Free Talent All-Stars: Bullpen

Wrapping up the Free Talent All-Star team, we move on to the easiest place to find quality contributors – the bullpen. Teams like San Diego have exploited the ability to get relievers for nothing and turn them into relief aces, essentially building bullpens for nothing and giving themselves a competitive advantage over teams who continue to throw money at veterans with track records. As you’ll see from the list below, you don’t have to give up anything to get a legitimate all-star reliever, and there’s really just no reason to spend valuable resources on your bullpen.

Closer: Joakim Soria

The Royals used the #1 pick in the 2006 Rule 5 draft to snag Soria, who has been all they could have hoped for and more. After a very good 2007, he’s been unhittable in 2008, and with his command of four pitches, don’t rule out a potential move to the rotation down the line. He’s got quality stuff that moves and that he can throw for strikes, and while relievers aren’t the most consistent bunch, Soria has a very bright future.

Closer: Bobby Jenks

Jenks was a Nuke Laloosh type prospect in the Angels organization before the White Sox claimed him on waivers. He stands as the success story of what can happen when one of these good stuff/no command types finds the strike zone with consistency, and Jenks has been lights out since joining Chicago. However, no matter how well he pitches, he’ll likely always be remembered as the guy Ozzie Guillen called in by making the “fat guy” signal to the bullpen.

Setup: Heath Bell

Of course, Guillen could have done the same thing if he was managing the Padres and wanted Heath Bell to pitch, because he’s not Mr. Fitness himself. What he is, however, is a guy who just put up one of the most impressive relief seasons in recent history last year. He pitched in 81 of the Padres 162 games, throwing 93 2/3 innings and posting a 2.50 FIP. When a reliever strikes out 100 or more batters in a season, you know you have something special, and this something special cost the Padres nothing more than Ben Johnson and Jon Adkins.

Setup: Bobby Seay

Originally, Seay made news in 1996 after being declared a free when the White Sox didn’t tender him a contract offer in time and was scooped up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a cool $3 million signing bonus. However, he never lived up to expectations in Tampa, was shipped off to Colorado where he lasted just one season, and was eventually given a chance in Detroit after signing for the league minimum. After more struggles in Detroit in 2006, he broke through last season with a terrific 2007 campaign and has continued to succeed as a left-handed reliever in the Tigers bullpen. Considering the going rate for a major league lefty who can get batters out, the Tigers have to be happy with what they’ve gotten from Seay for relative peanuts.

Setup: Cla Meredith

Shockingly, another Padre. Meredith was the throw-in in the Josh Bard/Doug Mirabelli trade, but quickly made it known that he was the most valuable piece acquired in that deal. A dominant groundball pitcher with good command, Meredith has been a rock in the San Diego bullpen since 2006, and he doesn’t even turn 25 until next month. This is one deal that Boston certainly won’t be bragging about as the years go on.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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David Appelman
8 years 2 months ago

Good old Heath Bell. He used to be something of a poster boy for FanGraphs before his breakout season. I’m glad he had the kind of season he had last year, and is continuing his strong play (though not quite as strong) into this season.

Conor Glassey
8 years 2 months ago

Dave – haven’t you learned anything from the Mariners? Bullpens need 7 guys, at least. Haha…actually I’m just trying to get Sean Green a shout out. Loved all these free-talent posts!

8 years 2 months ago

Great idea for a series, Dave. It’s nice to see your writing beyond USSM, since you must feel like you’ve covered every possible Mariner topic extensively.

Here’s a question: Who would make your Free Talent All-Stars for front office performance? I’m sure you could think of a list of guys without “proven track records” who have proved more than capable of running a franchise from GMs down.