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September 12, 2013

Bullpen Report

Looking Ahead

by Mike Gianella

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With the season winding down, instead of going through the usual exercise of rating relievers by tiers, I thought I would take a look at all 30 closers in Major League Baseball through the lens of their contract statuses. This exercise isn’t intended to offer any predictions on what each team might do this winter, but rather is presented to offer information to keeper league owners who are looking ahead to next year.

The contract information below has been culled from Baseball Prospectus’ contracts database.


Technically, Rivera is a free agent, but since he announced his retirement and has emphasized that he’s not coming back even if Joe Girardi asks nicely, he gets his own category. David Robertson is Mo’s likely replacement, although it’s not out of the question that the Yankees could bring someone else in this winter.

Free Agents

It seems unlikely that any of these pitchers will be brought back by their respective clubs, although if that’s the case, it’s possible that we see a buyer’s market this winter that keeps reliever prices reasonable (relatively speaking). History and financial resources suggest that the Tigers and Cardinals are the most likely teams to spend money on a closer, but both teams invented closers in both Benoit and Mujica this season and could do the same again next year. This is especially true in St. Louis’ case; the team has a deep stable of young arms, and could give a stud like Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez a year in the pen in a high-leverage role before moving them to the rotation in the future.

The Athletics will probably not commit to a reliever on a multi-year deal, so Balfour’s best case to return to Oakland would probably be on a one-year deal. He turns 36 in December, but I could see him getting two years elsewhere. Rodney doesn’t fit the Rays’ M.O. of inventing a cheap closer, so he will probably leave. The Cubs are unlikely to bring Gregg back unless he is really cheap again.

Option Year Players

Janssen has an affordable $4 million club option. It’s very likely that the Blue Jays exercise this option this winter. Nathan’s case is more complicated. The Rangers had a $9 million club option on Nathan, but with two more games finished for Nathan, it becomes a player option, and Nathan can void it. He will be 39 next season, but given how terrific he has been in Texas, I could see Nathan getting a raise. Maybe the Rangers will renegotiate with him next month before he hits free agency.


These pitchers can simply be offered a one-year contract by their teams without any further negotiation. The upside here is that these guys are unlikely to be traded, but the downside is that due to how cheap they are, any performance blip makes it easy to swap them out at a moment’s notice.

I include Fields here as a default for the Astros. Their bullpen is quite fluid.

Arbitration Eligible

This list could also be called “potential non-tenders,” but most of these players should at the very least sign a one-year deal with their current clubs. Cishek seems like a trade candidate for the cost-conscious Marlins, but the club keeps saying it will keep him. On the basis of contract alone, Johnson and Perez are the most likely non-tender candidates, especially Perez. His $7.3 million salary in 2013 makes him even more prohibitively expensive, and after another pedestrian year, the Indians might show him the door.

Chapman’s contract is complicated. He was signed to a long-term deal out of Cuba, but part of the deal allowed Chapman to go through the arbitration process if he attained arbitration eligibility. It looks like he will be arbitration eligible this winter. For his fantasy owners this is mostly moot; Chapman is a key component of the Reds bullpen in 2014 regardless of what his contract status is, and a top-tier closer to boot.

Signed Through 2014

i – $14 million option vests with 120 games finished in 2013-2014)
ii - $7 million club option

Soriano is the most expensive reliever here by far. The Nationals are on the hook for $14 million in 2014. While there is some speculation about the Nationals flipping Soriano so that they can once again open the door for Drew Storen, the contract makes me skeptical that will happen.

Street and Romo are both mid-priced options. Street is guaranteed $7 million, while Romo’s 2014 salary will depend on how many games he finishes this year. He will probably make either $6 million or $6.15 million.

Grilli and Uehara are the bargains in this class. Uehara is due to make $4.25 million while Grilli will get $4 million. I am guessing that Grilli will close next year, even though Mark Melancon is closing for the Pirates at the moment.

I list Putz here but the Diamondbacks pen is complicated. Any of Heath Bell ($9 million), Putz ($7 million), and Brad Ziegler (arbitration eligible) could close next year with David Hernandez ($2 million) as a definite dark horse candidate. The assumption is that Ziegler may get non-tendered, but I have little if any feel for what might happen in this bullpen.

Signed Through 2015

iii - $13 million versing option in 2016 with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 games finished in 2014-2015

iv - $4.5 million club option in 2016

That 55-game games finished option in 2015 will shrink with every game Paps finishes over 45 in 2014. If Papelbon hangs on to his job for two years running, 50 games finished in both 2014 and 2015 is quite attainable. If the option vests, Papelbon will be 35 years old at the end of his contract. With six full seasons as a Red Sox and five full seasons as a Phillie, one wonders which cap Papelbon will don on his Hall of Fame plaque.

While multi-year contracts for relievers are always risky, Perkins is a bargain even if he slips a little bit in the next two or three years. That $4.5 million option will look even better once inflation is factored into the equation.

On the $ Values

Dollar values in the charts below represent my 2012 dollar valuations for 5x5 “only” Rotisserie-style formats using 2013 player statistics. These values use a Standings Gain Points (or SGP) model that is similar to the SGP model used in Baseball Prospectus’ Player Forecast Manager.

Earnings Through Games of Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Closer Earnings to Date

Overall Rank




Craig Kimbrel



Greg Holland



Koji Uehara



Joe Nathan



Kenley Jansen



Aroldis Chapman



Mariano Rivera



Edward Mujica



Addison Reed



Glen Perkins



Sergio Romo



Jim Johnson



Steve Cishek



Mark Melancon



Jonathan Papelbon



Grant Balfour



Rafael Soriano



Casey Janssen



Jim Henderson



Fernando Rodney



Huston Street



Joaquin Benoit



Ernesto Frieri



Kevin Gregg



Brad Ziegler



Rex Brothers



Chris Perez



LaTroy Hawkins



Danny Farquhar



Josh Fields


Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers

Overall Rank




Bobby Parnell



Jason Grilli



Luke Hochevar



Tyler Clippard



Jose Veras



Drew Smyly



David Robertson



Tommy Hunter



Justin Wilson



Luis Avilan



Alex Torres



Neal Cotts



Darren O’Day



Steve Rodriguez



Tony Watson



Ryan Cook



Francisco Rodriguez



Tanner Scheppers



Luke Gregerson



Trevor Rosenthal



J.J. Hoover



Josh Collmenter



David Carpenter



Brett Cecil



Aaron Loup



Craig Stammen



Cody Allen



Kevin Siegrist



Alfredo Simon



Joe Smith


Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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