Last time, we looked at the Cleveland Indians' bullpen from 2005, the best bullpen in the Majors since 2004. There was a marked trend in the type of relievers they picked up. Bob Wickman, Bobby Howry, Rafael Betancourt, and Scott Sauerbeck were all signed to discount deals after undergoing arm surgery. Wickman, Howry, and Sauerbeck all were top relievers during the 2000-2002 time period. Wickman and Howry had elbow surgery and returned to peak form, while Sauerbeck failed to do so after shoulder surgery. So which top relievers from 2004-2006 may be available this offseason? First, the guy coming back from elbow surgery.
Danys Baez, 31, Baltimore
Baez had Tommy John Surgery last fall, meaning he is probably due to return next season, and probably return to form late next season or early 2010. Baez was a pretty good reliever between 2003 and 2005. I would tend to believe that his 2006-2007 struggles were the result of pitching through injury. With a new elbow ligament, he could enjoy a few succesful seasons before it's all said and done. Baltimore owes him $5.5 million next year. My first instinct would be to make a swap similar to Rhodes/Lawton, getting out from under Gary Sheffield's contract to get a possible bullpen arm.
Now to shoulder rehabbers. The recovery from these injuries seems less likely, but could they be worth a flier?
Chad Cordero, 26, Washington
A very good second tier closer from 2004-2007 for Washington, Cordero went under the knife this year after suffering from a torn labrum. His loss of velocity was well documented, but now that there is a reason for the drop of velocity, he could be worth a shot. An arm like this will never come cheaper, especially now that Jim Bowden has foolishly announced they plan to non-tender Cordero after the year.
Derrick Turnbow, 30, Milwaukee
Turnbow simply couldn't pitch this year, but his 2005 season was very good. We now have a reason for his struggles, as he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff last week. Signing him to a minor league deal to see if lightning can be caught in a bottle after the recovery could be a worthy gamble.
Joel Zumaya, 23, Detroit
Assuming he can avoid further injury, Joel Zumaya could be a huge part of next year's team. The key will be to take it easy with him this year, now that the team seems to be falling out of the race. There is no point in jeopardizing what could be an important part of the team to gun for .500.
John Smoltz, 41, Atlanta
Probably too old to recover from pretty major shoulder surgery. I'm thinking Smoltz will retire.
The pool of players I grabbed, were the top 20 relievers each year from 2004-2006 in Win Expectancy from Baseball Prospectus. Any player that has had surgery on each of those lists and also may be available this offseason was listed.
Fernando Rodney was not listed for two reasons. First, he was never a top 20 reliever. Second, he has not had surgery to clean up whatever is wrong. The point of this excercise was to find players who may have arms that have been cleaned up and can be bought low. Rodney is arbitration eligible this offseason, and it may be an interesting decision whether to bring him up.
From this group, I would definitely inquire about Baez, try to sign Derrick Turnbow to a minor league deal, and sign Chad Cordero to an incentive laden one year deal with an option for a second.
Next, we'll take a look at the 2008 Dodgers bullpen, the second ranked pen since 2004.