Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Free Agency: Veteran Relief

The Mariners had a pretty solid bullpen last season, but there was one piece of the puzzle missing. They were lacking a dependable veteran arm down there, and they struggled all season to find one. Rick White (pictured right) was a disaster, Chris Reitsma couldn't stay healthy but blew lead after lead when he was, John Parrish certainly was nothing to brag about and Arthur Rhodes never even pitched in the regular season. At the trade deadline last season GM Bill Bavasi inquired about Al Reyes, Danys Baez and Octavio Dotel, but nothing went through (thankfully). Our young bullpen has another year of experience, but Bavasi would be smart to add another arm via free agency, especially if Brandon Morrow or Ryan Rowland-Smith are lost to the starting rotation or trade.

There hasn't been many rumors surrounding the Mariners and relievers this offseason, most likely because starting pitching is the priority and Bavasi is yet to land one. Here are some options Bavasi might look at once he gets a chance (not including Japanese options):

5.) Jeremy Affeldt - The only lefty of this list, Affeldt bounced around in different roles with the Kansas City Royals early in his career and didn't find too much success. This past season he landed with the Rockies and posted a career low 3.51 ERA, including a 1.74 ERA in the hitter friendly confines of Coors Field. He was a matchups guy, only logging 59 innings in 75 appearances, but could be on the verge of a breakout season in a bigger role. He's got age on his side (28) and showed that he can get it done against both sides of the plate (3.65 ERA vs. right, 3.27 vs. left) and in the playoffs (1.69 ERA during Colorado's playoff run, his only mistake a solo home run in the NLDS). Affeldt is the biggest gamble on this list, especially since he's only had success in the National League.

4.) Mike Timlin - Once upon a time the Mariners traded star rookie Jose Cruz to the Toronto Blue Jays for a couple of pitchers, one of them being Mike Timlin. Timlin had 1 1/2 great seasons with the Mariners before moving on and has been great ever since. Now 41, Timlin may be wearing down slightly, and you can blame the Red Sox for that. During his first four seasons in Boston Timlin pitched in an astonishing 297 games, including 81 in 2005. He pitched in just 50 games during the 2007 season, his lowest amount since 1995. He battled through a strained left oblique and right shoulder tendinitis, but showed he can work through the pain. Timlin posted a 3.42 ERA 2007 and has a career ERA of 3.55. He could be a nice addition with a one-year contract.

3.) Bob Wickman - Wickman would be my number two selection, but it sounds like he may be retiring this offseason. I haven't been able to find a formal announcement, but an article in the East Valley Tribune makes it sound like the 38 year old could be done for good. If he could be coaxed by Bavasi into another season it would be well worth it for the Mariners. He was waived by the Atlanta Braves late last season after blowing some saves in the closer role but was picked up by the Arizona Diamondbacks in September and proved he could still get it done in a setup role, allowing just one earned run in the eight games he pitched for Arizona down the stretch. Overall in 2007 he had a 3.58 ERA in 57 appearances, consistent with his 3.57 career mark. If he is willing to give one more season as a non-closer, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Mariners to pick him up.

2.) Troy Percival - By the time the Mariners shift their focus to relief, Percival may no longer by available. The 37 year old righty came out of retirement in 2007 for the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a 1.80 ERA in 40 games. He is not the same dominant closer he was for the Angels between 1996 and 2004, but has proved he can still get guys out despite lacking the overpowering fastball he once had.

1.) David Riske - Riske, most recently of the Kansas City Royals, was ranked second by Fox Sports' Dayn Perry among under-the-radar free agents this offseason. He's durable, consistent and has been able to stay relatively healthy. Riske is a power-type pitcher, working mainly off of a fastball/splitter combination and can handle both sides of the plate. He had a 2.45 ERA last season for the Royals and boasts a career 3.40 mark. He's only 31 and could be signed to a multi-year contract.

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