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MLB relief pitchers are cashing in this offseason

10 non-closers have signed multi-year deals as free agents so far this winter.

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians
Bryan Shaw is one of several relief pitchers to find the free agent market to his liking so far this winter.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The winter meetings were kind of slow this year in Orlando, with not many deals going down at baseball’s annual gathering. But there was a rush on middle relief pitchers, who have found this free agent market to be quite lucrative.

Brandon Morrow was the headliner so far this winter, joining the Chicago Cubs on a two-year, $21 million contract that could be worth as much as $30 million over three years if his 2020 option is exercised. Morrow was an excellent setup man for the Dodgers this season, posting a 2.06 ERA in 45 games after signing a minor league deal for $1.25 million last year.

Others to cash in this winter include Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee (3 years, $27 million each) with the Colorado Rockies, Tommy Hunter (2 years, $18 million) with the Philadelphia Phillies and Juan Nicasio (2 years, $17 million) with the Seattle Mariners to name a few. Those four combined for 13 total saves in 2017.

Morrow could close for the Cubs, depending on how the rest of the winter goes, and with just two saves in the last eight seasons, we won’t classify him just yet as a closer.

Last offseason was a banner year for free agent closers, with Aroldis Chapman (5 years, $86 million), Kenley Jansen (5 years, $80 million) and Mark Melancon (4 years, $62 million) signing the three richest contracts for relief pitchers in history. The rest of the market saw just five multi-year deals with an average annual value of $6 million or more for free agent relievers who weren’t closers:

Free agent relief pitchers, 2016-17 offseason

Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Brad Ziegler Marlins 2 $16,000,000 $8,000,000
Brett Cecil Cardinals 4 $30,500,000 $7,625,000
Michael Dunn Rockies 3 $19,000,000 $6,333,333
Junichi Tazawa Marlins 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000
Travis Wood Royals 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000
Santiago Castilla Athletics 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000
Daniel Hudson Pirates 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000
Mark Rzepczynski Mariners 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000
Source: MLB Trade Rumors

The previous winter was more active in multi-year deals for non-closers, but still saw five such pitchers crack the $6 million barrier in AAV.

Free agent relief pitchers, 2015-16 offseason

Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Darren O'Day Orioles 4 $31,000,000 $7,750,000
Ryan Madson Athletics 3 $22,000,000 $7,333,333
Tyler Clippard Diamondbacks 2 $12,250,000 $6,125,000
Tony Sipp Astros 3 $18,000,000 $6,000,000
Antonio Bastardo Mets 2 $12,000,000 $6,000,000
Mark Lowe Tigers 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000
Shawk Kelley Blue Jays 3 $15,000,000 $5,000,000
Steve Cishek Mariners 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000
John Axford Athletics 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000
Jason Motte Rockies 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000
Jonathan Broxton Cardinals 2 $7,500,000 $3,750,000
Oliver Perez Nationals 2 $7,000,000 $3,500,000
Chad Qualls Rockies 2 $6,000,000 $3,000,000
Source: MLB Trade Rumors

In the last two offseasons combined, there have been 10 multi-year contracts for free agent non-closers with an average annual value of $6 million or more. So far this winter we have nine such deals, with several options still on the board. Six of this year’s free agent reliever deals have an AAV of $8 million or more, topping the previous high of the last two winters — Darren O’Day getting $31 million over four years with the Baltimore Orioles.

Free agent relief pitchers, 2017-18 offseason

Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Player Team Years Total Contract Average Annual Value
Brandon Morrow Cubs 2 $21,000,000 $10,500,000
Bryan Shaw Rockies 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000
Jake McGee Rockies 3 $27,000,000 $9,000,000
Tommy Hunter Phillies 2 $18,000,000 $9,000,000
Juan Nicasio Mariners 2 $17,000,000 $8,500,000
Pat Neshek Phillies 2 $16,250,000 $8,125,000
Joe Smith Astros 2 $15,000,000 $7,500,000
Anthony Swarzak Mets 2 $14,000,000 $7,000,000
Luke Gregerson Cardinals 2 $11,000,000 $5,500,000
Yusmeiro Petit Athletics 2 $10,000,000 $5,000,000
MLB free agent tracker

Those nine deals this winter don’t include Mike Minor, who rebounded after missing two years to post an excellent season in relief in Kansas City, then cashed in a three-year, $28 million deal to start with the Texas Rangers.

Greg Holland or Wade Davis, both of whom have extensive closing experience, are also on the market and will get paid accordingly.

So are Addison Reed, Tony Watson and others who are still looking to cash in this winter. If this market is any indication, there is still plenty of money left on the table.