1. Kerry Wood (35) – When healthy, Wood has been a serviceable reliever capable of punching out over one batter per nine innings. He gave the Cubs a tremendous hometown discount last season and the two sides are a perfect match for each other in 2012.
2. Vincente Padilla (34) – We can’t take much from his 2011 numbers, as he only lasted 8.2 innings, but we do know from his 16 starts in 2010 that he can still get it done with an ever-evolving craftiness. That season, Padilla posted about eight strikeouts per nine innings while walking only about 2.8 per nine. He has had a tendency to give up the long ball, but perhaps that could be calmed a bit coming out of the pen. Injuries are a big reason why I don’t see him lasting as a starter; he has missed significant time over the past two seasons with neck and elbow problems.
3. Chad Qualls (33) – Qualls bounced back nicely after a disastrous 2010 season. He does a good job of keeping the ball one the ground (57.5 career groundball rate), but doesn’t generate many strikeouts nowadays.
4. Dan Wheeler (34) – A ROOGY if there ever was one. Wheeler has a career 3.53 xFIP against right-handed batters, but a career 4.73 xFIP against left-handed batters. His K/BB rate from 2011 was actually excellent (4.9), but lefties hit .278 against him, his highest average against vs lefties since 2004. He should bounce back in 2012.
5. Jon Rauch (33) – Rauch’s fly ball tendencies ended up hurting him big time after moving from spacious ballparks in Washington and Minnesota to the home run happy Sky Dome, er, Rogers Centre (it will always be Sky Dome to me). His HR/9 jumped to almost two per nine innings, a career high. Despite his intimidating size and look, Rauch doesn’t throw particularly hard or produce many strikeouts.
6. LaTroy Hawkins (37) – In 2010, Hawkins underwent surgery on his rotator cuff and it took him a little while to regain his velocity, but when all was said and done he had posted a 2.42 ERA for the Brewers while walking only 10 batters in 48.1 innings.
7. Octavio Dotel (38) – I believe at this point in his career every one of his contracts comes with a “must trade” clause. Being a type A free agent is never good for an aging reliever. That being said, the Cardinals might not want to offer Dotel arbitration, as he could accept and would likely get a raise from the $3.5M he made in 2012. The Cards have bigger targets in mind, like, say some guy named Pujols.
8. Takashi Saito (42) – Also a type A free agent, Saito made only 30 appearances for the Brewers in 2011. His age is reason enough for teams not to want to give up a draft pick. The Brewers could very well look to re-up Saito on a one-year $1.5-$2.5M deal.
9. Jonathan Broxton (28) – Broxton is the ultimate wild card out of this group. Back in 2009, he was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. Then, in 2010, he still racked up some good strikeout numbers, but seemed to fall apart mentally after he lost a couple MPH on his fastball. That trend continued this past season until he was finally shut down for elbow surgery. Sometimes pitchers can bounce back from elbow problems (his was a bone spur) and I’m sure there will be teams interested to see how hard big Jon is throwing come spring.
10. Jason Isringhausen (39) – Izzy has had a long an interesting career, but one has to wonder just how much he has left at this point. Despite pitching well for stretches in 2011, he ended up with a 4.02 ERA and –0.4 wins above replacement. His veteran presence will probably be enough to find work somewhere, possibly back with the Mets.