The K Zone
A Look Ahead Into the ’18-’19 Free Agent Reliever Market
By Brandon Gutierrez
Over the past few years, the market for relievers has increased. Given how home runs have risen and how short starting pitchers are lasting, shutdown relievers are relied upon more than ever. Teams are willing to pay for that shutdown late inning pitcher. During last year’s offseason, Jonathan’s Papelbon’s reliever record 4 years/ 50 million dollar contract was shattered by Mark Melancon’s 4 years/ 62 million dollar contract. About a week later, Aroldis Chapman signed with the New York Yankees for 5 years/ 86 million. The Dodgers also re-signed closer Kenley Jansen for 5 years/ 80 million dollars. This off season, Wade Davis signed with the Colorado Rockies for 3 years/ 52 million. His annual average is 17.3 million, a reliever record. Brandon Morrow, a starter converted to a reliever, signed with the Cubs for 2 years/ 21 million despite his history with arm problems. Set up men are making more too. Anthony Swarzak, Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed and Tommy Hunter all have signed for a annual average salary of 7 million or more. Teams are realizing that a strong bullpen is an enormous advantage in the postseason. For example, the 2015 Royals used the Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland combo to win their first World Series since 1985. Teams have already spent a lot of money on bulking up their pen, and the crazy thing is, the best reliever free agent class is still a year away.
Zach Britton (31)
Zach Britton is interesting. In 2017, Zach Britton was put on the disabled list twice with a left forearm strain. Forearm strains can sometimes lead to Tommy John, so teams should be concerned. Another concern is that this winter, Britton tore his achilles while training. Although it isn’t an arm injury, it should force teams to further question his health. When Britton is healthy, he is arguably one of the best closers in the game. In 2016, he posted 9.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. He had an ERA of 0.54, an unbelievable 1.74 SIERA, and a great 3.04 WPA. What separated Britton from the rest was his sinker. It helped him produce an insane 80 percent ground ball rate. In today’s game, with home runs increasing, that is a huge advantage. Britton also converted 60 consecutive save opportunities in 2016-2017. Zach Britton will miss about half of the 2018 season due to his torn achilles. If he does come back and proves the forearm problems are behind him, he will be able to find teams willing to give him a decent contract.
Andrew Miller (34)
Andrew Miller has been one of the most dominant relievers in the last few years. In 2016, he posted a 14.6 K/9 rate, 1.09 BB/9 rate, WPA of 5.04, SIERA of 1.10, ERA of 1.45. In 2017, his numbers did decrease. His K/9 rate did drop a little to 13.6. His BB/9 rate did go up to 3.0. His WPA dropped to 3.77 and his SIERA rose to 2.34. These numbers are still really good, but it is quite a bit of a change. Andrew Miller’s HR/9 numbers was 0.47 although only a 7% HR/FB, compared to an 11% career average, which may indicate some luck in the HR department. Miller was going through some knee problems in 2017, which could have influenced some of his numbers. The team that does sign Miller will be paying for his declining years.
Cody Allen (30)
Cody Allen is the one of those guys you don’t realize how good he is until you actually look at him closer, no pun intended. Out of the four relievers on the list, Allen is the only one who has never landed on the DL. He did have Tommy John surgery in high school, but this was nearly 10 years ago. In 2016, Allen posted a 11.51 K/9 rate, a BB/9 of 3.6, WPA of 2.45, SIERA of 2.90, and ERA 2.51 . In 2017 he improved almost all those numbers, posting a 12.30 K/9 rate, 2.81 BB/9 rate, WPA of 1.87, 2.84 SIERA, and 2.94 ERA. Allen has been quietly one of the best relievers in the game over the past couple of years. For a guy who has never spent one day on the DL and elite numbers, he should be able to land a pretty good contract.
Craig Kimbrel (31)
In 2017, Craig Kimbrel was also one of the best relievers in baseball. Even after knee surgery in 2016, he pitched 53 innings and posted a 14.09 K/9, a 5.0 BB/9 rate, WPA of 1.01, SIERA of 2.93,and ERA of 3.40. In 2017, it was clear that the knee surgery did not affect Kimbrel at all. He went on to post an unbelievable 16.4 K/9, lowered his BB/9 to 1.8, 4.5 WPA, 1.18 SIERA, and a 1.43 ERA. In 2017, Kimbrel was the best reliever out of the ones on this list. He should be able to land a contract similar to Wade Davis.
All four of these men are elite relievers and will have a lot of interest next year. The Indians are obviously going to be interested. Red Sox are another obvious team. Arizona could want to give Archie Bradley more support. Angels and Mariners should if they want to gain ground on the Astros. Of course the Dodgers and Yankees are rumored to be interested on big free agents. Each of them should be able to land big deals, especially the way the reliever market is heading.
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