When the offseason began, I thought that the demand would be high for left handed relievers. Sure there was an abundance of quality left handed relievers on the market this offseason, but hey, every team needs pitching, especially in the bullpen. Relief pitchers have done quite well on the free agent market in years past and there seemed to be no reason why a bunch of these guys would not get solid deals.
Hell, the market even started off well for left handed relief pitchers. On the eve of free agency beginning, Damaso Marte signed a 3 year/$12 million dollar extension with the Yankees. And within days of free agency beginning, Jeremy Affeldt signed a 2 year/$8 million dollar contract with the Giants. Even the 40 year old Arthur Rhodes found a home by signing a nice 2 year/$4 million with the Reds. Yay for setting the market...right?
Wrong. Because then, a funny thing happened, teams stopped giving left handed relief pitchers deals longer than 1 year. Veterans like Alan Embree, Brian Shouse, and Trever Miller have all found work on one year deals, but younger left handed relief pitchers, who put up very nice numbers last season, like Dennys Reyes, Joe Beimel, and Will Ohman are still out of work.
So what gives? How could this be?
For starters, perhaps teams started to view quality relief pitching as a luxury in these poor economic times and decided to cut back on spending. Many teams have decided to focus on other areas in the hopes of finding a solid, young, and cheap replacement to fill the left handed void in the bullpen. There was just no way that all of these guys were going to get $3-$4 million a season in a down economy. Unfortunately, left handed relief pitchers have become casualties of a terrible market.
The abundance of left handed relief pitchers on the market certainly has not helped given that so many teams have opted not to go the free agent route to solve their bullpen voids. Once the supply outweighed the demand, it was obvious that some of these guys were going to be left with nothing while others struck it rich. In this case, those who signed early certainly hit the jackpot. There is simply no way to explain how Jeremy Affeldt will likely get $6-$7 million dollars more than Will Ohman outside of luck and timing. Hell, the Giants even had to give up a pick for Affeldt...talk about luck!
Interestingly, draft pick compensation was not an issue for a lot of these guys. Affeldt, Shouse, and Reyes were the only ones offered arbitration and therefore, it costed/will cost whichever team that signs them a draft pick (probably 2nd round for type B free agents). The free agent compensation excuse is not valid here as Affeldt and Shouse have already signed and guys without compensation attached to their name remained unsigned as well. This offseason has truly been unpredictable.
And yes, I think these guys held out too long hoping for a deal similar to Marte or Affledts. The number of teams who could afford to go after left handed relief pitchers has dramatically declined and there has been limited competition for their services. Once they realized that the market was just not there, each guy should have jumped at the best deal one year out there and tried again in 2010 for the free agent riches.
One final thought: kudos to the agent of Darren Oliver. Oliver, a relief pitcher for the Angels, wisely accepted arbitration instead of playing the free agent market at 38. Oliver hit it big by accepting the Angels offer of arbitration and eventually agreeing on a one year/$3.7 million dollar contract. Yay for arbitration! Too bad more of these guys were not offered arbitration, then they all would have teams by now!
If the market for left handed relief pitchers has taught us anything, its that timing and luck are crucial.