The relief market is hotter than ever

Coming into the offseason, I expected the relief market to develop quickly. There just aren’t a ton of options in free agency including absolutely zero “proven closers.” So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ve seen Danny Farqhuar, Joaquin Benoit, Craig Kimbrel, and Francisco Rodriguez change hands already. It should also come as no surprise the Reds are looking to move Aroldis Chapman before the Winter Meetings. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be shocked when we see some ridiculous contracts get handed out to relievers that seem to be worth half as much as they’ll get.

So far the Red Sox are the leaders for overpaying closers this winter. They sent a package of four quite notable prospects to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel. But whoever signs Darren O’Day is likely to pay a pretty penny as well. At least they will only have to expend cash. O’Day is said to be seeking a four year deal in the range of $28-36 million. That falls in line with my prediction of upwards of 4/40. I still think that higher range is realistic.

If that’s true about the Dodgers then money is no obstacle. I can actually understand giving that kind of money to Darren O’Day. He’s been an excellent reliever for a long time. There is precedent for that type of contract too. Last year David Robertson got 4/56 and Andrew Miller received 4/36.

What I don’t see as realistic is Joakim Soria looking for similar money. He is said to looking for 3 years and $27 million. That’s the high end of the an annual average value O’Day is said to be seeking with just one less year. Unlike O’Day, Soria lacks the recent track record.

Soria had Tommy John surgery in 2012 which caused him to miss that season and only pitch 23.2 innings. The following season he threw 44.1 innings. And in 2015 he threw 67.2 innings. So it’s probably fair to assume he’s recovered from the surgery enough that it’s not necessarily a large concern anymore.

Still, his performance the last three seasons is a lot closer to league average than it is anything that would warrant a three year $27 M commitment. He had a pretty looking 2.53 ERA in 2015 but his 3.71 FIP tells a different story. Even if we discount his 2013 season as it was injury shortened, his 2.81 ERA from the last two seasons ranks 56th among qualified relievers. His 3.07 FIP isn’t much better at 42nd overall. While his 24.7% strike out rate is solid, it ranks 52nd.

Soria is a good reliever with perhaps some upside, but he’s not the type that should be in line for a 3/27 type deal. The crazy think is I’m not entirely certain he won’t get that much. That’s because of the state of the relief market. Once Chapman and O’Day are gone there really isn’t much left. Andrew Miller may be available. But he went on the DL with an elbow strain last year and will be expensive both monetarily and with respect to prospect cost of acquisition.

Despite all the things that worry me about Soria it’s very possible he’s the second best reliever on the market. It’s less about his quality than it is the lack thereof on the open market. That’s also why we’re seeing so many trades involving relievers this early. Chapman probably will go in the next week or too. Maybe even Miller. And if both of those things happen we’re probably going to see some stupid contracts handed to relievers. And that’s probably why we haven’t seen many (any?) sign yet.

About Derek Harvey

Derek Harvey is a writer The Outside Corner, a featured writer for SB Nation's Brew Crew Ball, and a staff writer for Baseball Prospectus - Milwaukee. He's taking over the world one baseball site at a time!