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A Look at the Free Agent Market: Relief Pitchers

Ryan Arbour

Ryan Arbour writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

A Look at the Free Agents: Relief Pitchers
by Ryan Arbour, RotoWire Writer
This year's crop of free agent relief pitchers is full of quality arms. Here's a look at some of the most likely candidates to provide fantasy value for 2011:

Mariano Rivera, RHP

Rivera continues to dominate Major League hitters despite the fact that he throws the same pitch 90 percent of the time. His low-90's cutter is perhaps the best pitch in all of baseball, and he has shown no signs of slowing down at age 40. Rivera brings a career ERA of 2.23 into the 2011 season, and has posted an ERA under 2.00 in seven of the last eight seasons. He has also accumulated 559 saves throughout his 16-year career, ranking him second all-time behind Trevor Hoffman. Rivera needs another 42 saves to catch up to Hoffman, and with Hoffman slowing down, Rivera should surpass him within the next season or two.

Rafael Soriano, RHP

Soriano did all that was expected of him and more for the Rays during the 2010 season. He came into the season with just 43 career saves and a 2.92 career ERA through parts of eight seasons, and went on to save 45 games with a miniscule ERA of 1.73 in his only season in Tampa Bay. He has had his fair share of injuries throughout his career, but has remained healthy for the last two seasons. He has emerged as one of the top closers in the game, and will be highly sought after by teams this offseason.

Brian Fuentes, LHP

Fuentes led the Major Leagues in saves in 2009 with a whopping 48 for the Angels. Despite improving on his ERA, WHIP and strikeouts in 2010, his stock has fallen after he picked up just 24 saves this past season. He was dealt from the Angels to Minnesota in late August, and complained of a lack of fan support upon his departure from Anaheim. In Minnesota, he served as a setup man for closer Matt Capps, and was unscored upon in nine appearances. He can obviously still pitch, as he had a 2.81 ERA and 8.81/9 strikeout rate in 2010. However, since setup men generally offer little in terms of fantasy value, he will likely only be worth a look if a team is willing to offer him a closing job in 2011.

Kevin Gregg, RHP

The Blue Jays took a chance on Gregg in 2010 after he lost the closing job for the Cubs the year before. He came through for the most part, saving 37 games, with an ERA of 3.51 and an unimpressive 1.39 WHIP. Gregg has had his difficulties in the closer's role the last four seasons, blowing 26 save opportunities in 147 chances during that span. If another team does give him an opportunity to close, he should have some fantasy value, but it remains to be seen if that will be the case. All things considered, Gregg would be a risky choice to help fill out your team for 2011.

Octavio Dotel, RHP

Dotel moved around a lot during the 2010 season, appearing with three different Major League ball clubs. He began the season as Pittsburgh's closer, saving 21 games in 26 chances with an unimpressive ERA of 4.28. He was then shipped off to the Dodgers, where he fared a little better in a middle relief role. He wrapped up the season pitching for the Rockies, where he was unimpressive in eight appearances. Overall, he finished with an ERA of 4.08 in 68 appearances, and will be looking for a new team in 2011. Dotel has played for nine different teams over the last seven seasons, so he's used to moving around. He may be in line for some saves wherever he winds up, but it seems unlikely that he'll earn a closing job outright.

Hisanori Takahashi, RHP

Takahashi performed well while pitching in a variety of roles for the Mets in his first year in the Major Leagues. The 35-year-old from Japan was 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 53 appearances, of which 12 were starts. He also picked up eight saves late in the season after troubled closer Francisco Rodriguez landed on the disqualified list. In his 10 seasons while playing in Japan, Takahashi had an overall ERA of 3.70, which is not overly spectacular.  Opponents batted just .206 against him in his relief appearances in 2010, but that average jumped to .291 in his 12 starts. He seems better suited to relief, but can be counted on to make the occasional start as well.

Joaquin Benoit, RHP (signed by Detroit)

Benoit missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery, but rebounded in a big way in 2010. In a setup role for Tampa Bay, he struck out 75 batters in just 60-plus innings and had a sparkling ERA of 1.34. The 33-year-old right-hander entered the 2010 season with a career ERA of 4.79, which made his season all the more remarkable and unexpected. The Detroit Tigers were so impressed by him that they offered him a three-year deal worth $16.5 million – not bad at all for a setup man with Benoit's shaky history. He's put up some decent strikeout numbers throughout his career, and should be first in line for saves if closer Jose Valverde gets injured or otherwise loses the job.

Kerry Wood, RHP

Wood served as a closer from 2008 to mid-2010, picking up 62 saves between the Cubs and Indians over that time period. He saw his ERA climb from 3.26 in 2008 to 4.25 in 2009, and then to 6.30 in 2010 before being dealt to the Yankees mid-season. He performed very well in a setup role for the Yankees, striking out 31 batters in 26 innings, while giving up just two earned runs. He will be looking for a team to offer him a closing job in 2011, but after blowing 15 saves in 77 chances over the last three seasons, he may not get that opportunity. Obviously, Wood would not be the safest pick for fantasy teams in need of saves for 2011.

Jon Rauch, RHP

Rauch had some pretty big shoes to fill when he was called upon to fill in for Joe Nathan, who would miss the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Rauch performed fairly well, saving 21 games in 25 chances for the Twins before they acquired Matt Capps at the end of July. After that point, Rauch found himself in a middle relief role, despite pitching well enough to finish the season with an ERA of 3.12. Rauch could be valuable to a team in need of bullpen help, and his experience as a closer also makes him a possible candidate to pick up some saves.

J.J. Putz, RHP

Putz put together a strong 2010 season after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2009. In 60 appearances for the White Sox, he struck out 65 batters in just 54 innings and kept his ERA at a quite respectable 2.83. His ERA and strikeout rate were only marginally better than his career numbers, so his season was no fluke. The fact that he has ample experience as a closer might earn him a chance to pick up some saves during the 2011 season.

Koji Uehara, RHP

Uehara was limited to just 12 starts in 2009 due to injuries, and was moved to the bullpen in 2010. Despite struggling with injuries again, he found himself acting as Baltimore's closer by the end of the season, and he finished with a 2.86 ERA and 13 saves in 15 chances. Uehara pitched in Japan for ten seasons before coming over to the Major Leagues in 2009, and has shown pinpoint control throughout his professional career. He has performed well as both a starter and a closer, so if he fills either role in 2011 and stays healthy, he should have some value.

Grant Balfour, RHP

It would be easy to overlook Balfour's 2010 season considering the numbers posted by his Tampa Bay bullpen mates Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit. However, Balfour was very solid in his own right, as he went on to post a stellar 2.28 ERA while striking out 56 batters in 55-plus innings. His 2010 numbers were clearly not a fluke, as he posted even better numbers two years ago, when his ERA was a miniscule 1.54 and he struck out a whopping 82 batters in just 58-plus innings for the Rays. The Australian is likely to be a valuable part of whichever Major League bullpen he finds himself in for the 2011 season.

Scott Downs, LHP

Downs has been an invaluable part of the Blue Jays bullpen, and has put up some impressive numbers over his last four seasons with the team. Over that time period, he picked up 84 holds, 15 saves, and had an overall ERA of 2.36. The 34-year-old lefty is sure to garner interest this offseason from teams looking to improve their bullpen depth. Downs is a solid setup man who can also fill in as a closer in emergency situations.

Arthur Rhodes, LHP

At 41 years old, Rhodes has been showing no signs of slowing down. Over the last three seasons, the lefty has averaged 65 appearances a season and has an overall ERA of 2.32. He has always produced good strikeout rates, but his role as a left-handed specialist has limited his innings, and therefore his strikeout totals as well. He may not be a likely candidate to pick up saves in 2011, but there are few other pitchers in this year's free agent market that can match Rhodes' ability to get batters out.

The rest:

There are several other quality relievers on the free agent market this year, but few are likely to have enough fantasy value to be worth taking a chance on. Here's the rest of the list:

Miguel Batista, Joe Beimel, Chris Capuano, Randy Choate, Jose Contreras (re-signed by Philadelphia), Jesse Crain, Elmer Dessens, Chad Durbin, Kelvim Escobar, Kyle Farnsworth, Pedro Feliciano, Randy Flores, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, Matt Guerrier, Aaron Heilman, Mark Hendrickson, Trevor Hoffman, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Lincoln, Mike MacDougal, Ron Mahay, Brian Moehler, Guillermo Mota, Will Ohman, Chan Ho Park, Chad Qualls, Dennys Reyes, J.C. Romero, Bobby Seay, Scot Shields, Jorge Sosa, Russ Springer, Jeff Weaver, Dan Wheeler, Jamey Wright.