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Free Agency

The Candidates for Righty Relief

On Sunday, we took a look at four southpaws who represent the cream of the free agent lefty relief club, so it’s only fair that we pay some attention to their counterparts.

Right-handed relief appears to be a less pressing than lefty relief – or, depending on your faith in Antonio Bastardo, perhaps more pressing – with Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson topping the current roster, and recently re-signed Jose Contreras providing support. Bullpen depth is never a bad thing, though, and filling out the roster with effective pitchers could go a long way toward eating innings and providing solid injury replacements.

The Phils could be looking for up to three right-handed replacements for 2011. Chad Durbin is a free agent and rumored to be getting interest as a starter; David Herndon, whose Rule 5 status has expired, will likely start the year in Triple-A, possibly to be stretched out for starting; Danys Baez is Danys Baez.

Who’s out there on the free agent market that could be a fit? Let’s take a look at some players who, while not all elite or big names, could provide stability to the Philly ‘pen. Again, these are four free agents. For trade possibilities, stay tuned to our Trade Option series.

Jesse Crain

2010 Overall: 68 IP, 62 K, 27 BB, 1.176 WHIP

Crain, who has spent his entire Major League career with the Minnesota Twins, is eligible for free agency for the first time at age 29. As a Type B free agent with no closer role strings attached, Crain is likely to field offers from a variety of teams, and perhaps the Phillies should be among that group. The Colorado native saw a dramatic spike in his K/9 boost his stock entering the winter. His 8.2 K/9 in 2010 easily bests his previous season-high of 7.5 and career mark of 6.2, but Crain’s strikeouts rates have been rising pretty consistently since 2005.

Getting younger isn’t really a necessity, especially when dealing with free agents who may only be around for a year or two, but Crain’s sub-30-year-old status is sure to placate those who feel an infusion of youth is a must.

One potential red flag is a sharp drop in Crain’s BABIP – from .306 to .305 to .270 over the past three seasons – which, while certainly no crystal ball into 2011, could make his 2010 seem better than it may have actually been.

J.J. Putz

2010 Overall: 54 IP, 65 K, 15 BB, 1.037 WHIP

A huge bounce-back from a roundly disappointing 2009 campaign with the Mets has left Putz in prime position to cash in. Injury issues and ineffectiveness in the second half of the season put dents in an otherwise shiny 2010, and Putz could field interest from a number of teams. Like Crain, Putz is a Type B free agent, and as of this post’s publishing, the Diamondbacks have been rumored to have interest in obtaining Putz for ninth inning duty.

If Putz gets legitimate interest from teams in becoming a save-accumulator, the Phillies will probably miss out here. Time with the Mets aside, Putz’s big strikeout rates and relatively modest walk rates – including two sparkling 1.5 and 1.6 BB/9 figures in 2006-07 – make him out to be a superb reliever when healthy. Those health questions, though, could prove damaging for Putz’s prospects in obtaining anything longer than a two-year deal. Either way, J.J. would be an excellent get for the ‘pen. Putz turns 34 in February.

Jon Rauch

2010 Overall: 57.2 IP, 46 K, 14 BB, 1.301 WHIP

Rauch could find himself with his fourth different team in five years if he ends up leaving Minnesota, where he was traded to in 2009. Rauch has often posted solid peripheral numbers while occasionally falling victim to the long ball, numbers that paint Rauch in a better light than even his above-average ERAs might.

Rauch has seen his workloads decrease each of the past five seasons, falling from 91.1 IP in 2006 with the Nationals to 57.2 in 2010, but he doesn’t come with any alarming injury baggage and should prove durable enough to provide plenty of innings over two or three years. As Rauch turned 32 in September, his prospects for a three-year deal aren’t outstanding, though that’s something that could end up working in the Phillies’ favor.

In keeping with the pattern, Rauch is also a Type B free agent.

Scot Shields

2010 Overall: 46 IP, 39 K, 34 BB, 1.717 WHIP

A name sure to make PN’s own Corey Seidman crack a grin, Scot Shields could emerge as a prime buy-low candidate, assuming he doesn’t retire. Shields, who has not been effective over the past two seasons, posted an 8.3 K/9, 3.2 B/9 and 2.98 ERA over 622.1 IP with the Angels from 2002 to 2008. Now 35, it’s entirely possible that Shields’s days of effective relief are behind him, but assuming he maintains his health and decides to keep playing, he definitely feels worth the risk. What’s more, his lack of effectiveness in the past two seasons might reduce his asking price to the point of a minor league deal. Of course, if I’m Scot Shields and contemplating retirement, a minor league deal probably isn’t the carrot-on-a-stick that I need to motivate me. Regardless, Shields should be the most inexpensive of these four by far, and could end up providing a solid return on investment.

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