MLB Arms Proliferation

Photo Credit: Eric Kilby| Flickr

by: Rich Daniels

Back in January, everyone noticed the sluggish pace of MLB free agency compared to past years. 

Established stars like Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and Mike Moustakas sat and waited to see what teams would offer. 

The talent level of the market was moderate compared to some years and teams became quite selective about the contracts they made available. Except, of course, those offers made to relief pitchers.

The bullpen end of the market was the only facet of free agency that developed as expected by teams, players and fans. 

The Colorado Rockies were most active in acquiring relievers Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw, along with re-signing lefty Jake McGee

The Chicago White Sox scooped up Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan, the Chicago Cubs got Brandon Morrow. There were several lesser signings…all early in the free agency period.

Now the trades for relievers are starting to pile up. 

Jesus Colome went from the Rays to the Mariners, then Kelvin Herrera made his way from the Royals to the Nats. And Jeurys Familia was brought in by the A's to front for Blake Treinen. All closers acquired to pitch set-up innings and only finish games when the incumbent closers needed rest. 

Brad Hand was acquired by the Cleveland Indians to join Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to form a three-headed bullpen monster the likes not seen in the big leagues since Cincinnati’s Nasty Boys of the early 90’s.

The point is clear: there is no contention without quality bullpen depth. 

As games become more critical, leashes on starting pitchers get shorter and shorter. The ability to trot out three, or four, or five filthy relievers every night, becomes the most significant edge a team can have. 

No stacked lineup, calculated platoons or heavy-duty bench bats can counter a consistent flow of high-90’s fastballs, reality-defying change-ups and exploding sliders coming at them from effectively managed bullpens. 

So the week-and-a-half remaining before the trading deadline should see a fair number of relievers changing teams.

The jewel of the reliever trade marketplace is Baltimore’s Zach Britton

Still recovering from offseason Achilles surgery, the 30-year-old lefty has enough time to get back in shape and be a difference-maker. With the Orioles better than forty games under .500, putting Britton’s mid-90’s power sinkers on the market should be a high priority. Another possible high-leverage reliever that could be a trade target is the Texas Rangers’ Keone Kela

The 25-year-old has been one of the few bright spots in Arlington this season and his combination of relative youth, high effectiveness and experience in both setting-up and closing should give the Rangers an opportunity to collect a big return of prospects.

The remaining group of possible trade target relievers represents quite a mix. 

The inevitable “Crafty Veterans” like Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Jared Hughes, Anthony Swarzak and Seunghwan Oh are always around. 

Closer experience is available in Sergio Romo, Soria, Shane Greene, and Brad Ziegler.

Lefty-specialists like Adam Conley, Jake Diekman, Cory Gearrin and the aforementioned Avilan are ready to pitch for contenders. 

If multiple innings are needed Seth Lugo and Matt Andriese are viable candidates for a change of scenery. Virtually every quirky metric or any piece of a puzzle can still be acquired by contending teams.

With Cleveland looking like the only team capable of running away and hiding in division races and wild card spots far from clear, the decided advantage of mid and late-inning leverage on an everyday basis could change the face of division or pennant races. 

The monthly minute plans and data limits on the phones of MLB general managers should be shattered over the next couple of weeks providing a great show for all of us to witness.

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