State of play: Free agent relief pitchers

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpen arms are dropping off the market daily. Who's the best of the rest?

The biggest bullpen names to hit the open market this winter are all off the table. Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Brian Wilson, and Joaquin Benoit have all signed multi-year deals with new clubs, leaving the reliever market looking a little more sparse than it did when December began. There are still a number of valuable relief arms available, however, so let's take a look at the markets of five best guys in need of a new club:

Fernando Rodney, 36, RHP

Rodney is the only reliever still available who finished 2013 as his club's closer (and is not named Kevin Gregg). He also owns a 1.91 ERA and 85 saves over the last two years, which puts him in prime position to make a considerable amount of cash this winter.

The veteran right-hander seems to be well aware of his catbird seat status; he's asking for a deal worth at least $10 million a year, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson are the only two relievers to get that amount this winter, so Rodney is setting his sights as high as they can go.

Rodney has indicated in the past that he'd like to return to Tampa Bay, where he's had great success, but it's unlikely that the Rays would be willing to pay such a hefty price for him. The Indians were on the market for a new closer for a while -- and met with Rodney's agent -- but they ultimately opted to go the cheap route and sign John Axford.

With those clubs out of the picture, Rodney's market is effectively dwindled down to the Mariners, Yankees and maybe a mystery team. Seattle definitely has interest in Rodney, and new manager Lloyd McClendon has a strong relationship with him from their time in Detroit, but they too may be scared away by his price tag.

New York has been on the prowl for bullpen help all winter, but wanted to deal with "more pressing needs" around the diamond first. The club is still on the market for second basemen and starting pitching, so it could be a while yet before they consider arms like Rodney.

Scott Downs, 37, LHP

The market for lefty relievers has been a lucrative one this winter. Javier Lopez, J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Matt Thornton, and Manny Parra have all gotten at least two-year deals, so a pitcher of Downs' pedigree should be looking at a multi-year pact somewhere in the low eight figures.

Downs didn't fare very well when he moved to the Braves at the 2013 trade deadline -- he allowed six runs in 14 innings -- but his overall numbers were still very good. The veteran posted a 2.49 ERA over 68 appearances (43⅓ innings) on the year, marking the 10th consecutive season that he's eclipsed 40 innings out of the 'pen.

The Nationals are currently the best bet to land Downs. The club was reportedly deciding between him and Howell as lefty specialists, per Jayson Stark of ESPN. Now that Howell has gone back to the Dodgers, the Nats have essentially had their minds made up for them.

San Diego has also been linked to Downs, so they could swoop in and sign him out from under Washington. The Friars are reportedly looking for a lefty setup arm to complement new arrival Joaquin Benoit.

Chris Pérez, 28, RHP

Perez did not have a great 2013. The right-hander not only posted career-worst numbers, lost his closer job, and was released by the Indians, he also pled no contest to misdemeanor drug charges for having marijuana mailed to his house. Not a banner year by any means.

Despite his woeful 2013, Perez is likely to land on his feet somewhere next season and could end up being a bargain when he does. While his home run rate was abysmal late last year, his other peripherals are still solid. He strikes out a batter per inning and walks an average number of guys -- three per nine since 2012 -- so when his homer rate comes back to earth, he should be effective.

Perez was in attendance at the Winter Meetings in an attempt to facilitate interest first hand. Whether or not he was successful on that front remains to be seen. The New York Mets kicked the tires on him as a potential late-inning addition a few weeks ago, but the rumor mill has been quiet other than that.

Francisco Rodríguez, 31, RHP

K-Rod is no longer the elite bullpen arm that he was in his heyday with the Angels, but he still gets swings and misses with the best of them. Rodríguez fanned more than 10 batters per nine last season -- his best rate since 2010 -- and has struck out at least a hitter per frame in every year of his career.

The right-hander had a tough time keeping the ball in the park in his late-season stint with the Orioles in 2013 -- surrendering five long balls in just 22 innings -- which could explain why his market has been so quiet this winter. The only rumor to surface in the offseason that even gives a passing mention to K-Rod is one from Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore that says Rodríguez was never a good fit for the O's and won't be returning in 2014.

Rodríguez has been good for about 70 innings per year over the last decade and owns a career 2.70 ERA, so it is inevitable that someone will give him a big-league contract this winter. However, he didn't sign on with a club until mid-April last year and has dealt with a fair share of off-the-field incidents, so perhaps there's something keeping clubs from him.

Eric O`Flaherty, 28, LHP

The deceptive lefty missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his relative youth and incredible effectiveness when healthy net him a spot on this list. He probably won't return to regular bullpen duty until at least June 2014, but when he does he should be a valuable asset.

All signs seem to point to O`Flaherty rejoining the Atlanta Braves at any minute, but the Nationals could also be in play for his services. Washington reportedly narrowed their search for a lefty specialist down to J.P. Howell and Scott Downs last week, but O`Flaherty could be back in the picture now that Howell re-signed with the Dodgers.

Honorable mentions

Andrew Bailey, 29, RHP
Joel Hanrahan, 32, RHP

The former Red Sox closer duo are unlikely to get back to the mound until at least midseason in 2014 because of elbow/shoulder issues, but they could end up being valuable additions for contending clubs down the stretch.

Ryan Madson, 33, RHP

Madson is another guy coming back from injury, though his setback has been a bit more severe. He hasn't thrown a meaningful inning since 2011 and is unlikely to get more than a minor-league deal.

Jose Valverde, 35, RHP

Papa Grande's days as a late-inning reliever are probably over. However, if a team is willing to overlook his unsustainable homer rate last season, the rest of his peripherals seem to indicate there's still a bit left in the tank.

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