As critical as the closer can be, it’s often the starting pitcher that gets most of the credit and attention. Currently, some of the most popular pitchers include Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright — all starting pitchers. While they usually put in more work than the closer, starting pitchers’ salaries are considerably higher than their teammates. While some members of the bullpen often take a pay cut for innings pitched, others prove just how valuable good relief can be.
Baseball is one of the most grueling team sports when it comes to showcasing a player’s mistakes. The game revolves around one player facing a rotating lineup of opposing hitters who are trying to keep the baseball out of the catcher’s mitt. It’s a constant back and forth between pitcher and hitter, as the former looks to retire every at bat while the latter strives to put the ball in play. While most of the game is expected to be set by the starting pitcher, the closer is the fireman that comes in to put the game out.
The league is full of elite closers, back-up closers, “stealths” and those looming pitchers with their sights set on being the clean-up guy who never end up leaving the bullpen. Coincidentally, of the 10 teams below, there are five teams from the American League and five teams from the National League. According to the salaries available at Spotrac.com, these are the 10 most expensive bullpens in Major League Baseball.
10. Boston Red Sox – $18,771,125
The reigning World Series Champions proved just how valuable their bullpen was last season as Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara were critical components of their postseason run. On that memorable night during Game 6 last October, it was Japanese closer, Uehara, that stood on the mound and struck out St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman, Matt Carpenter, to win the World Series. It had been 95 years since the Red Sox had won the World Series on home soil at Fenway Park and the Boston bullpen was monumental to that victory. In 2014, Uehara is back to work while Breslow is taking some personal time off.
The Boston Red Sox had 24 blown save opportunities last season.
9. Kansas City Royals – $19,086,500
Although the AL Central is better known for Detroit’s starting pitchers, Kansas City is the only team from this division to make the cut. With former Tampa Bay Rays’ closer, Wade Davis and the young Western Carolina phenom, Greg Holland, the Royals put just over 25% of their salary in the bullpen. The boys in blue will have to work hard to contend with their division rivals, the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.
The Kansas City Royals had 21 blown saves last season.
8. Oakland Athletics – $19,710,900
Despite losing controversial Australian closer Grant Balfour, the A’s signed former Baltimore Orioles closer, Jim Johnson. With one of the bigger salaries on our list, Johnson is playing in Oakland on a 1-year, $10 million contract. With southpaw, Eric O’Flaherty on the 60-day DL, other relievers like Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle will help Johnson transition from a difficult AL East division to a revamped AL West division. The Oakland Athletics had a 15-13 winning record coming out of Spring Training and will look to pick up where they left off last season with a convincing 96-66 record and AL West division tittle.
The Oakland Athletics had 21 blown saves last season.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks – $20,896,500
Half of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen make more than $1 million a year. Coming off a disappointing double-header loss to the Dodgers in Australia in March, Arizona will have to work on improving their 81-81 record from last season. With talent like Bronson Arroyo and Brandon McCarthy, the D-Backs need a solid relief pitcher that can come in and shut the game down. The entire bullpen had 38 saves combined in 2013 but Arizona acquired former White Sox closer, Addison Reed to help out as he posted 40 saves alone last season
The Arizona Diamondbacks were tied for the most blown save opportunities with 29 last season.
6. Tampa Bay Rays – $22,211,750
The Tampa Bay Rays are the poorest team on the list and the only American League East team besides Boston to make the cut. Despite a team salary cap of $57,505,272, Tampa Bay’s bullpen consists of Australian native and former Oakland closer, Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, Juan Carlos Oviedo and southpaws Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee. Formerly with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Heath Bell will join the AL East and hope to regain his part form.
The Tampa Bay Rays had 18 blown save opportunities last season.
5. San Francisco Giants – $22,705,000
The Giants boast of talent like Jeremy Affledt, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo. Despite a disappointing 76-86 season in 2013, San Francisco’s full pitching squad is one of the best in the National League. Before hitters can even worry about facing a Bay Area closer, they will have to go through aces like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong or Madison Bumgarner. Over the last few years, San Francisco has acquired many talented prospects that contributed to their success in 2010 and 2012.
The San Francisco Giants had 13 blown save opportunities last season.
4. Philadelphia Phillies – $24,575,800
Although the Phillies have a high salary cap, they came in 4th place in the NL East last season. Philadelphia finished 73-89 in 2013 but their bullpen still holds the highest paid relief pitcher in Major League Baseball. Most famously known with the Boston Red Sox, Jonathan Papelbon joined the Phillies in 2011 and will look to pocket $13 million this season. With help from Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia seriously needs to find a way to challenge their division.
The Philadelphia Phillies had 16 blown save opportunities last season.
3. Cincinnati Reds – $26,005,772
Three major closers hail from Cincinnati: Jonathan Broxton and southpaws, Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall. Chapman, who had a 43.4% strikeout rate last season, took a line drive to the face during a spring training game against the Kansas City Royals that will put him out for at least 6-8 weeks. While he is expected to return in May, Cincinnati’s bullpen has quite a large hole to fill for at least the first month of the regular season.
The Cincinnati Reds had 16 blown save opportunities last season.
2. Washington Nationals – $28,125,000
With one of the higher team payrolls on this list, Washington uses nearly 25% of its $114 million team salary on relief pitchers. They also own the second highest paid closer in Major League Baseball in Rafael Soriano, who will return for his second season with the Nationals this year. With big name starters like Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, it’s no wonder Washington has seriously invested in the clean-up squad.
The Washington Nationals had 21 blown save opportunities last season.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – $35,494,100
Last season, the Dodgers went 92-70 before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ highest paid relievers include Kenley Jansen, Brandon League and J.P. Howell. With the highest team salary cap in all of Major League Baseball, the Dodgers re-signed two-time World Series champion, Brian Wilson, to a 1-year, $10 million deal for the 2014 regular season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers had 19 blown saves opportunities last season.