With the top relievers in the game being on the trade market (Kimbrel to Boston and K-Rod to Detroit), the free agent market for relief pitching has fallen under the radar. However, there still are numerous relievers that can really provide a major impact on contending teams. Now if you saw my last article on the underrated starters on the free agent market, you'll know that I chose 3 guys that I view as underrated on the market and match them with, what I believe to be the top 2 destinations for him. So without further ado, here's the first guy on the list.
1. Joakim Soria (3-1 with a 2.53 ERA and 24 saves with Detroit and Pittsburgh)
Soria is a guy that is borderline underrated. Sure, his name has come up often this fall but, since recent trades involving Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez have come up, we haven't heard much of him. That being said, this guy can certainly pitch. He's a 2-time All-Star and has pitched in the playoffs with Detroit and Pittsburgh. He also can pitch whenever you need him, 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th.
Now where is he going?
Before the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel, Joakim Soria was linked to the Boston Red Sox pretty heavily. With current President of Baseball Operations in Boston and Former Tigers GM, Dave Dombrowski (traded for Soria in Detroit), it seems like the Sox have a legitimate shot at him. As for where he fits in, that is beyond my knowledge. My guess is he'd pitch in the 6th inning since Tazawa, Uehara, and Kimbrel seem to be the 7-8-9 trio.
Another possible fit for Soria is the New York Mets. After watching the World Series, there are quite a few questions surrounding the Mets bullpen. Without a doubt, the Mets have the best young rotation in all of baseball, but you cannot rely on a bunch of young guys to go 8 innings each night and handing the ball to Familia. As for Familia, he crapped his pants in the World Series. He blew his only two opportunities against the very resilient Kansas City Royals and it didn't look pretty in either one. Soria could actually slide in and close for the Mets, as well as setup for Familia.
Prediction: 2-yr, $11.5 million deal with the Mets
2. Tommy Hunter (4-2 with a 4.18 ERA with Baltimore and the Cubs)
It's tough to believe that the Orioles got Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara back in 2011. Seems kind of like robbery. While Davis was certainly the greater impact player in that deal, Hunter really shined in the pen with the O's before struggling in 2015 and getting traded to the Cubs, where he struggled even more. But it's too early to write off Tommy Hunter because he is still a very talented pitcher. With a high-90s fastball and a pretty good hook, Hunter could thrive in a potential closers role on a team looking to revamp their bullpen.
What teams are looking for pen help?
The first team that comes to mind is the Colorado Rockies. The Rocks are in the midst of a rebuild and were having a hard time finding their closer of the future after Betancourt (end of career) got hurt and La Troy Hawkins (I don't know when he plans on retiring) was traded as part of the Tulo deal to Toronto. After those two left, Colorado threw around different pitchers in the ninth when they were fortunate enough to be leading that late in the game. So Tommy Hunter and his 97 MPH fastball could really provide a spark at the back-end of a young, struggling Rockies bullpen. Whether that is as a closer or as a setup man, I don't know, but he could really help there.
Staying in the NL West, I could see Hunter signing with the San Diego Padres. Having just traded All-Star closer, Craig Kimbrel to our beloved Red Sox, the Padres are once again looking for a closer as they try again to make their investments from the 2014-15 offseason work (Shields, Myers, Kemp). While there are better guys out there (Houston Street, Aroldis Chapman), Hunter is definitely a noticeable guy. He is just one year removed from a 2.97 ERA with the Orioles and can really be a great investment for the Pads. He's a low risk with a high reward kind of guy.
Prediction: 1-yr, $2.5 million deal with the Padres
3. La Troy Hawkins (3-1 with a 3.26 ERA with Colorado and Toronto)
This guy absolutely refuses to hang it up. Hawkins will be 43 at the start of next season and he still provides a bit of a spark in the bullpen. Going 3-1 with a 3.26 ERA in his age 42 season, Hawkins was a helpful piece of the Blue Jays bullpen, despite being a throw-in in the deal for Troy Tulowitski. Hawkins isn't going to blow you away with a high-90s fastball, but he certainly knows how to pitch, and he is a great clubhouse presence in a game where that is a really important aspect of your team.
Now where is the old-timer headed?
I see Hawkins going to the New York Yankees. He has played for them in the past, but the Yanks could use another guy to hand the ball to other than Dellin Betances in the 8th inning. Being a 43 year old, he likely won't be able to log a ton of innings or pitch back to back days too often, so with a Yankees rotation that looks like it could be a force next year with Tanaka, PINEda, and Luis Severino, Hawkins won't be relied on every night. Not to mention that Justin Wilson is another guy that can go in the 7th. Plus, he's cheap and you won't have to worry about the deal haunting you 4 years down the road.
Another team suited for La Troy Hawkins is the Minnesota Twins. Minnesota just barely missed the playoffs last season but the major problem all year was their bullpen depth. Glen Perkins was hurt for a lot of the season and his replacements weren't bad, but certainly weren't playoff-contending good. Hawkins could slide in and be a setup-man or a middle-reliever in the Twins bullpen and could make one last hoorah in his career before he presumably hangs up his cleats.
Be on the lookout for my next underrated players of Free Agency article, that one will be for corner infielders.