Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 10/25/13
Welcome to TOC's offseason primers! We haven't officially reached the offseason yet, but it's never too early to look at the best players on the free agent market. Today, we take a look at the best free agent right-handed relievers available. Closers! Everybody wants one, and many teams prefer a reliever with experience in that role. Teams with closer questions — notably playoff contenders — will find some appealing names to choose from in free agency. The question is whether or not those clubs should pay big money and commit to multiple years for such players. But some surely will, especially if they think it could mean the difference in making the playoffs, an extended postseason run and even a World Series title. Not every reliever on this list is a closer, but those are the names that will draw the most interest and attention this winter.  1. Joe Nathan. It's not official yet, but Nathan is expected to opt out of his $9 million club option with the Rangers for next season. He earned the right to do so by finishing 61 games this year. The 38-year-old reportedly wants a two-year contract in free agency, which he'll likely find on the open market with the perennial demand for closers throughout MLB. Any club looking for the proverbial Proven Closer can get an excellent one here, though his age may be a concern for some. Nathan compiled a 1.39 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 64.2 innings, racking up 43 saves in 46 opportunities.  2. Grant Balfour. After Nathan, Balfour is probably the second-best closer on the market. And he's a bit younger at 36 years old. Balfour signed with Oakland three years ago as an excellent setup man with the potential to close out games. He established himself as a ninth-inning stopper over the past two seasons. This year, Balfour had 38 saves in 41 opportunities, along with a 2.59 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. His strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings was the highest it's been in five seasons. Those numbers should result in a significant raise over the $4.5 million he made this year with the A's.  3. Joaquin Benoit. Benoit was the Tigers eighth-inning setup man before being named the closer. His performance in that role may have driven up his free agent value. In save situations, the 36-year-old had a 1.73 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. He saved 24 games for Detroit, blowing only two opportunities. However, Benoit might not be perceived as a "lights-out" closer around MLB. Giving up that grand slam to David Ortiz in Game 2 of the ALCS probably won't help with that. Overall, he finished with a 2.01 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 67 innings. 4. Fernando Rodney. After an outstanding 2012 season in which he notched 48 saves with an 0.60 ERA (which inexplicably earned him a first-place vote for the AL Cy Young Award), Rodney, 36, was a bit more mortal this season. Though he still saved 37 games, Rodney finished second in MLB with eight blown saves. His walks per nine innings went from 1.8 to 4.9 and his hit rate increased from 5.2 to 7.2. However, Rodney's strikeout rate also increased to 11.1 per nine frames. Any team that signs him will hope it's getting the Rodney of 2012. That could be a big mistake.  5. Casey Janssen. The Blue Jays were such a disappointment in 2013 that Janssen's performance went largey unnoticed. He was a question mark coming into the season, returning from offseason shoulder surgery. But Janssen, 31, racked up 34 saves in 36 opportunities for Toronto, striking out 52 batters in 52.2 innings. His health could still be a concern, however. In addition to Janssen's lower innings total, he rarely pitched on back-to-back days, something most teams want from a closer.  6. Jesse Crain. Crain, 32, is coming off a shoulder strain that sidelined him from late June through the end of the regular season. Yet Crain was having such a good season for the White Sox that the Rays took the risk of trading for him, hoping he could contribute to their late-season playoff drive. Prior to his injury, Crain was having a fantastic season, posting an 0.74 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 11 walks in 36.1 innings. Concerns about his health could keep his price down in free agency, perhaps allowing a team to sign a top-flight setup man for a bargain.  7. Francisco Rodriguez. Could Rodriguez, 31, still be a closer. He certainly appeared capable of the role when replacing John Axford as the Brewers' closer earlier in the season. He compiled 10 saves for Milwaukee, not blowing any of his opportunities. Yet Rodriguez didn't exactly shine after being traded to the Orioles at midseason. While his strikeout rate increased and his walks decreased, he allowed 25 hits and five home runs in 22 innings. Maybe a return to the National League or just getting away from AL East competition could help him.  8. Brian Wilson. Wilson, 31, hoped to find another closer job this year, but no MLB team was interested in signing him to a major league deal less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Wilson built his strength and velocity back up again and signed with the Dodgers at the end of July. Though teams will surely still have questions about his future durability, he pitched well in 18 appearances for the Dodgers. In 13.2 innings, Wilson compiled an 0.66 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks. Will he find a closer job next year?  9. Edward Mujica. After Jason Motte's season-ending injury, Mujica surprisingly emerged as the Cardinals' closer for much of the season. Despite not throwing strikeout stuff, the 29-year-old finished with 37 saves in 41 opportunities, along with a 2.78 ERA and a rate of 0.7 walks per nine innings, the best of his career. However, Mujica did not finish the regular season well, struggling with a shoulder issue. In September, his ERA was 11.05 and opponents batted .514 against him. That cost him the closer's job in St. Louis and will probably prevent him from landing such a gig elsewhere in MLB.  10. LaTroy Hawkins. At 40 years old, Hawkins looked like middle relief filler for a Mets bullpen that just needed some live arms. But he was much more than that, throwing 70.2 innings and finishing with a 2.93 ERA. Hawkins even took over as the Mets' closer when Bobby Parnell was sidelined with a neck injury and excelled in the role. He notched 13 saves in 16 opportunities with a 1.71 ERA in save situations. His rate of seven strikeouts per nine innings was his best in the past three seasons, as were both his walk and hit rates. Not bad at all for a guy who originally signed a minor league deal before spring training. 
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