Arizona Diamondbacks – free agent market brimming with affordable relievers
By Joseph Jacquez
Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, wants to upgrade the back end with proven relievers
At last year’s trade deadline, and with the Arizona Diamondbacks out of contention, then-general manager Dave Stewart dealt Tyler Clippard to the New York Yankees and Brad Ziegler to the Boston Red Sox.
Over the last two months of last season, the bullpen lacked a proven set-up man and closer. Right-hander Daniel Hudson provided a veteran presence, but he is now a free agent.
Manager Torey Lovullo has young, intriguing arms at his disposal. Right-hander Jake Barrett pitched to a respectable 3.49 ERA in 59.1 IP. Also, last season, opposing batters hit .203 with RISP.
Randall Delgado appeared in 79 games and allowed 17 of 47 inherited runners to score (36.2). The veteran held the first batter he faced to a .209 average.
One rumor from Day-Two of the winter meetings was the Diamondbacks pursuing veteran closer Fernando Rodney. With a mark of 2-3 with the Marlins last season and eight saves in 39 appearances in 2016, Rodney, for a 14-year major league career, has 261 career saves in 767 games. After last season, the Marlins did not extend a contract offer.
Related Story: Hazen priortizing pitching at the Winter Meetings
Heading into 2017, Andrew Chafin should be the primary left-hander. Last season, the native of Kettering, Ohio, had one of the largest differences between his ERA (6.75) and FIP (2.84).
Chafin surrendered one home run and punched out 11.12 batters per nine innings in 22.2 IP. He was hurt by an extremely high .368 BABIP (largely due to the Diamondbacks poor defense), but his 50.9 ground ball percentage will work. Fellow southpaw Steve Hathaway could be another option.
Another arm could be Enrique Burgos, who experienced time at the big-league level last season, but struggled with his command.
Jimmy Sherfy could be ready to make his Major League debut. At Double-A Mobile last season, Sherfy pitched to a 0.46 ERA in 19.2 innings. He struggled with his command in Triple-A and might need extra seasoning. Left-handed Jared Miller, who impressed in the Fall League, could also play a key role.
With the Winter Meetings underway, here are five free-agent relievers Hazen could pursue.
At one point in his career, Neftali Feliz was one of the most dominant young arms in baseball.
Unfortunately, the injury befell Feliz hard, but the 29-year-old right-hander has since overcome those shortcomings. Last off-season, Feliz landed with the Pittsburgh Pirates on a one-year deal, and worked with renowned pitching coach Ray Searage.
In 2016, the native of Azua, Dominican Republic, experienced a “comeback season.’ He pitched to a 3.52 ERA and struck out 10.23 batters per nine innings. His FIP (4.53) is concerning but a 1.14 WHIP is well above average. Feliz’s stuff is still there, a four-seam fastball that averaged 96 mph, a two-seam fastball (91.5mph), a hard biting slider (84.3mph) and an occasional change-up (88.0).
With the Pirates, Feliz surrendered 10 home runs in 53.2 IP, and that’s a concern if he is going to call Chase Field home. In addition, he has always been a fly ball pitcher.
However, for a team that, last year, registered the seventh fewest holds (69), Feliz’s 29 holds is enticing.
The Diamondbacks, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, already reached out to Brad Ziegler, now a free agent. This should not surprise anybody.
The 37-year-old side-armer spent the first half of 2016 with the Diamondbacks, before being traded to the Boston Red Sox in July. Between both clubs he posted a 2.25 ERA in 69 games.
Ziegler’s value to Arizona is unprecedented. His 2.49 ERA in 348 career games with the Diamondbacks is the lowest mark in franchise history. Ziegler has the ability to induce double plays at the right time, and his 66.3 career ground ball percentage is invaluable.
In addition to Ziegler, the Diamondbacks want to bring back Daniel Hudson. On multiple occasions, Hudson expressed interest in returning to the Diamondbacks. Upon several occasions, Hudson let it be known he would like to remain in the Phoenix area.
Hudson started the season, from April 4 to June 21, with a 1.55 ERA in 30 games. From June 23 to August 2, he imploded. The right-hander gave up 26 earned runs in 9.2 IP. Again that is unheard of and is likely a byproduct of bad luck.
Over the final three months, Hudson rebounded. From August 3 to October 2, he recorded a 1.66 ERA. Many teams are looking for relievers at the back-end, and Hudson’s market is heating up. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that 16 teams are interested.
With Hudson’s asking price reportedly set to skyrocket, it will be tougher for the Diamondbacks to sign him, but Hazen has already freed up $11 million in payroll.
On Monday, Heyman tweeted that the Diamondbacks are one of seven clubs interested in a southpaw for their respective bullpens.
This puts Mike Dunn and Boone Logan squarely on Arizona’s radar, but the most intriguing free agent out there is Blevins.
Last season, the left-hander held opposing hitters to a .229 batting average with a 2.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 11.1 K/9. Blevins specialty is leaving inherited runners on base. In 2016, he inherited 55 base runners and only eight scored.
Blevins can be used as a LOOGY, but last season, righties hit .162 against the Findlay, Tennessee native in 65 plate appearances.
During his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks saw plenty of Joe Blanton.
The 37-year-old fits the “proven veteran” perfectly. Clubs realize what they would get in him and he simply gets the job done.
Blanton struggled against the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, but he struck out 85 batters in 85 innings between the regular season and postseason. He provides veteran leadership and gets the job done in high leverage situations.
Blanton held both righties (.195) and lefties (.186) to a batting average under .200, and opposing batters hit .214 in high-leverage situations and .241 with RISP. His fly ball tendencies are concerning, but Blanton would help stabilize the back end.
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