Best options on the bullpen market

The loss of White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain to a shoulder strain was widely perceived as a blow to the bullpen market — and it was.

Crain, though, was hardly the only quality reliever available. Bullpen arms are always in plentiful supply before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and this season is no different.

For the sake of organization, I’ll list them according to their teams. All starts are through Wednesday’s play.



Jonathan Papelbon: It’s still unclear whether the Phillies will even trade Pap, but might a team that acquires him be making a mistake?

Papelbon’s 1.99 ERA and .565 opponents’ OPS are impressive. But his trends aren’t necessarily good, considering that he is earning $13 million per season through 2015, with a $13 million vesting option for ’16.

Papelbon, after averaging 11.15 strikeouts per nine innings from 2007 to ’12, is down to 7.67 per nine this season, and his swing-and-miss percentage is at a career-low level.

His ERA on May 28 was 0.92. Since then, it’s 3.75, and he has blown four saves in 10 opportunities.



Kevin Gregg: One of the season’s great stories. The Dodgers released Gregg at the end of spring training, the Cubs signed him to a minor league deal April 14 and the veteran righty proceeded to revive his career in spectacular fashion.

Gregg, 35, wasn’t quite as good in June as he was in April and May, but who can argue with his 1.59 ERA, .542 opponents’ OPS and 14 saves in 15 opportunities?

His strikeout rate of 9.85 per nine innings would be the highest of his 11-year career. His walk rate of 2.86 per nine would be his lowest since 2006.

The big question: Can he sustain what he accomplished in his first 28 1/3 innings?



Francisco Rodriguez: Actually could make more sense for the Tigers than Papelbon, given his performance, his affordability and his Venezuelan heritage; the Tigers maintain a strong Venezuelan presence.

Rodriguez, still just 31, is 7-for-7 in save opportunities since becoming the Brewers’ closer, and his ERA over 19 2/3 innings is a mere 0.92. He is throwing 91-92 mph and is owed less than $1 million for the rest of the season.

John Axford: The Brewers’ former closer is working on a streak of 20 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. The downside: Axford is earning $5 million, and his salary will continue to jump in his final three years of arbitration.

Michael Gonzalez : A left-hander, he is not as attractive as the two righties above. While Gonzalez is averaging 12 strikeouts per nine innings, his walk rate is high, his opponents’ OPS is .746 and it’s not as if he’s dominating left-handed hitters; his splits are fairly even.



Steve Cishek: Recovered nicely from a rocky April. Since May 17, Cishek is 11-for-12 in save opportunities with a 0.96 ERA and a 16-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 2/3 innings.

Cishek, a right-handed side-armer, is earning $505,000 this season, but then becomes eligible for arbitration. The Marlins have power arms coming, and never mind trading relievers.

Mike Dunn: The biggest concern with the left-hander is his command — his walk rate is again high. Still, Dunn has been effective against both lefties (.619 opponents’ OPS) and righties (.683). He is earning $492,500 and, like Cishek, is eligible for arbitration after this season.

Ryan Webb: The Marlins could move him, too; Webb is earning $975,000, and will be eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason. The question is whether any team would bite. Webb’s walks are up, his strikeouts are down and his opponents’ OPS is .744.



Oliver Perez: The most likely of the Mariners’ relievers to get traded; Mets fans who remember the Bad Old Ollie won’t believe the veteran lefty’s numbers.

Perez is averaging 12.62 strikeouts per nine innings, 15th best in the majors. He is stranding 83.3 percent of his inherited runners, 11th best. His ERA is 1.47, his splits are comparable — and by July 31, he’ll be owed only about $500,000 for the rest of the season.

Charlie Furbush: The Mariners might not trade both of their lefties, particularly when Furbush is earning $504,500 and is not eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season. Then again, given the volatility of relievers, why wouldn’t the M’s listen?

Furbush is averaging 12.79 strikeouts per nine innings and holding opponents to a .564 OPS.

Tom Wilhelmsen: Looked like a lost cause from May 29 to June 23, when he blew four of nine save chances and produced a 12.60 ERA. But even then, a rival scout told me that he would love a chance to get Wilhelmsen, who since has recovered by allowing one hit in five straight scoreless appearances.

Again, the Mariners might balk. Wilhelmsen, like Furbush, is a bargain, earning $509,100 this season and not eligible for arbitration until after the ’14 season.



Crain: The White Sox say they expect him back after the All-Star break; Crain needed a similar break due to his shoulder last July but missed only 17 days.

His performance this season has been elite, but even if he returns before the deadline, suitors might be wary of the risk.

Matt Thornton: Ranked among the league leaders in percentage of inherited runners stranded until giving up a two-run double to the Orioles’ Chris Davis on Wednesday night.

Thornton, earning $5.5 million with a $6 million club option for next season, is far more effective against lefties than righties at this stage of his career.

Matt Lindstrom: Sort of a right-handed Thornton, much more effective against righties. Lindstrom is earning $2.8 million with a $4 million club option for next season.



Jose Veras: Pretty impressive numbers while pitching for a last-place club — Veras is 17-for-20 in save chances and averaging 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings. A potential setup man for a contender, he is owed less than $1 million for the rest of the season.