The Market for Relievers — Free Agents, Non-Tenders, and Trades

In the final installment of this series, we’ll take a look at some of the relievers that may be available for the Pirates this offseason.


This piece of the series is the hardest to forecast, as the sheer number of relievers on the various fronts of the market coupled with the inherently volatile nature of relievers, makes it difficult to pair a player with a team.

The Pirates have a little bit of instability at the back end of their bullpen as Jason Grilli is a free agent right now and there is speculation that Joel Hanrahan could be traded, in lieu of paying his potential $7M+ salary in 2013.  There are internal candidates for both of these positions, but the Pirates would probably be looking to replace at least one of the two this offseason with a new candidate if both are gone.



Using the MLB Trade Rumors free agent tracker (click the header to sort by position), you can see that there are the high-priced tier of closer candidates such as Mariano Rivera, Ryan Madson, Rafael Soriano, Joakim Soria,  and Jose Valverde.  If the Pirates aren’t going to potentially pay Hanrahan $7+M, they won’t be springing for any of these guys either.

Ideally, if the Pirates are looking to replace Hanrahan and/or Grilli, they’ll want to find a current setup man who could potentially step in as closer.  The things to look for in any reliever, but especially a closer candidate, is strikeout rate (K/9 7.5 or greater), walk rate (BB/9 less than 3.0) and home run rate (HR/9 less than 1.0).  Here are some guys the Pirates may want to look at on potential 1 year deals.

Mike Adams — The 34-year old Adams has been a setup man in recent years with San Diego and Texas.  He has all the tools mentioned above in terms of his rate and is coming off of a $4.4M salary in 2012.  He is probably looking for a 3 year deal to cash in one final time, so he may not want a 1 or 2 year deal with the Pirates.

Chad Durbin — The 35-year old Durbin is not a strong candidate to be a closer, but perhaps he could be re-purposed as a setup man.  His rates aren’t ideal and his stuff is pedestrian in terms of speed on his fastball, but he could be an interesting value pickup.

Jason Frasor — Frasor, 35 in 2013, would be a good candidate to examine as a potential closer or setup man.  Frasor does have 36 career saves, with the most recently in one season being 11 in 2009.  His 93 mph fastball would play well in either role.

Matt Lindstrom — Lindstrom seems like the perfect Neal Huntington candidate for a relief pitcher.  His fastball averages 95 and is paired with an 85 mph slider.  The 33-year old has always had good strikeout rates and would be a viable closer candidate.

Jason Grilli — Grilli is the most logical candidate to sign as a free agent.  The 36-year old knows the lay of the city, knows the clubhouse, is loyal to Clint Hurdle, and is also highly effective.  He could slide into the closer role if Hanrahan is moved, allowing a player like Bryan Morris to be his understudy in a setup role for a year before moving into the role himself in 2014.



I have repeatedly said that the non-tender market is the worst avenue to try and find quality players.  The exception to that is for a reliever, as there are always bargains to be had if you wait out the market long enough.

Alfredo Aceves — Aceves may have worn out his welcome in Boston, although some of his antics may have to be attributed to the circus atmosphere fostered by Bobby Valentine.  The 30-year old was the closer in Boston last year for some time, as the Red Sox were beset by injuries, resulting in 25 saves.  His 94 mph fastball and 81 mph curveball were his most effective pitches last year.

Clay Hensley — The 33-year old Hensley has had control problems throughout his career (4.2 BB/9 in career, 5.3 in 2012), but his strikeout rate and home run rate have been very good historically.  Hensley could be a guy to watch as a setup candidate.

There are many other guys that may come on the horizon as the non-tender deadline draws closer.



It is too difficult to forecast what teams may be looking to trade relievers, especially ones that the Pirates may want to pick up as a value-add for the back end of the bullpen.


Most likely the Pirates will wait out the market for a reliever and see if values can be had later on in the offseason, perhaps not until the calendar flips over to 2013.

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La Pirate

In the past few years clubs have seriously overpaid for closers. I hope that continues and the market for Hanrahan is strong. I can see a package of Hanrahan and Tabata going to someone for starting catcher or 3rd starter and backup catcher. The other thing is that we need guys who can get on base with consistency. A veteran bench player who can play and hit some would be very helpful to this team.


i dunno ’bout this. Hanrahan is going to be a high priced closer this season, and closers just dont have the same value before the season as they do around the trade deadline, especially when they are on the last year of arbitration. i believe he will be traded, just dont expect anything too special coming back our way.


The Hanrahan/Milledge deal was great because Hanrahan was good (or so I’ve read). So, if he’s good, then shouldn’t the Pirates expect a decent return for him?

Or if Hanrahan isn’t really good or valuable, then the Hanrahan and Milledge for Burnett and Tony Plush deal looks pretty bad.

We can’t have it both ways. Either we should expect value in return for a valuable player or we should downgrade our opinion of Huntington’s trades.

Or if the other option is ‘he’s too expensive to get something good back in return’, then my response is that Huntington’s supposed wonderful process is flawed because that means he should’ve dealt Hanrahan before he got too expensive to get something decent in return.

Thom Kay

Here’s a Fangraphs list of free agent relievers (+Aceves and Hensley) and their relevant metrics.

Affeldt’s 3yr/18M contract is pretty scary. I’d love to bring back Grilli and get Uehara, Lindstrom, Adams, Burnett, or Lyon. Not gonna be easy though. Tim Byrdak might be an affordable alternative.

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