With most of the off-season done, many of the top free agents have already signed to their big priced contracts.
But many teams are still hunting for deals to add depth to their rosters, particularly in the pitching department.
Two pitchers on the market shine bright as key pieces to improve a bullpen, Casey O’Beer and Hui Yang.
O’Beer was a key part of the Ohio Oxen run to the 2016 Bull Cup, clocking a career high 36 strikeouts and 10 saves, and putting in 41.2 innings that year, a season which saw him fill in as a starter twice.
Last year, he struggled in what could be termed a forgettable year. But this is a reliever who has a track record as a workhorse who provides solid middle relief. A low-WHIP, low-ERA shock-baller who throws 100 mph fastballs and can keep an offense from exploding with longballs.
Though he ERA shot up to 5.25 last season, he was only credited with a single loss. His fielding-independent pitching was a more reasonable 3.93, suggesting his struggles last season were largely as a result of Ohio’s overall defensive struggles on the field.
In addition, O’Beer improved his performance in cases where he decided the outcome entirely through pitching. He struck out 4 batters for every walk, a career best.
O’Beer is said to be seeking $1.2 million a year, and the 30-year-old could find himself courted by Detroit, Chicago or Arizona, all of whom could use help in the bullpen.
The Taiwanese veteran, Yang, may have had his career peak already, as he has seen his ERA steadily climb since 2014, when it was a career-best 3.36. But last year, Anchorage had him out of the starter role and into the bullpen for the first time in his career. Now in his early 30’s, the right-handed may just have needed 2017 to adjust to the new role.
At any rate, the Aces sent him down to AAA St. Anthony in July and he was never brought back up, so it’s difficult to say whether he was on an up trend as a major-level reliever. His six games with the SeaWolves were all back in the rotation, and he showed he was still capable of commanding performances, particularly in his July 20 game against Savannah, where he threw 8.0 innings without allowing a walk, while striking out 9 batters, and only allowing 2 runs on 5 hits.
Indeed, Yang’s struggles seemed to be limited to June, and he was absolutely flawless in relief during away games last year, shutting out opponents in 5 appearances, adding up 5.2 innings, which could bode well for other AEL teams who may take an interest in him.
His agent says Yang is demanding $1.4 million, but would likely settle for less under the right circumstances. Calgary, Denver or Norfolk all had shoddy bullpens last year, and Yang might make a nice addition to any of them.
In addition to O’Beer and Yang, several relievers are hoping to make bank this off-season, though their prospects of landing the big deals are considerably diminished by comparison, in our view.
Bob Hayes is a 35-year-old lefty with two pitches. They may be good ones, but “Surrey Bob” struggled to use them effectively nonetheless. Some of his best innings came in his two stints with Battle Creek, but he finished with a bad note for Arizona last season, pushing his 2017 ERA to 4.29. A move back to Battle Creek could be good for his career twilight years, where his ERA was 3.26 over 47 innings and 31 appearances. Hayes is hoping to get $2.4 million.
Sacramento righty David Johnson was last on the mound for Jacksonville, where the 32-year-old put up solid relief numbers that most teams would love to add to their bullpen. In 2017 he went 3-1, with 3 saves, a 1.88 ERA over 14.1 innings, and an enviable 5.33 K/BB ratio. Bizarrely drafted twice (he qualified in the 2017 draft as a BOL rostered player, even though he never played a game for the Tauranga Tridents, with whom he had signed the previous winter), Jacksonville let him go after one season and now he is seeking $2 million to play again in 2018.
The 38-year-old Noah Peters has lost a lot of his velocity, but made vast strides to improve his curveball, one of the best in the league. The big question for Peters is his health. He was day-to-day four times last season, twice for elbow issues, and twice for hamstring problems, and then was diagnosed with a dead arm in early September, in his second playoff appearance for the Boston Brawlers. Despite his fragile health, he still managed 25.2 innings of relief where he put up a 0.94 WHIP, taking no prisoners as he walked just 3 batters in 23 appearances. Peters wants $1.9 million to play again in 2018.