With right-handed relief pitcher Drew Storen having signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds yesterday, now is as good a time as any to continue our dive into the free agent market for relievers. Some of the pitchers from parts one, two, and three of the series have already signed elsewhere.
We know the Mets are looking to wait out the market and get bargains when it comes to acquiring relievers, as has been reported consistently over the past several weeks. It also seems that freeing up the $13 million owed to Jay Bruce is a factor in determining whether or not the Mets will be spending money in the bullpen.
The series continues with pitchers who weren’t exactly low-strikeout pitchers, but they finished the 2016 between 7.00 and 7.99 strikeouts per nine innings. By today’s standards, that’s a relatively low rate for a relief pitcher. Note that Brad Ziegler would have been a part of this group if the Marlins hadn’t already signed him.
Pitchers with 7.00-7.99 K/9 in 2016
Jonathan Papelbon tops this segment of the list. He only threw 35.0 innings for the Nationals this year, in large part because he asked to be released after the team traded for Mark Melancon. Given that he was less than a year removed from grabbing Bryce Harper by the neck in the Nationals’ dugout, it’s not too surprising that the team obliged. Of course, his 4.37 ERA at the time probably didn’t make that decision sting. Nobody picked him up for the final month-and-a-half of the season, and the combination of his antics, declining numbers, and the fact that he’s entering his age-36 season make him fairly undesirable. Formerly a high-strikeout pitcher, he had 7.97 per nine last year.
Next up is a familiar name for those who followed the Mets in 2016: Fernando Salas. He finished at 7.82 strikeouts per nine on the season, thanks in part to a big spike in his strikeout rate after joining the Mets in a trade. In his time in blue and orange, he struck out 9.87 per nine, did not walk anyone, and had a home run issue—albeit in just 17.1 innings. In total, Salas had a 3.91 ERA and 4.30 FIP, numbers that are hardly inspiring but not too bad to see him possibly improving a bit in a full season with the Mets. He’ll turn 32 in late May.
The left-handed J.P. Howell has been around for a while, and though he hasn’t been a high-strikeout pitcher since his 2008 and 2009 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, he fared well in his four years with the Dodgers. He had a 2.49 ERA in 205.2 innings over that span, but the 2016 season was by far the worst of the four, as he had a 4.09 ERA and 3.50 FIP with 7.82 strikeouts per nine innings. Both last year and over the course of his career, he’s been at his best against left-handed hitters, which could make him a reasonable replacement for Jerry Blevins—even if he’s not quite as good—if Blevins signs elsewhere.
Jeff Manship spent the season with the American League Champion Cleveland Indians in 2016, and he managed a 3.12 ERA despite giving up 1.45 home runs and walking 4.57 opposing batters per nine innings. He struck out 7.48 per nine, a rate nearly identical to his career-high 7.55 in 2015. In that season, Manship didn’t have home run or walk issues and finished the year with a 0.92 ERA. The 31-year-old right-handed pitcher has ugly career numbers, with a 4.82 ERA and 4.45 FIP, but in the two years he spent in Cleveland, he had a 2.07 ERA in total. Still, Cleveland non-tendered him following the 2016 season. His hardest-throwing season in the big leagues were the last three, and with Cleveland, he ramped up his slider usage.
Pitching for the Padres last year, Carlos Villanueva gave up a staggering 2.07 home runs per nine. It wasn’t over a small sample, either, as he threw 74.0 innings out of their bullpen. His 7.42 strikeouts and 1.70 walks per nine make for a decent combination, but the home runs doomed him to a 5.96 ERA and 5.17 FIP. In most of his seasons in the majors, dating back to 2006, Villanueva has had a 4-point-something ERA, whether he’s been used primarily as a starter or a reliever. He fared much better in the Cardinals’ bullpen in 2015, but it would take a significant bounce back to make him a valuable piece of the Mets’ bullpen this year.
J.J. Hoover had about as bad a season last year as any reliever in baseball. He struck out 7.23 per nine, which makes him next on this list, but he walked 5.79 and gave up a staggering 4.34 home runs per nine, too. Had a 13.50 and 9.90 FIP in his 18.0 innings in the big leagues with the Reds, but the team had him spend the majority of his season in Triple-A. And perhaps it’s not the beginning of a trend, but his 92.6 mile per hour fastball was the slowest of his career thus far. Of his five seasons in the majors, Hoover has had a sub-3.00 ERA in three of them.
Keeping with the “he had a very bad 2016” theme, Shawn Tolleson struck out 7.18, walked 2.48, and gave up 1.98 home runs per nine—all of which resulted in a 7.68 ERA and 5.24 FIP. He dealt with a back injury and was outrighted by the Rangers following the season. He’ll turn twenty-nine this month, though, and isn’t far removed from putting up very good numbers. He gave up a little more than one home run per nine in both 2014 and 2015, but his strikeout rate was higher and he had a 2.88 ERA across those two seasons.
Yusmeiro Petit has long been a favorite of Amazin’ Avenue alum Jeff Paternostro, going back to his days in the Mets’ minor league system, and he’s still available after the Nationals declined his option for 2017. His numbers last year: 7.07 strikeouts, 2.25 walks, and 1.61 home runs per nine; 4.50 ERA and 4.65 FIP. A starter earlier in his career, Petit flourished as a reliever and occasional starter in his time with the Giants from 2012 through 2015. He was never quite dominant during that span, but each of his single seasons landed him quite close to his 3.66 ERA over all of those years. He’s 32 years old now, and the Mets could do worse than giving him a shot in their bullpen.
If you missed that Scott Feldman was a relief pitcher for all but five appearances in 2016, you are not alone. He began the year in the Astros’ rotation, but after four starts, the team moved him to the bullpen. Through the rest of his time with the team, he stayed there aside from one start, and he had a 2.13 ERA in 42.1 innings from April 30 to July 31. Then the Astros traded him to the Blue Jays at the deadline, and his season went south. He had an 8.20 ERA in 15.0 innings with Toronto.
Of all the pitchers here, Petit might be the most intriguing since his bad 2016 season wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other pitchers in this group. If the Mets are looking to wait out the market and find bargains for relievers—which very much seems to be the case—they’d probably be able to bring in one or two of the guys mentioned above on inexpensive deals. Such signings might not be super exciting, but adding a couple of pitchers with at least some track record of major league success to the Mets’ bullpen mix would be a good thing.