muser was manager of the Royals, but he is still hanging around, posting a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings for Cleveland last year. The 39-year old is a sinker/slider pitcher now, and lefties hit just .185/.258/.222 against him last year.

Chasen Shreve was non-tendered by the Mets despite a decent 3.96 ERA and 12.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings last year. He has some high walk rates but has allowed lefties to hit just .194 against him since 2017.