Six Off the Radar Reliever Trade Candidates
As you may have heard the Nationals are looking for bullpen help. And not just closer help like in years past, no they need an entire bullpen of new pitchers. However, picking up a handful of the top trade candidate relievers would be very expensive in total. The Lerners love prospects and do not like expensive, so Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office will likely have to get a bit creative to bring in the stock they need.
So, my goal today is to find some relievers who can fill in admirably in a middle innings (think 6/7th) role for the Nats without breaking the bank. These guys are so far under the radar as to be completely off it. I used the same method I did in January, taking all relievers with at least 10 innings pitched at the break and giving them a percentile ranking in strikeout rate, walk rate, ERA and FIP. Then I cut out all the teams that are likely not trading and all the players with a strikeout rate or a walk rate below the 50th percentile. Then I combed over the 45 remaining players to pick out six who could be traded and have some history to back up there numbers this season.
Of course the Nationals front office has much more sophisticated data methods and a huge scouting team to find diamonds in the rough. This is purely informational and to give you a better picture of the full market. Also, if you followed this method with the Nationals only two relievers would make the cut: Matt Albers and Oliver Perez. Yes, they really need help this badly.
OK, we’ll start off with a guy who is sort of cheating, because while most baseball fans have never heard of him, those following trade rumors closely have likely seen his name here and there. He’s part of the way too good for this team Chicago White Sox bullpen that is being circled by every contending team out there like vultures. While David Robertson and surprise breakout Anthony Swarzak are getting all the attention, Kahnle has been nearly as good, if not a bit better.
Kahnle’s big calling card is strikeouts. He’s taken his steadily improving fastball velocity (from 95.3 MPH in 2014 to 98.4 MPH in 2017) and command and paired it with a wipeout changeup to devastating results. His 42.5 percent strikeout rank is in the 99th percentile among MLB relievers, backed up by a swinging strike rate of 16.8 percent. Oh and did I mention improved command? Because his walk rate isn’t bad either, sitting in the 88th percentile. These are the numbers of an elite reliever, with a 2.65 ERA and 1.56 FIP to back it up, without the long track record to make his price sky high.
Kahnle’s contract is very favorable, with four years of team control under pre-arbitration and arbitration. The White Sox might not be inclined to trade him because of that, but this is a team in disarray scrapping anything valuable for parts, so it would be odd to hold onto him. The dream would be for the Nats to score Robertson, Swarzak and Kahnle in one deal.
If you’re still mad at me for Kahnle not being under the radar enough, have I got the guy for you. If you had 29 guesses as to what team Blake Parker is even on you might need all 29. The correct answer would be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the more correct answer is the Salt Lake Bees, because he was just sent to AAA. “Why would we trade for a guy who got demoted? How could he possibly help?” you’re likely asking right now. Well, just because the Angels don’t understand what they have, doesn’t mean we can’t take him off their hands. Parker this season in 38.1 innings is in the 92nd percentile in strikeout rate (35.3 percent), the 76th percentile in walk rate (6.5 percent), 78th percentile in ERA (2.58) and the 95th percentile in FIP (2.13). Yeah, the Nats could definitely use that.
At 32 and only in his fourth full season, Parker has had quite the bumpy ride. His first season as a reliever with the Chicago Cubs was dynamite with a 28.2 percent strikeout rate, 7.7 percent walk rate, 2.72 ERA and 2.90 FIP. But then he fell victim to a shoulder injury putting up a 5.14 ERA in 21 innings in 2014 and a 4.67 ERA in 17 innings in 2015. Now he’s back and better than ever and the Angels still sent him to AAA without much of an explanation. Like Kahnle, Parker has four years of team control left under arbitration.
While we’re talking about the Angels, let’s look at another one of their relievers in Hernandez. Like all great middle relievers, Hernandez has been in the majors for eight years on four different teams with two years as a failed starting pitcher.
His relief pitching career started out strong with two years of a 3.38 ERA and a 2.50 ERA with good strikeout and walk rates, before hitting a lull. 2015 was his worst season where his strikeout rate bottomed out at 22.9 percent and his ERA and FIP sat at 4.28 and 4.74. But he’s steadily improved since then and this year ranks in the 73rd percentile in strikeout rate and 78th percentile in walk rate with a 2.83 ERA and 1.83 FIP.
Yes, there’s nothing incredibly exciting about these numbers and there should still be some concern about his last three years being rather poor. However, even if he backslides a bit Hernandez should be an improvement on the current middle relief corps and his price should be miniscule because of his previous struggles.
If David Hernandez was a bit too boring for you, check out these numbers: 1.87 ERA, 2.23 FIP. That’s what Mike Minor has put up so far in 43.1 innings of relief for the Kansas City Royals. You might remember Minor from such shows as decent Atlanta Braves starting pitcher and significant shoulder injury keeping him out of baseball since 2014. But now he’s back, in reliever form.
OK, so the shiny ERA and FIP are fun, but the strikeout and walk rates are quite as bananas at the 71st and 70th percentile respectively. This is still a run-of-the-mill middle relief candidate, but one that can give you multiple good innings with ease. Coming out the pen Minor has seen his average fastball sit at 94.7 miles per hour, about three miles per hour faster than when he was a starter. That’s a substantial improvement to hang one’s hat on.
The bad news is the Royals have just pushed into the edge of contention. So rather than being the sure seller they looked like in May they might decide to hold on and ride out the last year of most of the remaining World Series winning core. Minor is signed for just $4 million this year (of which the Nats would pay half) and would cost $1.2 million to buy him out of his $10 million mutual option for next year. How’s that for cost control Ted?
If you are a diehard baseball fan you likely recognize the name George Kontos even if you don’t know why. Kontos has been the mainstay third wheel in the Giants bullpen for two of their World Series victories in 2012 and 2014. Year in and year out he stays close to his career ERA of 2.93 and FIP of 3.71. A decently good reliever, who at 32 and coming up on his last arbitration year, is something the awful Giants don’t really need anymore.
Kontos has been putting up his same old decent numbers in 2017, ranking in the 65th percentile for strikeout rate (26 percent) and the 68th percentile for walk rate (7.3 percent) to the tune of a 3.00 ERA and 3.44 FIP. Will a trade for George Kontos thrill the crowd and put butts in the seats? No. But will it save the Nats in Game 3 of the NLDS when Gio Gonzalez manages to go just 4.2 innings and the Nats need someone to finish the fifth and start the sixth without giving up their small lead? Yes. His contract for this year is only $1.8 million (or 900K for a half season), even the Lerners can’t say no to that.
Now we’ve reached the bargain bin at the Dollar Store. Pressly’s career strikeout rate is an abysmal 18.2 percent and his walk rate is merely OK at 7.8 percent. And there’s more bad news, this year his ERA sits at 7.33 and his FIP at 4.93. So why is he even on this list?
Mostly because he’s tapped into some unknown force and seen his strikeout rate jump from 20.4 percent last year to 25.9 percent this year, putting him in the 63rd percentile. Pair that with a walk rate in the 68th percentile and he’s still better than all but two current Nationals relievers. And he’s cheap at just $1.2 million in his first year of arbitration, so you could keep him through 2020 if you wanted. Pick him up, hope the strikeout rate is legit and the ERA will regress and you have a fine middle reliever.
So there’s six relief pitchers of varying skills who most people haven’t heard of on crappy teams with cheap contracts who shouldn’t cost any prospects you’ve ever heard of in return. Pretty much the perfect Lerner acquisitions.