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Free agent rankings: Relief pitchers

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer
Soriano heads up the list of free-agent relievers this offseason. (US Presswire)

Fortunately for many ballclubs, there aren't too many "proven closers" on the market in this free agency class. I say this because paying high-seven or eight figures a season on multiyear contracts for closers usually blows up in the face of the signing team.

Unfortunately for a few teams, there are just enough closers to mean there's going to be at least one awful signing. Maybe not Heath Bell awful, but it's always possible.

Here are the top 15 available relief pitchers on this offseason's free-agent market (Note: Free-agent relievers like Brandon League and Joel Peralta aren't included since they've already signed).

1. Rafael Soriano | 2012 team: Yankees
2012 stats: 42 SV, 4 BS, 2.26 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 69 K, 24 BB, 67 2/3 IP

Soriano has been very good as a closer in three of the past four seasons. The one season that he wasn't a closer, he had an off year (2011) but got back on track last season. He'll turn 33 this offseason and is sure to land a big contract.

2. Mariano Rivera | 2012 team: Yankees
2012 stats: 5 SV, 1 BS, 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8 K, 2 BB, 8 1/3 IP

He's only behind Soriano due to age (he turns 43 this month) and coming off having his right ACL repaired. Otherwise, he'd sit atop any rankings. Still, I'll never count him out.

3. Jonathan Broxton | 2012 teams: Royals, Reds
2012 stats: 27 SV, 10 holds, 6 BS, 2.48 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 45 K, 17 BB, 58 IP

After injuries ruined Broxton's final season in Los Angeles, 2012 represented a huge bounce back for the big man. He's now 28 and has shown he's capable of again handling closing duties, so expect him to sign on somewhere as the closer.

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4. Brett Myers | 2012 teams: Astros, White Sox
2012 stats: 19 SV, 8 holds, 2 BS, 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 41 K, 15 BB, 65 1/3 IP

And we're already done with guys who will certainly open the season as closer. Myers certainly could find himself a closer job -- just as it's feasible he ends up in a rotation -- but it seems most likely he'll be a setup man for someone. He did strand 89 percent of the runners that he inherited in a setup role for the White Sox.

5. Jeremy Affeldt | 2012 team: Giants
2012 stats: 3 SV, 16 holds, 1 BS, 2.70 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 57 K, 23 BB, 63 1/3

The left-hander is coming off an outstanding postseason, which surely earned him a few extra bucks. Not surprisingly, Affeldt is tough on lefties, yes, but he's almost equally tough on right-handers. Check out the triple-slash lines against Affeldt during the 2012 regular season:

LH vs. Affeldt: .236/.319/.302
RH vs. Affeldt:.244/.313/.344

I believe Affeldt was set to be a huge bargain, but it's a good bet the postseason changed all that.

6. Randy Choate | 2012 teams: Marlins, Dodgers
2012 stats: 1 SV, 20 holds, 0 BS, 3.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 38 K, 18 BB, 38 2/3 IP

Choate was a bit down in 2012 after an outstanding 2011 season, albeit only in 24 2/3 innings. He's a true situational lefty, as he has pitched only 144 1/3 innings in 280 appearances in the past four seasons. Left-handers only hit .158/.243/.218 against Choate last season. In this role, he will be highly coveted this offseason.

7. Sean Burnett | 2012 team: Nationals
2012 stats: 2 SV, 31 holds, 3 BS, 2.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 57 K, 12 BB, 56 2/3 IP

Yet another lefty, Burnett is coming off the best season of his career and, at age 30, is still right in the middle of his prime.

8. Mike Adams | 2012 team: Rangers
2012 stats: 1 SV, 27 holds, 1 BS, 3.27 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 45 K, 17 BB, 52 1/3 IP

Too bad for Adams this is when he's hitting free agency. Not that he was bad (he wasn't), but he's coming off his worst season since 2006 and his declining velocity is a major concern.

9. Francisco Rodriguez | 2012 team: Brewers
2012 stats: 3 SV, 32 holds, 7 BS, 4.38 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 72 K, 31 BB, 72 IP

Coming off a bad season that included an arrest -- in which he was alleged to have beaten his fiancee -- it's hard to see K-Rod getting a ton of love in the offseason. Personally speaking, he'd be the last guy on this list I'd sign due to morality, but this list was created with only on-field talent in mind.

10. Jose Valverde | 2012 team: Tigers
2012 stats: 35 SV, 5 BS, 3.78 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 48 K, 27 BB, 69 IP

Valverde went from a lackluster regular season to an abysmal postseason. His track record of saves will land him somewhere, but I wouldn't spend a dime on him. Why? His declining ability to overmatch hitters is evident in his strikeout-rate trend. Check out his strikeouts per nine innings:

2006: 12.6
2007: 10.9
2008: 10.4
2009: 9.3
2010: 9.0
2011: 8.6
2012: 6.3

He's well on his way to being completely washed up, but he's here because we can't ignore his perfect save-conversion season in 2011.

11. Ryan Madson | 2012 team: Reds (kind of)
2011 stats with Phillies (note: missed all of 2012): 32 SV, 2 BS, 2.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 62 K, 16 BB, 60 2/3 IP

If Madson were completely healthy, he'd be up in the top four. But he's coming off Tommy John surgery last spring, and it's always difficult to tell how effective he'll be both immediately and in a few years.

12. Jason Grilli | 2012 team: Pirates
2012 stats: 2 SV, 32 holds, 3 BS, 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 90 K, 22 BB, 58 2/3 IP

If a ballclub is looking outside the organization for a closer and is strapped for cash, I'd suggest looking at someone like Grilli. He has been great for the Pirates in each of the past two seasons and has adapted to so many different roles, he'll likely be mentally tough enough to close. Someone will get a bargain in signing Grilli this winter, in my opinion.

13. Matt Capps | 2012 team: Twins
2012 stats: 14 SV, 1 BS, 3.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 18 K, 4 BB, 29 1/3 IP

Almost the entre second half was lost due to right rotator-cuff irritation. For a right-handed pitcher heading to free agency? That doesn't bode well.

14. Kyle Farnsworth | 2012 team: Rays
2012 stats: 0 SV, 7 holds, 0 BS, 4.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 25 K, 14 BB, 27 IP

An elbow injury cost Farnsworth a chunk of last season, but he was a good closer in 2011.

15. Koji Uehara | 2012 team: Rangers
2012 stats: 1 SV, 7 holds, 0 BS, 1.75 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 43 K, 3 BB, 36 IP

Another possible bargain here, with great rate stats and a 71 percent strand rate.

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