There were 24 relief pitchers who received contracts worth at least $2 million this winter — and that doesn’t include arbitration cases.
Mariano Rivera (two years, $30 million) and Rafael Soriano (three years, $35 million) had the biggest deals as the Yankees invested heavily in the final two innings.
Joaquin Benoit was next with a three-year, $16.5 million contract from the Tigers. Scott Downs, Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, and Bobby Jenks all received at least $10 million guaranteed.
So far, teams have spent approximately $200 million on free agent relievers.
Best deal: Oakland got Brian Fuentes for two years and an average of $5.25 million during a winter when the likes of Guerrier, Downs and Benoit received three-year deals. Fuentes and Grant Balfour will cost the A’s just under $10 million a year and should improve a bullpen that was already strong.
Worst deal: On paper, Soriano looks like a good addition for the Yankees. He was the best reliever in the game last season and could be devastating force at the end of games with Rivera. But Soriano is a fly ball pitcher who doesn’t handle lefties especially well and he’s going to a park with a short porch in right field. The Yankees will be his fourth team in six years and he wasn’t an especially popular clubhouse guy in Tampa Bay or Atlanta,
Soriano was signed by Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and chief henchman Randy Levine over the objections of Brian Cashman. If his arrival helps leads to Cashman’s departure (his contract is up after the season), the Yankees may really come to regret this move.
Underrated deal: Jon Rauch to the Blue Jays for $3.75 million. The tall righthander was an effective closer for the Twins last season after Joe Nathan went down and appears to be on a career upswing after some rocky seasons.
Thanks very much: Bet you right now that one of the Red Sox gets a big hit off Arthur Rhodes the first weekend in Texas. The old lefty has been safely hiding in the National League for three years. He’ll be fodder in the AL. Oh, and you’ll thank the Rays for Kyle Farnsworth, too.
It’s good to be lefthanded: That guys like Bruce Chen, J,P. Howell, Hideki Okajima, and George Sherrill all received at least $1.2 million guaranteed should inspire you to tie your son’s right arm behind his back and have him throw snowballs at the side of the house.
The mystery: In a winter where Octavo Dotel received $3 million, how did the Cubs convince Kerry Wood to take $1.5 million? You’re telling me Soriano will be worth $8.5 million more this season than Wood? No chance.
No coincidence: The Red Sox started last season with Manny Delcarmen and Scott Schoeneweis in their bullpen. Both remain unsigned.
As for the Sox: Their bullpen makeover relies a lot on Bobby Jenks being healthy, effective and checking his ego at the door. None of those are guaranteed. If none of the veteran lefty candidates emerge in the spring, the Red Sox should be willing to use Felix Doubront rather than leave him starting at Pawtucket. The Sox can’t afford to kick away April because they want to see if Okajima has anything left.
Lefty Andrew Miller could be an intriguing part of the puzzle before the season ends.
The worst part: For all the money being spent, every GM knows in the back of his mind that the some of the best relievers in 2011 will have to come to camp on minor-league deals or were non-factors last season. Teams that dropped millions on “name” relievers will be kicking themselves for not realizing what they could have had for a song. But that’s the danger in investing in relievers. In the end, 90 percent of them are failed starters who can’t really be trusted. But you don’t have much choice.