The MLB trade deadline is two months away, a benchmark with more finality this season because, for the first time, there will be only one trade deadline. No more August waiver deals. As usual, everyone needs relief pitching. Everyone. Contenders. Pretenders. Suspenders. Maybe not that last one.
While trades involving relief pitchers, especially non-closers, generally don't generate headlines in 72-point font, there are always plenty of them during a typical season. As talent flows from win-later to win-now teams, relievers are the most common currency. A good bullpen on a bad team is a senseless luxury when those productive arms can be converted into prospect depth. Bullpens, as the thinking so often goes, are the final pieces in the title-pursuing puzzle.
I am very curious to see how this scenario plays out this summer. For over a month, I've been beating the drum over what I consider to be a shortage of quality relief pitching.
One reason for that is that there is simply more asked of relievers writ large in terms of innings. Relievers as a group aren't performing as well as starters this season by ERA, something that would have been considered borderline unthinkable even a few years ago. Part of this is a consequence of limiting the exposure of starters. Innings a tiring starter might have once tried, and failed, to fight through are now being handled by fresh-armed relievers.
However, a fresh arm does not necessarily equate to an effective arm, and even if raw velocity is more prevalent than ever, the sheer number of relievers needed to cover the innings demanded by new pitching-staff models has created a supply issue. And while all of that velocity might keep strikeout rates high, it also means it's harder to keep enough arms in working order. Thus injured lists all over baseball are overstuffed with ailing relievers.
For sellers at this year's deadline, that creates opportunity. Let's use Alex Colome of the Chicago White Sox as an example. Colome has been the most effective reliever for Chicago this season, posting a 1.59 ERA, an elite .190 wOBA allowed, albeit with a non-elite 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings, and 11 saves. He's still under team control next year, his final season of arbitration eligibility, and is making a team-friendly-ish $7.325 million this season.
Given the bullpen needs of contenders from Boston to Los Angeles to Milwaukee to Philadelphia to Atlanta to the other end of Chicago, the White Sox could reasonably expect to leverage interested parties against one another to yield a solid prospect or two.