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  • Analyzing Outcomes for Recent Free Agent Relievers


    Cody Christie

    Relievers pitch limited innings, but their impact on the game can reverberate through a team’s season. Alex Colome came to the Twins with a successful track record, but things didn’t go as planned. So, does it make sense to sign a reliever to a big contract?

     

    Image courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski, USA TODAY Sports

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    Every winter, relievers hit the open market with a proven track record, but relief pitching is never a sure bet. Here is how the top free agent relievers have fared over the last three off-seasons. 

    Last winter, the Chicago White Sox gave Liam Hendriks a three-year, $54 million contract. In his first Southside season, he impressed as he posted baseball’s highest reliever WAR. The other relievers to receive over $10 million per season were Brad Hand and Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal was limited to 23 2/3 innings, and Hand was worth -0.3 WAR in 68 appearances. 

    Leading into the 2020 season, Atlanta signed Will Smith to a three-year, $40 million deal following an All-Star Season. Over the last two seasons, he has a 124 ERA+ and a 1.10 WHIP. The other big deals that winter were for Drew Pomeranz (four-years, $34 million) and Will Harris (three-years, $24 million). Pomeranz tore his flexor tendon, and this has limited him to 44 1/3 innings. Harris underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and this limited him to 23 2/3 innings. 

    During the 2019 winter, some of the best relievers in recent history all hit the free-agent market in the same offseason. Craig Kimbrel, Zack Britton, Andrew Miller, and David Roberston all signed for an average value of over $11.5 million. However, each of these players had mixed results during the life of their contract. 

    Kimbrel struggled through the first two years before bouncing back in 2021 (191 ERA+). Britton dominated in the first two years of his deal (232 ERA+), but he underwent two surgeries to remove bone chips from his elbow this year. Age started to catch up with Miller as he posted a 4.12 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP during his two-year deal. Robertson was limited to 6 2/3 innings as he needed Tommy John surgery in 2019. 

    Upcoming Free Agent Class
    This winter’s free-agent crop includes some well-known names, but many top names have questions about their future performance. Kenley Jansen, the top available reliever, is 34-years-old and has pitched a ton of innings throughout his career. Craig Kimbrel has a $16 million option with the White Sox that seems likely to be declined, but he is coming off a strong season. It seems unlikely for the Twins to target either of these options because of the associated costs ($10 million or more per season) and other risks. 

    Other top-tier options seem closer to meet Minnesota’s needs and are available for a more reasonable amount. At 32-years-old, Raisel Iglesias is the youngest among the top-tier relievers. He has been one of baseball’s best relievers for six straight seasons, and this should net him a multi-year contract. Mark Melancon, the oldest top-tier reliever, posted some strong numbers this season (175 ERA+), but he is already 37-years-old.

    If Minnesota wants one of the top-tier options, Iglesias might be the safest bet. He can provide insurance for Taylor Rogers as he comes back from a finger injury, and he can help improve a bullpen group that improved significantly in the second half.

    To read more about these relievers and other off-season options, make sure to pre-order your copy of the 2022 Offseason Handbook. Designed to serve as an essential companion for the Twins offseason ahead, this digital Handbook places you in the shoes of the general manager, equipping you with all the information you need to construct your own team-building blueprint (or predict what the real front office will do).

    Should the Twins spend big on a reliever? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    Excellent reminder on the fungibility of relievers. I'm not interested in giving relievers in their mid-to-late 30's long term deals (3+ years), and I'm really not interested in giving them those deals while paying a premium for a "proven closer".

    Would I like the Twins to sign a good RHP for the bullpen for next season? yes indeed. But I'd rather get 2 years of a guy like Trevor May for $6-8M per than fling $12-15M at a Kenley Jackson or Craig Kimbrel for 2-3 years and pray they don't collapse.

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    I have never been a fan of going out to sign FA relievers to big deal.  One, relievers can be so volatile in terms of output.  You can find guys out of no where or guys that have long string of success flop.  Investing large sums to them never seem to pan out all that well. 

    I hope the team does not make in big splashes in the RP department.   

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    I honestly believe our best options for relievers is to develop them in house.  I'd rather trade for, or pay for top end starters.  But so many good closers/relievers are converted or non successful starters.  We have witnessed this from our own team in the past few years.  Maybe a couple of our minor league starters whom can not handle a full seasons workload could become high end relievers soon.

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    I think Iglesias is a good pitcher to sign.  I would be open to signing Kimbrel to a 2 year 16 - 20 million total contract with incentives to 24 or 26 million range. I don't think I would offer any more.  Though we won with veterans in the pen, Reardon and Aguilera.  But I really liked how our bullpen closed out this season and don't think we need too much there.  More importantly is making sure we have healthy 6, 7, 8, and 9 starters who are healthy.  We had a big problem with that in 2021.

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    I think the Twins have a lot of intriguing In-House options but they DO need a dependable guy on the back end.  it pushes Rogers, Duffey and everyone else BACK one more slot and solidifies the entire bullpen.  I think a guy like Cory Knebel could be lured from the Dodgers with the opportunity to a CLOSER again.  Frankly, I see the Dodgers keeping Jansen.  Knebel wouldn't cost Kimbrel type money but could prove to be every bit as good.  Knebel, Rogers, Duffey, Alcala, Theilbar, Minaya, That has the feel of the foundation of a potentially pretty good BP.  And there are others who could potentially do well for the Twins next season (maybe Duran??).  But it all flows from the guy at the back end.  Signing a Knebel and/or trading for a Dylan Floro/Anthony Bender type (Marlins pitchers) would add length and depth to a Twins BP that has the potential to be good, but needs a little somethin' extra to get there.

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    How about we lobby MLB to require that relief pitchers must go back to their former teams. Let's name a few the Twins would get: Pressley, Hendricks, Graterol, Shaggy, May, Curtis, Anderson, Littel, Romo ( no wait a minute), Fernando Rodney ( uh oh...not again), Blake Parker ( I need to take a phone call) and Sam Dyson..., Astudillo... ? My wife is calling , it is time for me to get off the computer. See you guys later. Now if I can just find my delete button on this new laptop..

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    I agree with the basic sentiment that signing a big $ BP arm seldom makes sense or turns out right. History shows this as being a crap shoot, but then again, FA in general can be that way I guess. That doesn't mean the Twins shouldn't sign SOMEONE they think has real value for $6-7M-ish to augment the back end of the pen. I don't know who that guy is right now I'm sorry to say. 

    We keep talking about making a trade for a quality SP with a couple years of control. But what about a trade for a BP arm from a team not expected to compete in 2022, OR, a team needing a little help somewhere who has a setup arm they would be willing to deal? That used to be a common way for teams to acquire a closer, get the setup guy from someone else who may be ready for the next step.

    Other than trading for Reardon, way back in the day, and nabbing Nathan from the Giants as, you guessed it, a setup man ready for an expanded role, the Twins excelled in developing their closer from converted starters within their system. Aguillera, Perkins, Trombley, Guardado are some examples. (Aguillera was acquired as a SP and then later converted). That is the best way to go to be sure. But we don't have THAT GUY at the moment. Alcala might be the next opportunity, but he's just taking that first step to being a reliable back end arm. Duran could be as well, but I'm sure as hell not going to give up on him as a SP at this point. Canterino is the same, but further away.

    They really, really need ONE ARM they believe in to join Rogers, Duffey, Thielbar and Alcala on that back end. And nobody wants to hear this, and I don't want to say it, but until someone shows me a real FA or trade target that makes sense....forgive me....I still have to wonder if Colome isn't a viable option. At some point, we have to forget April and May last year and look at his career and what he did from about June 1st on. I hope they can do better for the same $ or a bump, but I think he needs to be considered as a 1yr option. 

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    10 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    I agree with the basic sentiment that signing a big $ BP arm seldom makes sense or turns out right. History shows this as being a crap shoot, but then again, FA in general can be that way I guess. That doesn't mean the Twins shouldn't sign SOMEONE they think has real value for $6-7M-ish to augment the back end of the pen. I don't know who that guy is right now I'm sorry to say. 

    We keep talking about making a trade for a quality SP with a couple years of control. But what about a trade for a BP arm from a team not expected to compete in 2022, OR, a team needing a little help somewhere who has a setup arm they would be willing to deal? That used to be a common way for teams to acquire a closer, get the setup guy from someone else who may be ready for the next step.

    Other than trading for Reardon, way back in the day, and nabbing Nathan from the Giants as, you guessed it, a setup man ready for an expanded role, the Twins excelled in developing their closer from converted starters within their system. Aguillera, Perkins, Trombley, Guardado are some examples. (Aguillera was acquired as a SP and then later converted). That is the best way to go to be sure. But we don't have THAT GUY at the moment. Alcala might be the next opportunity, but he's just taking that first step to being a reliable back end arm. Duran could be as well, but I'm sure as hell not going to give up on him as a SP at this point. Canterino is the same, but further away.

    They really, really need ONE ARM they believe in to join Rogers, Duffey, Thielbar and Alcala on that back end. And nobody wants to hear this, and I don't want to say it, but until someone shows me a real FA or trade target that makes sense....forgive me....I still have to wonder if Colome isn't a viable option. At some point, we have to forget April and May last year and look at his career and what he did from about June 1st on. I hope they can do better for the same $ or a bump, but I think he needs to be considered as a 1yr option. 

    My feeling about Colume is that he is great on an average or below average team, but not as good if the expectations are high.  Don't want this side show again. 

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    6 hours ago, beckmt said:

    My feeling about Colume is that he is great on an average or below average team, but not as good if the expectations are high.  Don't want this side show again. 

    There are high expectations here.  The rest of the world does not have high expectations for the 2022 MN Twins.  Free agent RPs are not going to change that outlook.  Signing a top end SP and a good SS will have some influence on the Twins outlook with the national media.  

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    17 hours ago, DocBauer said:

    They really, really need ONE ARM they believe in to join Rogers, Duffey, Thielbar and Alcala on that back end. And nobody wants to hear this, and I don't want to say it, but until someone shows me a real FA or trade target that makes sense....forgive me....I still have to wonder if Colome isn't a viable option. At some point, we have to forget April and May last year and look at his career and what he did from about June 1st on. I hope they can do better for the same $ or a bump, but I think he needs to be considered as a 1yr option. 

    I don't disagree, but the problem is the entire fanbase might have PTSD in relation to Colome...and if we do, does the team? But seriously, I'm not sure his style is right overall for the Twins 'pen. He's basically a cutter guy who's hard to square up on if he keeps it out of the heart of the plate, but struggled to do just that at times with the Twins. I'd prefer to get a RH arm who really brings some gas and strike outs to the party. (I'm not sure who that will be at this point, but there should be someone?)

    Twins will almost certainly run out a 8-man bullpen again, and I like 6 internal options right now: Rogers, Alcala, Duffey, Thielbar, Moran, and John Gant. (I think Gant is a better option for the bullpen. Others might prefer running Minaya back) I really do believe in Moran and his change-up. I'd look to find this year's Trevor May to fill one more spot in FA and look in-house for the last one, in part to keep the Twins from getting stuck in the sunk-cost fallacy. We got to a solid bullpen by the end of the year when we started churning arms until we found the combo that worked. Sign a bunch of veterans to $1M+ contracts and they'd better perform out the gate, because those guys probably don't get churned if/when they struggle.

    It's a tough world out there for relief pitchers because increasingly there's no "middle class" and more teams are seeing everyone that's not on the top end as being fungible...and they might not be wrong.

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    Agree they need one strong arm to join the late inning group.  Doesn’t have to be their closer.  Whether they get him as a free agent or trade isn’t important.

    equally important is signing Rodgers and Duff for two or three years, preferably one for two and the other for three.

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    On 10/16/2021 at 5:26 PM, DocBauer said:

    Iogers, Duffey, Thielbar and Alcala on that

    agree with the basic sentiment that signing a big $ BP arm seldom makes sense or turns out right. Histor

    y shows this as being a crap shoot, but then again, FA in general can be that way I guess. That doesn't mean the Twins shouldn't sign SOMEONE they think has real value for $6-7M-ish to augment the back end of the pen. I don't know who that guy is right now I'm sorry to say. 

    We keep talking about making a trade for a quality SP with a couple years of control. But what about a trade for a BP arm from a team not expected to compete in 2022, OR, a team needing a little help somewhere who has a setup arm they would be willing to deal? That used to be a common way for teams to acquire a closer, get the setup guy from someone else who may be ready for the next step.

    Other than trading for Reardon, way back in the day, and nabbing Nathan from the Giants as, you guessed it, a setup man ready for an expanded role, the Twins excelled in developing their closer from converted starters within their system. Aguillera, Perkins, Trombley, Guardado are some examples. (Aguillera was acquired as a SP and then later converted). That is the best way to go to be sure. But we don't have THAT GUY at the moment. Alcala might be the next opportunity, but he's just taking that first step to being a reliable back end arm. Duran could be as well, but I'm sure as hell not going to give up on him as a SP at this point. Canterino is the same, but further away.

    They really, really need ONE ARM they believe in to join R

    back end. And nobody wants to hear this, and I don't want to say it, but until someone shows me a real FA or trade target that makes sense....forgive me....I still have to wonder if Colome isn't a viable option. At some point, we have to forget April and May last year and look at his career and what

    he did from about June 1st on. I hope they can do better for the same $ or a bump, but I think he needs to be considered as a 1yr option. 

    I don't want to hear this, Doc.

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