As February and the excitement of spring training approaches, several free agent relievers are still waiting for the right offer on the open market. They aren't unemployed for the same reasons as their qualifying offer-tainted counterparts, but the market has stalled nonetheless.
Both the Yankees and the Red Sox finished in the bottom third of the league in terms of bullpen ERA last season. The Tigers, Mariners, and Angels did too. Some of those teams appear to have addressed the issue, others haven't. The pitchers that make up a bullpen are typically considered a fickle bunch on a year-to-year basis. So while simply scooping relief pitchers out of free agency might not solve these team's late-inning headaches, it couldn't hurt, right?
This winter, a few surprising teams have dipped into the free agent and trade market to acquire impact relievers. Baseball Prospectus' Russell A. Carleton points out that teams like the Athletics and Rays are spending what seems like a large chunk of their resources on relievers because "relievers might just have come around to having an expected value that’s more than they cost."
So, why are several high-impact bullpenners still jobless?
It could be because Tampa Bay and Oakland -- as usual -- are ahead of the curve, and they've already filled their openings with some pretty impressive pitchers. However, it could also be due to high asking prices and/or a lack of openings in the ninth inning.
Here's a look at who's still looking for a job:
Andrew Bailey, Rafael Betancourt, Mitchell Boggs, Octavio Dotel, Kyle Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Kevin Gregg, Joel Hanrahan, Brandon Lyon, Ryan Madson, Carlos Marmol, Brett Myers, Fernando Rodney, Francisco Rodriguez
Rodney is the clear-cut cream of this crop, but bounce-back candidates like Madson, K-Rod, and Bailey could end up making an impact in 2014. Many of the former closers on the open market could end up signing deals that will land them in a middle relief role, or in some cases, the minors, but their past experience could be enough to convince a team to take a chance on them.
Ayala was excellent last season. He should be able to find a regular spot somewhere thanks to a 2.58 ERA in 168 innings for the Yankees, Orioles, and Braves since 2011. The 36-year-old right hander has spent parts of nine major league seasons with seven different clubs. Despite struggling through his early 30s, Ayala's recent success makes him one the most desirable relievers available.
Perez was recently highlighted by FanGraphs' Mike Petriello as a surprising buy-low candidate. After developing a reputation that "was so terrible that the mere fact that he was in the bigs and adding any kind of value was seen as a jaw-dropping event," Perez bounced back, putting together a useful stretch over the last two years while with Seattle. In 82⅔ innings with the Mariners, he struck out more than a batter per inning and put up a 3.14 ERA in 94 appearances. The Mariners, Nationals, and Padres have shown interest in him so far this winter.