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Possible free agent options that can help the Indians bullpen

Possible free agent options that can help the Indians bullpen
November 7, 2013
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Entering the 2013 season, the bullpen looked to be an area of strength for Cleveland, with top set up men Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano, and closerChris Perez.  While Smith performed well all season, Pestano and Perez both struggled and the bullpen often times left fans clinging to the edges of their seats.

With Smith entering free agency, Perez being released, and Pestano working to regain his form from 2011 and 2012, the Cleveland bullpen may have a very different look come 2014.  In part one of this two part series, I will examine the possible free agent options to shore up the Cleveland bullpen this winter.  (Note: I did not include Smith in this piece.  However, I do expect Cleveland to attempt to resign him if the price is right.)

Also, in case you missed them, here are the pieces I did looking at potential trade and free agent solutions for the lineup and starting rotation:

Lineup - Free agents
Lineup - Trades
Starting rotation - Free agents
Starting rotation - Trades

Big Names

Grant Balfour
2013: 1-3, 2.59 ERA, 62.2 IP, 27 BB, 72 SO, 38 SV

Balfour thrived in the closer role while in Oakland, and he is now in line for a nice pay day through free agency.  He will enter the 2014 season at 36 years of age, and will probably be looking for at least a two year deal.  He has a fiery personality that is not hard to notice when he's on the mound, as he is often seen screaming at himself before the start of an inning and after some of his pitches.  That fire he has and his intimidation techniques aren't a bad thing when it comes to a closer, and whatever he does has clearly worked for him.  Even in a market that is full of closers, Balfour still should get more than the Indians may want to spend for a bullpen arm.

Joaquin Benoit
2013: 4-1, 2.01 ERA, 67.0 IP, 22 BB, 73 SO, 24 SV

Benoit took over as the closer of the Tigers in late June and solidified the role that had plagued Detroit up until that point.  He had been one of the better set up men in the game throughout his years in Detroit and Tampa Bay, but now he has positioned himself to get a deal to be a team's primary closer.  He struggled some in the 2013 postseason but was pretty much lights out during the regular season.  Detroit may want to bring him back after his solid three years as a Tiger.  They may also elect to pursue another top closer arm such as Joe Nathan or Balfour, or try prospect Bruce Rondon again.

Joe Nathan
2013: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 64.2 IP, 22 BB, 73 SO, 43 SV

Nathan is hands down one of the top closers in all of baseball, and he is sure to get paid like it, even at the age of 38.  Over his 13-year career, Nathan has posted a 2.76 ERA in 858.2 innings, while registering 341 saves.  He is almost certainly out of the Indians price range, but as the top closer on the free agent market, I threw him on this list for the sake of conversation.  It is much more likely that he will wind up the closer of a win-now, big market team.  Also, even though he turned down his option with the Rangers, and Texas did not give him a qualifying offer, they may still look to resign the guy who has closed the door on many Ranger wins in the past two seasons.

Fernando Rodney
2013: 5-4, 3.38 ERA, 66.2 IP, 36 BB, 82 SO, 37 SV

After his stellar 2012 season that saw him finish 5th in Cy Young voting, Rodney came back down to Earth in 2013.  He still posted a respectable line for a closer and pitched quite well from June on.  His past issues with consistency and control, plus his age (he'll be 37 next March), may bring his price tag down a bit.  Add that to the fact that this is a deep closer class and he may fall right into the Indians price range.  He is certain to get lots of calls this winter for that very reason, as several teams could use a back of the bullpen arm.  He may also wait until Nathan, Balfour, and Benoit sign, so that he can become the top closer remaining.

Brian Wilson
2013: 2-1, 0.66 ERA, 13.2 IP, 4 BB, 13 SO, 3 HLD

Wilson signed with the Dodgers late last summer after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012.  He proved healthy and pitched well enough in August and September to take over the primary set up man duties for Los Angeles in the postseason.  This offseason, Wilson will be looking for an opportunity to return to his former role as a closer, where he earned three All-Star appearances.  He will most likely be the cheapest of the “Big Name” options, and his personality seems like a perfect fit in Cleveland's clubhouse.  However, his interest in the Indians is unknown, and he may want to remain on the West Coast.

Middle Tier

Jesse Crain
2013: 2-3, 0.74 ERA, 36.2 IP, 11 BB, 46 SO, 19 HLD

Crain was on the DL with a shoulder injury at the time he was acquired by Tampa Bay from the White Sox.  He never progressed as much as Tampa had hoped and ended up not making a single appearance for the Rays.  Now he enters the free agent market as a possible cheap set up man with a history of success.  He has pitched his entire career in the AL Central with the White Sox and the Twins.  That may make him appealing to Cleveland, as he will have knowledge of some of the hitters in the division as well as some of the strategies of the divisional managers.  Teams who miss out on the top closers may also look to offer Crain a chance of competing for a closer role, assuming his health checks out.

LaTroy Hawkins
2013: 3-2, 2.93 ERA, 70.2 IP, 10 BB, 55 SO, 13 HLD, 13 SV

Father Time may be undefeated, but he's having a tough time in his battle against Hawkins.  Even at the age of 40, Hawkins still managed to put together another solid season in the backend of a Major League bullpen.  He isn't a big strikeout guy, but he has great control and is able to miss the fat part of opposing hitters' bats.  Due to his age, he won't command much and could be a nice, cheap addition to the bullpen mix for Cleveland.

J.P. Howell
2013: 4-1, 2.03 ERA, 62.0 IP, 23 BB, 54 SO, 11 HLD

Howell had a great year as the primary lefty out of the Dodger bullpen, as he held left-handed hitters to a .164 average and a .452 OPS.  He made $2.85 million this year, and after his nice showing, he will most likely be looking for a pay increase.  Howell has also proven that he is not just a specialist as he held righties to a .222 average in 108 at bats (just two at bats less than he threw against lefties).  He will certainly garner a lot of interest this offseason, and may wind up with a club in a bigger market than Cleveland.

Edward Mujica
2013: 2-1, 2.78 ERA, 64.2 IP, 5 BB, 46 SO, 37 SV

Mujica signed with the Indians as an amateur free agent in 2001.  He made his Major League debut in 2006 with the Tribe and in his three seasons in Cleveland he compiled a 6.04 ERA in 70 innings pitched.  Cleveland sent him to San Diego in 2009 and since then he has pitched to the tune of a 3.31 ERA in 369.1 innings.  This past season was Mujica's first shot at saving games, and even though he lost his closer's job in September to stud prospectTrevor Rosenthal, he was very efficient working the 9th inning, as his stats above show.  At age 29, Mujica is sure to be looking for a multi-year deal.  Cleveland may look to reunite with Mujica and see if his pinpoint control can help solidify the 9th inning for the Indians.

Javier Lopez
2013: 4-2, 1.83 ERA, 39.1 IP, 12 BB, 37 SO, 15 HLD

Lopez and his sidewinding motion have given left-handed hitters fits for years, and 2013 was no different as he held lefties to a .156 average and a .431 OPS.  Righties fared much better this past season, hitting .296 with an .805 OPS, so Lopez fits best as a lefty specialist.  He was often mentioned in trade rumors in each of the last two summers, so now that he's free to negotiate with any team, he is sure to have a fare share of suitors.  Lopez does have a history with Francona when he pitched out of the Boston bullpen from 2006-2009.

Matt Thornton
2013: 0-4, 3.74 ERA, 43.1 IP, 15 BB, 30 SO, 19 HLD

Thornton had his $6 million club option declined by Boston, making him a free agent.  Prior to being acquired by Boston in the summer, Thornton spent the majority of his 10-year career with the White Sox, so the Indians are plenty familiar with him.  He has steadily lost some velocity on his fastball and it has resulted in a consistent lowering of his strikeout rate.  Regardless, he is still a quality left handed bullpen arm and he should get plenty of calls this winter.  Boston didn't seem to use him much and his continued drop in velocity could make him a fairly cheap option.

Jose Veras
2013: 0-5, 3.02 ERA, 62.2 IP, 22 BB, 60 SO, 9 HLD, 21 SV

Veras pitched fairly well for Detroit after they acquired him from Houston at the deadline, but the Tigers still decided to decline his $3.25 million option for 2014.  With the Tigers, Veras became the primary set up man for Benoit.  Prior to the trade, he had been a pleasant surprise closing out ballgames in Houston.  He is another guy that could fit in any teams bullpen due to his late game experience.  If teams miss out on the top closers or just want a cheaper option, they could do worse than Veras.

Other Middle Tier names to watch:  Mike GonzalezManny ParraOliver Perez

Lottery Tickets

Joba Chamberlain
2013: 2-1, 4.93 ERA, 42.0 IP, 26 BB, 38 SO

Chamberlain once again looked like the heir to the Mariano Rivera throne.  Now he's in my Lottery Tickets section and may struggle to find a Major League deal this offseason.  After two phenomenal years working mainly out of the Yankee bullpen in '07 and '08, New York attempted to convert the hard throwing righty to a full time starter.  That adventure failed miserably and since then Chamberlain has not been the same guy.  He has had injury issues throughout his career and control has become a concern, but on a very cheap deal the Indians may look to catch lightning in a bottle with Chamberlain.

Octavio Dotel
2013: 0-0, 13.50 ERA, 4.2 IP, 4 BB, 4 SO

Dotel will look to resume his career after missing the vast majority of 2013 with an elbow injury. In his last five seasons prior to 2013, Dotel had only posted an ERA higher than 4.00 once (2010: 4.08 ERA).  He owns a career 3.25 ERA, with 109 saves and 140 holds.  His experience in the late innings will likely get Dotel some offers this offseason, even if they are only for minor league deals.  For very little cost, Dotel may be worth a flier for the Indians this winter.

Joel Hanrahan
2013: 0-1, 9.82 ERA, 7.1 IP, 6 BB, 5 SO, 4 SV

I put Hanrahan on this list because I have seen some people in the comments sections say that Hanrahan would be worth a look.  If healthy, I would agree.  He was a very good closer in '11 and '12 and would be worth a minor league deal to see if he has regained his old form.  However, he underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2013.  Usually Tommy John surgery requires about a year or more of rehab time.  Unless he's recovering at a rapid pace, it doesn't seem likely that he will be ready for the start of 2014.  I see him following in Brian Wilson's footsteps and waiting until he can show teams he is healthy before signing a contract.  Maybe then the Indians take a look at him.

Ryan Madson
2011: 4-2, 2.37 ERA, 60.2 IP, 16 BB, 62 SO, 32 SV

Madson signed a one year deal with Cincinnati prior to 2012, then missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.  Last winter, Madson signed with the Angels in hopes of taking over their closer job.  Instead, he had multiple issues with his surgically repaired elbow and never threw a big league inning in 2013 either.  This offseason, he will be hard pressed to find a guaranteed deal anywhere.  The last time he pitched he was great, working as the Phillies closer.  He's a high risk, possible high reward guy.  For anything guaranteed, he's too much of a risk.  For a minor league deal with an invite to spring training to show that he is finally healthy, he may be worth a flier.

Carlos Marmol
2013: 2-4, 4.41 ERA, 49.0 IP, 40 BB, 59 SO

Marmol is the ultimate high risk, high reward pitcher.  In '07 and '08, Marmol looked like he was turning into a shutdown closer for the Cubs.  Since then, he has had some nice seasons but has never been able to combat his woeful walk numbers.  This summer, Chicago finally had had enough of waiting for him to figure things out and they shipped him to the Dodgers.  In LA, he pitched fairly well, with a 2.53 ERA in 21.1 innings, but he still walked 19 batters.  He'll find a job this winter because of his electric arm, but Cleveland may not be his home unless they have some reason to believe they can fix his control issues.

Eric O'Flaherty
2013: 3-0, 2.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 5 BB, 11 SO

Like Hanrahan, O'Flaherty also underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2013.  However, this was the second time the lefty has had to go through the elbow reconstructive surgery.  He also will likely not be ready for the start of the 2014 season, but Cleveland may be wise to gauge his interest in joining the Indians anyway.  Since being claimed off waivers from Seattle by Atlanta before the 2009 season, O'Flaherty has posted a 1.99 ERA in 249.1 innings.  He was in line for a big multi-year contract this winter before his injury, so it may be smart for Cleveland to pounce while they can, and hope that O'Flaherty can give a big boost to the pen during the summer months.

Other Lottery Ticket names to watch:  Kyle FarnsworthJuan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez, Marlins closer),Rafael Perez

Be on the lookout in the coming days for part two where I will explore possible trade options the Indians may look into in hopes of improving their bullpen.

User Comments

November 7, 2013 - 9:13 PM EST
Brian Wilson, Crain and Lopez would be perfect. I would also love to see Marmol signed to a low risk deal.

Hopefully Wilson could close, Crain could take over for Joe Smith and Lopez could give us a legit LOOGY. Marmol could be a jackpot.

In terms of the rotation I would like to see them sign Tim Hudson, and bring back Kazmir. If not Kazmir then I would like to see them sign Scott Baker and bring someone else in on a low risk deal.

Then go out and get Corey Hart or Carlos Beltran.

Rotation: Masterson-Hudson-Kazmir-McCalister-Salazar.

Bullpen: Wilson-Crain-Lopez-Kluber-Shaw-Carrasco-Pestano/Allen.

Lineup: Bourn-Ascab-Kipnis-Beltran/Hart-Santana-Brantley-Gomes-Chiz-Swisher

Bench: Some combo of Aviles-Rayburn-Stubbs-Giambi-Jram.

Get it done.
November 7, 2013 - 11:53 AM EST
Obviously you'd take any of these guys on minor league deals. Personally, I wouldn't go beyond a one year deal with any of these guys and I wouldn't pay more than 3-4 million either. Relievers are way too up and down season to season for us to make a big investment...especially considering our other needs are much more pressing.
November 7, 2013 - 11:05 AM EST
Crain is very intriguing to me. Would have to be a minor league deal though or a very small guaranteed deal with lots of incentives. He's be a guy along the same as Pestano as a guy with a huge question mark for next season, but the upside is massive for what he can bring to a bullpen if he is healthy and signs for so little.
November 7, 2013 - 11:04 AM EST
I expect the Indians will sign either O'Flaherty, Rafael Perez or Hanrahan that is the type of signings the Tribe makes every year and sometimes they work out. Low cost, high risk see Blake Wood.
November 7, 2013 - 10:56 AM EST
I like to see Crain and Lopez. I don't see them as closers but could be the set up man leading to the closer. I have feeling that Francona has an eye on Lopez similar to Hudson. Lopez would be a better upgrade than having Hill.

A minor deal on O'Flaherty would be great. I could see a scenario in which O'Flaherty and Capps being ready mid season and contribute for the stretch run to make playoffs for 2nd yr in row.
November 7, 2013 - 9:55 AM EST
I think O'Flaherty would be a nice acquisition because he gives you flexibility as a late inning set up guy and also as a situational lefty. Not sure he'd work out too well as a closer though, but it would give you another option if the guy we end up with is struggling.
November 7, 2013 - 9:50 AM EST
Having watch O'Flaherty the last few years, he would be a very good gamble. He wasn't a Loogy but a legit reliever that got both righties and lefties out. Hopefully he recovers because he was a good one.
November 7, 2013 - 9:30 AM EST
Really would like to see Mujica back in Cleveland. Still irks me that we gave him up when we did (for nothing bascially). Loved his stuff. 8th/9th inning tweener. Can pitch the 8th allowing a guy like Allen or Shaw to close but move to the 9th if they struggle. I like him more than Smith personally. Money will be an issue though get a decent multi-year deal.

I'd throw Kevin Gregg on the list too. Closed for the Cubs this year....a Joe Borowski if you will. Not the ideal guy at all but should come cheap after how things ended in Chicago. Would be way, way down my list but if you could get him on a minor league deal worth a look possibly.
November 7, 2013 - 9:26 AM EST
Brian Wilson and Nick Swisher on the same team would be a marketers dream in Cleveland.

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