If you look at the list of free agents still available on the free agent market, one group in particular is rather untapped: the middle relievers. Quality relief pitchers like Joe Beimel, Will Ohman, Brian Shouse, Juan Cruz, and Brandon Lyon all remain unsigned and do not appear close to signing anytime soon.
Over the years, we have become accustomed to watching panicked teams overpay average middle relief pitchers hoping to the baseball Gods that their bullpen will magically be shored up. Teams have overvalued middle relief pitchers for years and usually the best middle relief pitchers on the free agent market have no problems finding both work and a suitor who is willing to vastly overpay.
But not this year.
Because of the economy, teams are not flocking to sign the best middle relief pitchers on the market. Instead, teams are opting to go for low cost signings, younger players, or even trades. There are more teams than ever who are unwilling to commit $8-$12 million bucks on a position that often reeks of inconsistency and volatility. As a result, Juan Cruz, Joe Beimel, Brandon Lyon, and Will Ohman are having a tough time garnering up the interest because they have priced themselves out of so many teams.
The funny thing is that there are teams out there who are in dire need of middle relief. The Tigers, Mets, Brewers, Phillies, Rangers, Cardinals, etc. all have a varying degree of need for middle relief and normally would have jumped at the chance to go after the best middle relievers. However, this market has turned the usually free spending teams into frugal, penny-pinchers who need to use their limited funds wisely.
I never thought I'd say this, but it now looks like the agent for Jeremy Affeldt and Kyle Farnsworth should get a big gold star. It's almost inconceivable to me that both of those guys (especially Farnsworth) got two year contracts almost immediately while guys who had better seasons and are held in a higher regard are left waiting. Getting a contract completed early in the off season now appears to have been the right move given how poorly the market is shaping up.
In a way, you have to feel sorry for these guys. They performed well in their free agent year and in most years that would be enough to get the big contract that so many middle relief pitchers never come close to receiving. However, the market is simply not going to allow these guys to capitalize on their success. And that my friends is sad, even in the baseball world where money is thrown around like candy.
So if I was going to advise any of these guys (Cruz, Lyon, Shouse, Ohman, Beimel, etc.) I would tell them to seriously consider taking a one year contract loaded with incentives. This is the best way to go because if he performs well, the money will be very good and there is always the potential for a big contract in 2010 as a free agent.
There is obvious risk involved with this scenario though. Middle relief pitchers, unlike any other position in baseball, are notoriously inconsistent and often follow up a great season with a terrible one. There is significant risk involved in taking a one year deal, but I'm not sure many of these guys will have a choice.
So what should these middle relievers (Beimel, Cruz, etc.) do? Be patient and try to get lucky with a big contract or take the one year deal and try again in 2010?