Aside from Andy Pettitte, the remaining free agents who best fit the Yankees roster are relief pitchers. Relievers, though, are unpredictable.
Unless I missed one, these are the 15 relievers who signed contracts worth more than $2 million last winter. It’s a hit-and-miss group, especially when you eliminate the closers. Only a few pitchers totally bombed, but there were more solid seasons than spectacular seasons. It’s also worth noting that this group does not include Joaquin Benoit, who signed a minor league deal with the Rays last winter and turned himself into one of the top relief pitchers in baseball.
2 years, $12 million
His value: A left-handed former closer who had a 2.42 ERA with Atlanta in 2009. He struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings, but it was also the first time he’d thrown as many as 34 innings since 2006. Several elbow issues.
The result: A shoulder injury limited Gonzalez to 24.2 innings. When he pitched he was pretty good — .205 opponents average, 31 strikeouts — but he was limited to roughly two and a half months.
1 year, $3 million
His value: Coming of a three-year deal, Putz had been terrific in 2007, solid in 2008 and pretty bad in 2009. The White Sox took a shot on a deal that included bonuses for appearances and games finished.
The result: It was a resurgence for Putz, who had a 2.83 ERA with a 4.33 strikeouts for every walk. The risk paid off for the White Sox and for Putz, who just signed a three-year deal (the last year is a club option) with Arizona.
2 years, $14 million plus club option
His value: A proven closer, Valverde led the National League in saves in both 2007 and 2008. Another good year in 2009 set him up to decline an arbitration offer and hit the market as the best available closer.
The result: Another strong season. Valverde had 26 saves while pitching for a pretty mediocre Tigers team. He held opponents to a .184 batting average.
2 years, $11 million
His value: After years as a solid setup man, Rodney finished with 37 saves with Detroit in 2009. That career-high in games finished came with a career-low of 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His ERA+ had peaked at 150 in 2005 but hadn’t been above 108 since 2006.
The result: A fairly typical season for Rodney. He saved 14 games for the Angels, while his strikeouts dipped slightly. His season numbers were hurt by a pretty bad month of July. Otherwise, he was solid, and actually pitched better in the ninth inning than in the eighth.
1 year, $7.5 million
His value: After years as a highly touted but occasional erratic setup man in Seattle and Atlanta, Soriano saved 27 games with the Braves in 2009, when he agreed to arbitration, the Braves traded him to Tampa Bay, where the Rays signed him to a one-year deal. A unique case on this list.
The result: Best-case scenario. Soriano was terrific in his first full season as a closer. He led the American League with 45 saves and finished top 10 in the Cy Young voting. He set himself up to be the top reliever on the market this season.
1 year, $3.5 million plus club option
His value: A converted starter, Oliver’s career found new life as a left-handed reliever capable of pitching multiple innings or being used situationally. He was coming off back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons with the Angels.
The result: More of the same. Oliver’s strikeout totals actually jumped in his first year with the Rangers, and his WHIP dropped to a career-low 1.103. He was at least as good, probably better, than ever before. Only five appearances lasted as many as two innings. Usually pitched an inning or less.
1 year, $2.75 million plus club options
His value: Three straight seasons as a solid if unspectacular closer for the Marlins and Cubs. He had 84 saves with a 3.86 ERA in that span.
The result: Another solid if unspectacular season. Gregg had a 3.51 ERA and a 1.390 WHIP as the Blue Jays closer. He saved 37 games, but the Blue Jays declined their options for 2011 and 2012. His salary would have more than doubled for this year.
1 year, $2.25 million
His value: Entering his age 36 season, Howry had been a solid middle reliever with a 3.66 career ERA and 2.66 strikeouts per walk. His 2009 season was a good one in San Francisco.
The result: Arizona released him before the end of May. The Cubs signed him, watched him struggle through 24 outings, then also released him at the end of July. All told he had a 7.71 ERA for the season.
1 year, $7 million
His value: An elbow injury had cost Wagner most of 2009, but when he had pitched that season, he’d pitched well. The longtime closer had not finished a season with an ERA above 2.73 since 2000.
The result: A significant risk for a guy coming off elbow surgery, Wagner turned in a best-case scenario with 37 saves through a dominant season as the Braves closer. Wagner used that season to ride into the sunset, retiring at the end of the year.
2 years, $7.55 million
His value: Aside from a rocky 2008, Betancourt had been a valuable late-inning reliever in Cleveland for the better part of a decade. He had been traded to Colorado in 2009 and finished that season with a 1.78 ERA out of the Rockies pen.
The result: After his strong first impression, Betancourt locked into a two-year deal and had another good year with a sub-1.00 WHIP and more than 11 strikeouts per walk.
3 years, $15 million
His value: Without overwhelming strikeout totals, Lyon built a solid career as a setup man and occasional closer. He’d been at his best, however, when setting up instead of handling the ninth.
The result: Although the signing was general mocked, Lyon actually had a pretty good 2010 season with 20 saves, a 3.12 ERA and a .231 opponents batting average. As usual, he wasn’t flashy but he was generally effective. Season numbers were hurt by a terrible month of July. Still in his low-30s.
2 years, $7.5 million
His value: From 2002 to 2009, Hawkins had a 2.95 ERA and had generally pitched well at every stop except his half season with the Yankees. In 2009 he’d picked up 11 saves and pitched to a 2.13 ERA with the Astros.
The result: At 37 years old, Hawkins was horrible. He pitched just 16 innings, lost three games and had an 8.44 ERA.
2 years, $5.25 million
His value: Missed 2008 because of elbow surgery and returned for a solid 2009 in Baltimore. He’d limited opponents to a .222 average in ’09. As usual in his career, he’d been especially good against right-handers, while lefties gave him trouble.
The result: National League opponents hit .301/.382/.481 against Baez. He had a 5.48 ERA that was the second-highest of his career. His second half was considerably worse than his first half.
1 year, $3.5 million plus mutual option
His value: Spent basically his entire career as a closer/setup man for hire. Last winter he was coming off back-to-back solid but erratic seasons out of the White Sox bullpen.
The result: He saved 21 games for the Pirates, which led to a trade to the Dodgers. When the Dodgers fell out of the race, they traded him to Colorado. All told: A 4.08 ERA, 1.313 WHIP and a 1.01 ERA+.
1 year, $3.5 million
His value: Still in his mid-20s, Capps had some ups and downs as the Pirates closer. He seemed on the verge of great things in 2007 and 2008, but his ERA bumped to 5.80 in 2009 and the Pirates decided to non-tender him.
The result: A return-to-form for Capps, who wound up traded to the Twins and carried a 2.47 ERA between the two stops. He was arguably better in the American League than he’d been in the National League.
Associated Press photos