The closer’s role is often considered to be either the most overrated role, or most important role for a club’s bullpen depending on what school of thought you belong to. What’s not up for debate however, is the need of reliable arms waiting in the bullpen. It’s not too surprising to see plenty of familiar relievers on the free agent market this time of year, especially since the baseball world doesn’t seem willing to blink until a certain Japanese ace finds a destination. There’s plenty of younger arms ready to fill key roles in the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a veteran or two to the mix.
Seattle has plenty of internal options available to fill the closer role if they choose not to acquire outside help. Danny Farquhar appears to have the upper hand on the role after saving 16 games in 2014, most of which came towards the end of the season. In a recent discussion with our own Jason Churchill, Farquhar discussed the addition of a two-seam fastball to his repertoire to make himself more effective against right-handed batters. The M’s could also turn to a familiar face in Tom Wilhelmsen who’s picked up 55 saves over the past two seasons. The Bartender pitched his way out of the roll in 2013 after hitting a rough patch, but appears to at least be headed for a set-up role moving forward.
Hypothetically Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush could potentially see eighth or ninth inning roles, but it’s much more likely they pick up where they left off in ’13 as effective middle relievers. Should the Mariners desire to make an addition from the free agent pool, they’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
Grant Balfour made news recently after the two-year deal worth $15 million he was set to sign with the Baltimore Orioles collapsed after concerns regarding his right shoulder came up during medical evaluations. While Balfour claims he’s “100% healthy”, his market will likely take a hit, and perhaps cost him a multi-year deal since the O’s backed out. The former All-Star has undergone Tommy John and shoulder surgery in the past, but has pitched injury free for several consecutive seasons now. Coming off a 38 save season in ’13 and four straight years with an ERA under 2.60, Balfour should still be capable of another productive year as a 36-year old this season.
Oliver Perez was one of Seattle’s best relievers this past season, logging 53 innings and posting a 3.26 FIP and a 3.36 xFIP; both numbers better than his 3.74 ERA. Perez will turn 33 in August, but there’s no reason to suggest there’s still some mileage left on his arm. The lefty earned $1.5 million last year and will probably be looking for at least a slight raise and the security of a two or three year deal. Still, a reunion would make sense for both parties as Furbush is the only left-hander in the Mariners’ projected bullpen.
Fernando Rodney is an established closer who put up a career year in 2012, saving 48 games and producing an impeccable 0.60 ERA. Rodney was so good that year that not only did he finish fifth in the Cy Young voting, he also finished thirteenth in the MVP voting as well. Despite seeing his strikeout rate increase by nearly two batter per inning in 2013, the former All-Star saw his walk rate increase from 1.81 to 4.86 as well as his BABIP return closer to his career average. Even if Rodney can reproduce his ’13 numbers he’d still be a solid addition to the M’s pen. Perhaps the biggest reason he’s yet to be signed is due to the fact he’s looking for closer money, and teams may not see much value left over should he falter in the closer role at any point.
Ryan Madson represents a true wildcard as he hasn’t pitched a game in the big leagues since October 2011. Still just 33, the righty missed 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and although he signed a Major League deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2013 season, he suffered multiple setbacks in his rehab and was released before the season’s end. It’s unlikely Madson can expect to sign a Major League contract after missing back-to-back campaigns, but any deal he’ll eventually sign is likely to be full of incentives should he regain his 2011 form again. On a minor league deal, Madson would be a good buy-low option for just about any club in baseball.
Fransisco Rodriguez is a familiar name for most Seattle fans after pitching for the Angels from 2002-08. Although he’s no longer the dominant reliever he was back then, he’s managed to re-establish himself as a competent reliever with the Milwaukee Brewers over the last couple seasons. Perhaps he could be considered a nostalgia pick, but K-Rod only recently turned 32, and could conceivably be a reasonably priced set-up man for the next couple seasons if all goes well. Rodriguez posted the lowest walk rate of his career with a 2.70 BB/9 as well as a 10.41 K/9, much closer to his strikeout rate when he was an All-Star.
Eric O’Flaherty is another familiar name after spending several years in the Mariners’ organization. The lefty underwent Tommy John surgery in May and is expected to miss the beginning of the season, but he was a top notch reliever for the Atlanta Braves from 2010-2012. Like Perez, O’Flaherty would provide another much needed left-handed option out of the pen. O’Flaherty has held left-handed hitters to a sub .200 average over his career but has pitched to approximately 250 more right-handed hitters so he hasn’t been used exclusively as a specialist all that much.
Other possible options could include the likes of Andrew Bailey, Carlos Marmol, and Brett Myers just to mention a few. It’s very likely that several free agent starting pitchers may have to settle for relief roles in order to secure a job in 2014, but that flexibility still may not be enough for some.
Erik Bedard told a Canadian paper that he is willing to relieve in 2014, and that he hasn't had much interest this offseason so far.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 10, 2014
While struggles with injuries and inconsistency can be found throughout this list, it’s a fairly accurate representation of the life cycle of a relief pitcher. It’s very likely that the Mariners will want to stick with some of their internal options for bullpen roles, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t bring in at least one or two proven veteran guys if they’re serious about contention in 2014.
Perhaps the best way to approach building a bullpen is attempting to catch lightning in a bottle while having plenty of options around. There’s a reason teams are always scrambling to add pitching depth.