For a lack of a better word, the relief pitching market is set to explode during the 2016-17 offseason.
It's already coming to fruition. The Cardinals got Brett Cecil on a four-year, $30.5 million deal earlier today.
Yes, in terms of baseball contracts, that's not a number that necessarily jumps off the page. However, it's truly going to set a market which is expected to be the most lucrative for relief pitchers. Ever.
Consider this: during the 2014-15 offseason (so two offseasons ago), Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees. At the time, it was considered to be a big deal for a non-closing reliever. (Miller did not begin to close until after signing the contract.)
Miller was coming off of three strong seasons of being an effective reliever and, like Cecil, was going into his age-30 season. But, even though he wasn't the best reliever in baseball like he is now (sorry, Zach Britton), in this market, Miller would have blown past what Cecil earned. I'm sure of it.
Cecil has a very respectable 2.90 ERA and 3.68 K/BB ratio over the past four years, all of which he has been used specifically as a reliever. Miller, on the other hand, was coming off of three seasons of a 2.57 ERA and a 3.74 K/BB. So, he was slightly better, but not enough to truly warrant a huge deal.
However, when taking into consideration the contract years each of them had, one can see where Miller would earned way more than what Cecil did today.
In 2014, the season going into his free agency, Miller posted a 2.02 ERA, a 14.9 K/9 ratio and a 2.5 BB/9 ratio in 62.1 IP, cutting the amount of walks he issued in half from the previous season. Cecil, on the other hand, worked to a 3.93 ERA, a 11.0 K/9 ratio and a 2.0 BB/9 ratio in just 36.2 IP. He spent a lot of last season injured.
Now, if the Cardinals are willing to spent almost $31 million on a guy who sat out almost all of May and June, how much would they (or anyone else) have spent on a guy with Andrew Miller's numbers who stayed healthy for an entire season? I'm thinking $40 million or more.
Now, we've got two Andrew Miller-caliber relievers out on the free agent market: Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. With baseball's stigma towards closers being more important than regular relievers (they're not, but that's a discussion for another time), they're already going to be guaranteed much more than the $30 million Cecil earned.
I didn't think it was possible, but Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen could earn $80 million or more, with the former possibly pushing $100 million. No, I'm not joking.
Teams have seen how the Cubs, Indians, Royals and other successful postseason teams have used their relievers over the past few years. And with talk that baseball could expand to 26-man rosters, bullpens are not going away anytime soon. They're only going to become more prevalent . . . and more expensive.
If you are a free agent in Major League baseball, strike a lot of guys out, and pitch and inning or two max, you're going to make a lot of money this offseason. Brett Cecil can tell you all about it.