Where do relievers come from?
Pitcher A was drafted in the 42nd round out of a major college program but didn’t sign. He transferred to Canisius College (which it appears had not produced a big league ballplayer). He went undrafted as a senior. He signed a minor league deal. He was released after one minor league season.
Pitcher B also signed as an undrafted free agent, pitched for four organizations in 2006 – traded (for former Ranger Jeremi Gonzalez) and waived and traded again (for former Ranger Brian Sikorski) within eight weeks that summer, was released the following spring, and signed a minor league deal with his current club.
Pitcher C was undrafted out of a major college program himself, run through waivers and outrighted two years later, drafted via Rule 5, made his new club’s Opening day roster, and lasted a couple weeks before being designated for assignment.
Pitcher D was a junior college shortstop when he was drafted in the 69th round, which doesn’t even exist anymore, then signed the following year as an undrafted free agent, was placed on the 40-man roster four winters later but designated for assignment less than a month into the next season, cleared waivers, and was outrighted, and was traded with another player three years later for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson.
Who are they?
- Brewers closer John Axford
- Padres lockdown set-up man Mike Adams
- Rangers middle reliever Darren O’Day
- The prize of this July’s relief market and winter free agent closer market, Padres closer Heath Bell.
Pitcher E was added to his team’s 40-man roster one November and then taken back off the roster that March. No team claimed him off waivers. Two years later he was allowed to walk away as a minor league free agent.
Pitcher F reached the big leagues in his fourth pro season after signing as a 28th-round draft pick, had a 2.35 ERA after 15 big league appearances, gave up five runs in one inning in his 16th game and was designated for assignment, sliding through waivers unclaimed.
Pitcher G was designated for assignment in 2006. And 2007. And 2008.
- Orioles closer Kevin Gregg
- Giants reliever Sergio Romo
- A’s set-up man Grant Balfour.
Pitcher H was drafted in the 26th round and released midway through his third minor league season, finishing the year in the independent leagues. Since then he’s been released once more, and designated for assignment once after that.
Pitcher I was released by his first team after three minor league seasons, spent the better part of the next two years pitching in Mexico City, and was then left unprotected by his second organization in the Rule 5 Draft and lost to a third team.
Pitcher J was designated for assignment, released, and sold to a Japanese club, with whom he signed a one-year deal with a club option for a second but made just five total appearances.
Pitcher K was released two years into his minor league career by the A’s, released again two years ago by the Royals, run through waivers unclaimed by the Rockies a year and a half ago, and non-tendered last winter by the Nationals.
- A’s middle reliever Craig Breslow
- Royals closer Joakim Soria
- Brewers set-up man Kameron Loe
- Rays set-up man Joel Peralta
Pitcher L was an outfielder-catcher who was converted four years into his minor league career to the mound, and undrafted through three Rule 5 Drafts for which he was eligible before being added to the 40-man roster.
Pitcher M was a first-round pick as a shortstop, a position he stayed at for seven years before being run through waivers unclaimed and shopping himself around the league as a minor league free agent.
- Cubs closer Carlos Marmol
- White Sox closer Sergio Santos
Pitcher N was outrighted twice in the space of one year, taking minor league free agency the second time.
Pitcher O was left off his team’s 40-man roster four straight winters in which he could have been drafted via Rule 5, but never was.
Pitcher P, a 30th round draft pick, was left unprotected the first year he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and was not chosen.
- Marlins set-up man Brian Sanches
- Blue Jays sometimes-closer Frankie Francisco
- Braves turbo-stinky-filthy set-up man Jonny Venters
Pitcher Q, who signed as a 47th-round draft pick, had 27 saves in 12 big league seasons with eight organizations coming into 2011 (well, six clubs if you don’t count the two he’s been with twice), and now sits among the league leaders in saves.
Pitcher R was traded two years ago for Justin Sellers and Richie Robnett.
Pitcher S spent four years in the minor leagues without getting out of Class A, and was traded for Benito Santiago, who would play six more big league games before retiring.
- Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth
- A’s middle reliever Michael Wuertz
- Marlins closer Leo Nunez
Pitcher T was a hyped Yankees starting pitcher prospect for years before a failed six-game big league debut in 2007 led New York to trade him to Washington in the off-season for a rookie middle reliever.
Pitcher U was nearly 22 years old, with no minor league experience, when he was purchased from a Mexican League club and assigned to Class A.
Pitcher V is 38 years old. He logged only eight big league innings in 2009 and 2010 combined. And just 16.2 minor league innings.
- Nationals set-up man Tyler Clippard
- Cardinals closer Fernando Salas
- Mets set-up man Jason Isringhausen
Pitcher W was designated for assignment, cleared waivers, was outrighted, and allowed by his club to take six-year minor league free agency.
Pitcher X was drafted as an outfielder, converted to the mound in his third minor league season, and pitched in Japan at age 25.
Pitcher Y is just 30 but is already with his sixth organization, and didn’t get to the big leagues until his ninth pro season.
Pitcher Z was released midway through his third minor league season, traded by his second organization, left off the 40-man roster by his third organization, drafted via Rule 5 by a fourth organization and, six weeks into his Rule 5 season, was designated for assignment, not claimed by anyone off waivers, and not repurchased by his third organization, who let his fourth organization keep him on the farm in exchange for a little cash.
- Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan
- Pirates reliever Chris Resop
- Pirates reliever Jose Veras
- Pirates reliever Evan Meek
Just some things to think about before you decide Texas needs to trade Joe Wieland and Engel Beltre and Hanser Alberto for Grant Balfour.
Remember, as we talked about back on April 22:
Who are Wilson Ramos, Joe Testa, Matt Gorgen, Matt Cusick, Andrew Shive, Andrew Lambo, James McDonald, Joe Martinez, John Bowker, Rick Vanden Hurk, and Daniel Turpen?
One organizational top 10 prospect (Ramos), one who was so ranked a year ago but isn’t now (Lambo), and a bunch of journeymen and fringy minor leaguers.
That group was traded, last July 29 and 30 and 31, for closer Matt Capps, closer Chad Qualls, closer Kerry Wood, closer Octavio Dotel, and fellow veteran relievers Javier Lopez, Will Ohman, and Ramon Ramirez.
The Texas bullpen needs fixing, no question, but O’Day (who struck out the side in his one AAA inning last night) and Scott Feldman (one earned run on five hits and no walks with five strikeouts in six innings in the same game) and Tommy Hunter are getting closer, Tanner Scheppers and Eric Hurley might be, too, and you can now count me in the camp that believes Alexi Ogando may be the right guy to start thinking about giving the eighth inning to.
And then there’s the matter of Pitcher AA, who has a 9-2, 1.37 record this season in 11 starts, four of which have been complete-game shutouts, scattering 60 hits and 10 walks in 92 innings (so he’s averaging 8.1 innings per start) while setting 106 down on strikes. Now in his seventh season, he has a career mark of 84-34 with a 2.06 ERA, and per-nine averages of 6.5 hits, 2.4 walks, and 8.6 strikeouts, plus one home run allowed for every 20.5 innings pitched, and a complete game every third time to the mound.
He’s 24 years old.
It was reported Friday that Jon Daniels was in Japan to see Pitcher AA – Yu Darvish – punch out 13 in eight innings, which isn’t really shocking news given that the Braves and Twins were spotted at Darvish’s previous start, and the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Rays, Mariners, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Nationals have all been connected to Darvish to some degree over the last year, along with the Rangers and probably just about every other team in the Major Leagues.
Despite a couple reports suggesting otherwise, Darvish won’t be a free agent this winter. He won’t have the right to leave on his own until after the 2014 season. He did say in November, however, after signing a one-year renewal with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for about $6 million (the Japanese League’s top salary), that he wants to pitch in the Major Leagues in 2012. But the 6’5” righthander will still need to be posted by the Fighters.
Says Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker: “I have my doubts that he would get posted after this season but I could kind of see it happening. This is the first year I can say that.”
There’s some sentiment that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s disappointment in the States could depress posting fees on players like Darvish (the Red Sox reportedly paid Matsuzaka’s team, the Seibu Lions, $51.1 million just to have the right to negotiate with the pitcher, whom they then paid another $52 million over six years). But Darvish, who will be 25 if and when posted this winter, is more highly regarded than Matsuzaka was at 26,
So Texas would need to submit the highest sealed bid just to secure the right to negotiate with Darvish, before they can even try to use Yoshinori Tateyama, who was Darvish’s Fighters teammate for four years, as a recruitment tool.
But that’s a process that won’t even arrive, if this year at all, until after 162 and the playoffs and World Series, and all that’s more pressing at the moment.
The Rangers’ bullpen, and perhaps the rotation, are in need of an upgrade, and we’re going to see changes before long, starting internally and probably by way of trade over the next five weeks as well.
But tap the brakes on any idea you might have of moving Neil Ramirez and Chris Davis to Baltimore for Koji Uehara, or Christian Villanueva and Matt West for Chad Qualls. Frontline starting pitchers take millions of dollars to bring aboard, or a stack of blue-chip prospects, and sometimes both, but relief pitchers, even some of the best of them, come from unexpected places. There are probably better ideas than paying scalpers’ prices, certainly like you’d have to in June, to go get an impact arm for the bullpen.