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).
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