Trade Targets: Relief Pitchers

We’ve already run through first basemen and designated hitters, corner outfielders, and middle infielders who could be available at the trading deadline. Today, we cover five relievers who could be switching teams over the next two months.

PLAYER: Heath Bell
TEAM: Padres
POSSIBLE DESTINATION(S): Cardinals, Indians, Phillies
CONTRACT STATUS: $7.5 million, free agent after the season

Bell is pretty clearly the best “proven closer” on the market, and he’s likely the best overall reliever as well. Even though his K/9 is down to 7.0 this year, his swinging strike rate of 9.1% indicates that it’ll increase a bit, even if it doesn’t get all the way back to his gaudy 11.1 rate from 2010. To compensate, Bell’s ground ball rate is up to 51% this year — an especially nice quality to keep were he to exit spacious PETCO Park.

There may be more interested teams than those listed above, but St. Louis, Cleveland, and Philly appear to be the contenders most in need of a “proven closer.” For as effective as they have been, I don’t think Tony La Russa would like to rely on Fernando Salas and Jason Motte as his crunch-time closers down the stretch. Charlie Manuel has had enough trouble committing to Ryan Madson in the closer role in the past, and who knows what Brad Lidge will be when he returns from injury. The Indians are bereft of big names in their bullpen, and although Chris Perez has pitched well as closer so far, his equal number of strikeouts and walks doesn’t bode well for the future.

Bell may only have this season left on his deal, but he might not come too cheap, as he will quite easily qualify as a Type-A free agent if draft pick compensation remains in the new CBA. The Padres aren’t contending this year, so they’ll be looking for prospects in return, and it’ll probably take a couple of B-B+ guys to free Bell from San Diego.

PLAYER: Mike Adams
TEAM: Padres
CONTRACT STATUS: $2.535 million, one year of arbitration remaining.

For as much trouble as the Padres have had actually holding leads past the seventh inning this year, when they do, look out. Before teams have to deal with Bell, they first have to get through Mike Adams, who has arguably been the better pitcher out of the two over the last few years. I detailed Adams’s domination last month, but his FIPs over the last three season should drive the point home: 1.66, 2.31, 2.29.

There isn’t a single contender with a bullpen so solid they couldn’t use Adams. The best choice may be Texas, whose bullpen has been worth a whopping -1.5 WAR so far this year and hasn’t had much stability outside of Neftali Feliz. Other prime choices include Anaheim, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, but really, there isn’t a contending team that wouldn’t have a solid reason for adding Adams to their bullpen.

PLAYER: Joakim Soria
TEAM: Royals
CONTRACT STATUS: $4 million, three years of club options worth $22.75 million remaining.

Chances are, teams won’t be looking to add Soria as a closer given his remarkable collapse to begin the year. However, for any team with an established closer already in place, Soria may be worth a flyer. If he recovers his old form or even half of his old form, he would easily be worth his contract, and his club options are potentially quite team friendly.

Unfortunately, Soria may be broken. His swinging strike rate is all the way down to 7.1%, his velocity is down, and his control appears to be vacating him as well. But the Cardinals and Rangers have two of the best pitching coaches in the league in Dave Duncan and Mike Maddux, and if anybody could fix Soria, I would imagine it would be them.

PLAYER: Jonathan Broxton
TEAM: Dodgers
CONTRACT STATUS: $7 million, free agent after the season.

It seemed only two seasons ago, after posting his third straight two-WAR season out of the closer’s role for the Dodgers, that Broxton was possibly the best relief pitcher in baseball. Now, Broxton is on the disabled list with a 5.68 ERA and a 5.54 FIP. Even in 2010, Broxton didn’t seem like quite the same pitcher, posting career lows in strikeout rate and swinging strike rate and career highs in walk rate and home run rate.

However, Broxton is only 27, and given hisapparent dislike for discussing his injuries with the medical staff, it’s possible that his current injury has been a lingering item, causing his semi-decline in 2010 as well. Teams with excellent pitching coaches, as with Soria, would make the best trade partners for Broxton. A potential trade partner may even get a bargain — with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt relying on corporate sponsors to make payroll this month, the opportunity to get free from Broxton’s contract may be well met.

PLAYER: Brian Fuentes
TEAM: Athletics
CONTRACT STATUS: 2 years, $10 million, with $6.5 million option for 2013

Fuentes is burning bridges in Oakland both on and off the field. He does have 11 saves in his 25 games, but also a remarkable seven losses. Or, in a more advanced view, he has 10 shutdowns to a stunning seven meltdowns. Throw in his rough words for manager Bob Geren and Andrew Bailey’s return to an already crowded A’s bullpen and Fuentes may be forced out.

The question is if anybody would be willing to take on Fuentes’s multi-year contract. The Brewers make sense from a personnel standpoint, as their bullpen currently doesn’t have a single left-hander (although Zach Braddock’s return is near), but I don’t know if they would take on that contract. The Yankees may be an option, as I would imagine they could use a left-handed pitcher that isn’t Boone Logan, and with how fungible relievers are, an opportunity could open up on nearly any contender’s roster, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Some other options include the rest of the Padres’ bullpen, specifically Luke Gregerson and Chad Qualls, or perhaps one of the back-end Pittsburgh relievers, Evan Meek or Joel Hanrahan. However, Gregerson, Meek, and Hanrahan are all cost-controlled and their teams just might not have the incentive to move them this season.

With the other positions, it tends to be a bit more cut-and-dried as to which teams need what. With relievers, so much can change in an instant. Before we truly know which teams will be in the running for these players (and others), we’ll have to wait for races to shake themselves out. One thing we do know, however, is this year could be the year in which the Padres cash in on their wealth of relievers, and there could be quite a few teams involved in the bidding.

Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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11 years ago

Shouldn’t Francisco Rodriguez headline this group?

Braves Fan
11 years ago
Reply to  GTW

His contract will scare away most teams…

11 years ago
Reply to  Braves Fan

You’d have to imagine that the Mets would eat half his contract to trade him to another team to avoid his vest. Anyone looking for a good but slightly pricey set up man

11 years ago
Reply to  Braves Fan

He’d look great in pinstripes, and I’m sure the yankees would be happy to take his contract if they don’t have to give up much. And obviously, his option would not vest if he pitched for the yanks.