Joakim Soria Heads Bargain Free Agent Reliever Class

J. Meric

The Mets need relievers, probably. As always, there are plenty of relievers on the open market, including new free agent Joakim Soria. It's the price that will matter most.

Joakim Soria's $8 million option was declined by the Royals and he's a free agent. Matt Lindstrom's $4 million option was declined by the Diamondbacks and he's on the market. They might be the best of the bargain bin.

Sure, Ryan Madson and Rafael Soriano will be on the open market, but they'd probably force the Mets to dedicate too much of their meager offseason budget. And with Bobby Parnell and Frank Francisco in the fold, it's unclear that the Mets really need a 'proven closer' as much as just a 'strong, consistent bullpen arm.'

Clearly below Soria and Lindstrom on the list of affordable options are players like Francisco Cordero (who should probably just retire but won't), Joey Devine (who has even more trouble staying healthy than Soria), Livan Hernandez (nobody's idea of a bullpen savior), Ryota Igarashi (um), Hong-Chih Kuo (see Devine, Joey), and Brad Lidge (see, Cordero, Co-Co). I suppose any of these guys are options if they take a minor league deal, but none of them seem like good bets for a major league contract.

There's some gray area in the middle of the pack. Juan Cruz is available, and he's struck out a batter per inning for his career and maintained 93+ mph velocity and good strikeout rates into his thirties. The problem is that the 34-year-old has walked half as many batters and it's gotten worse recently. 34-year-old free agent Kevin Gregg hasn't maintained his velocity (down to 91 mph), has had mediocre strikeout rate and poor walk rates recently, so there's little reason to like him for an MLB contract. Okay so maybe those guys are not in the gray area at all.

More interesting might be a player like Bobby Jenks, who will be 32 going into next season, but has managed to maintain above-average velocity (94+), strikeout and swinging strike rates even as he's aged. His control left him last year, and he's probably too risky to sign for an MLB deal coming off a year where he couldn't manage to throw twenty innings, but he does still have some gas. 29-year-old Evan Meek had the best swinging strike rate of his career last year, but only over twelve innings. Because he lost his ground-ball ways. Still, dude's pitched 170+ innings to and induced more than half of his contact on the ground and isn't thirty yet. Give him $800,000, why not. Hideki Okajima is 36 but wants to come back to America after a good season in Japan.

But none of these guys is really worth a contract that goes much past a million bucks after incentives. There's a chance that Soria and Lindstrom are.

Joakim Soria just had his second Tommy John surgery. That's not great news. But! He is only 28, and he's already throwing on flat ground, and he had his surgery before the 2012 season began, so he might not miss much more than the first couple of weeks of the season. He's come back from this before. He's maintained above-average swinging strike rates even as he's declined. He has excellent control (2.48 BB/9 career) and he's kept the ball on the ground at an average rate for a reliever (42.5% ground balls, career). While his mediocre velocity has stayed fairly steady (around 91+ mph), his game is not really about velocity. He uses four pitches and is more of a starter in the bullpen because of his frailty. Give His Mexcellence a few million with vesting years depending on his innings totals, and he'd likely be a better option to close than anyone in the pen now while being a better bargain than anyone on the market now.

Matt Lindstrom does deserve a look. He's had above-average swinging strike rates his whole career and still has a fastball that sits close to 95 mph. He even has an average walk rate for his career (3.29 BB/9) that has gotten better recently. The cherry on top is that he has a better-than-average career ground ball rate (47.6%). There are a couple problems though. For some reason, the velocity and swinging strike rates have not begotten a good strikeout rate (7.26 K/9 career, 18.6% K%, both below average for a reliever). His BABIP has consistently remained high (.322, and above .300 every year but one). He's only once really been trusted with the closer role and it didn't go well. And lastly, the bullpen already has a high-velocity question mark, and Bobby Parnell is younger than the 32-year-old Lindstrom.

Soria's the head of the class. That doesn't mean the Mets can't find a couple lotto tickets worth looking at in The Great Free Agent Reliever Bargain Bin of 2013.

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