Free agent relief pitchers. 103 comments

Bullpens are volatile. One year a core group of guys is being called on in critical game situations, the next year they are not even trusted to close out a twenty-run lead. Look no further than Tanner Scheppers. He was reliable in 2013, until he picked a fight in a Cleveland bar and got his butt kicked.

Since then, he has pitched so poorly that the term for a horrible relief pitchers, “he’s a a Scheppers,” was named after him.

The problem with the Rangers bullpen in 2015 was that Daniels didn’t bother to start building it until July. He ignored it and buried his head in the sand and watched game after game slip away from him early in the season.

But, as I said, bullpens are volatile. As easily as you can have great middle relief on year, they are gasoline on fire the next. Building a great bullpen often takes a bit of luck.

Who could have predicted Shawn Tolleson would have been as dominating as he was? Or Kela?

There are enough relief pitchers available in free agency to stock eight full bullpens. Power arms seem to be in vogue. Here is the list of free agent relievers, and each one’s age:

Right-Handed Relievers:
Matt Albers (33)
Matt Belisle (36)
Joe Blanton (35)
Jonathan Broxton (32)
Blaine Boyer (34)
Trevor Cahill (28)
Joba Chamberlain (30)
Tyler Clippard (31)
Justin De Fratus (28)
Jason Frasor (38)
Ernesto Frieri (30)
David Hernandez (31)
Tommy Hunter (29)
Jim Johnson (33)
Shawn Kelley (32)
Mark Lowe (33)
Ryan Madson (36)
Edward Mujica (32)
Joe Nathan (41)
Darren O’Day (33)
Bobby Parnell (31)
Chad Qualls (37)
Fernando Rodney (39)
Joakim Soria (32)
Dale Thayer (35)
Carlos Villanueva (32)
Ryan Webb (30)

Left-Handed Relievers:
Antonio Bastardo (30)
Joe Beimel (39)
Jerry Blevins (32)
Craig Breslow (35)
Chris Capuano (37)
Neal Cotts (36)
Randy Choate (40)
Ross Detwiler (30)
Brian Duensing (33)
Eric O’Flaherty (31)
Manny Parra (33)
Oliver Perez (34)
James Russell (30)
Tony Sipp (32)
Matt Thornton (39)

If the Rangers are looking to bolster their bullpen with free agents, they should do it in the offseason, not in July like they did last year. Which nearly cost them the season

The Rangers totally retooled their bullpen in 2015. That is the main reason the Rangers totally reinvigorated its season. It was like the proverbial building an airplane while it was flying. Only difference is, the airplane couldn’t get off the ground at first.

It’s amazing when you think of it. Phil Klein, Roman Mendez, Neftali Feliz, Logan Verrett, John Edwards, Alex Claudio, Stolmy Pimentel, and Tanner Scheppers all pitched in April out of the Rangers bullpen. And most of them were gone by the first week in May. The rest were gone by August.

That is quite a bit of turnover in a bullpen in a few weeks.

Emerging out of the ruins were Keona Kela and Shawn Tolleson, who heroically became the closer when Feliz failed, and who single-handedly helped keep the Rangers from falling off the face of the earth until reinforcement arrived in the form of Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman.

The relief pitching market, for closers and important set up men, seems to be shaping up through trades at first. Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrell were just moved to new teams, and the rumor that the Reds will deal flamethrower Aroldis Chapman soon. When you aren’t going to contend, what do you need a closer for?

The other thing that makes the relief pitching market so difficult is that closers are fickle. They are a dime-a-dozen. By that I mean, if you have a great closer one year, there’s a small chance he will hit the brick wall the next year. Don’t panic. You can always find someone else. Saint Louis and Boston made it to the World Series a couple of years ago, each team on their fourth closer due to injury and Scheppersian performances. The Rangers won the West last year with its second closer, and you might argue third, because is sure seemed like Sam Dyson was taking over.

You need a great closer to win. Great closers grow on trees. Just make sure you pluck off a good one.

A few names on the free agent list are intriguing: Matt Albers, Jonathan Broxton, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Madson, Darren O’Day (I can see an O’Day/Odor Bobblehead Night promotion), Joakim Soria, Anthony Bastardo (only because I want to wear his jersey: BASTARDO), Brian Dunning (had real value as a starter a few years ago).


Remember the cautionary tale of a closer who falls apart? That’s Jim Johnson. He is always why, in my mind, the save stat is cheap. You have to be a pretty awful pitcher to allow three runs to score in one inning. Jim Johnson did that quite a bit. In 2012 and 2013, he had 51 saves and 50 saves respectively for the Orioles. He had nine blown saves in 2013. After two consecutive 50-save seasons, he was finished as a closer. And if you really want to throw gas on the fire, there’s Fernando Rodney.

The Rangers seem to have more pressing needs than bullpen help. But bullpens always need help. Who knows if Jake Diekman will dominate like he did last year. He came to the Ranger with an ERA of 5.15. Was Shawn Tolleson a fluke? I sure hope not, but if he was, Sam Dyson is there. Or Keona Kela if Dyson hits hard times.

Often a bullpen is like change in your pocket. It might be enough to cover the parking meter, it might not.