This year's free-agent market for relievers was long known to be a weak one, and teams, knowing that, went all out to retain their best free-agent arms before they ever reached the market -- like Edwin Díaz, Robert Suarez and Rafael Montero. What’s left, then, is a collection of older pitchers coming off mostly uncertain seasons. You might have to pay more than you would expect for one of the older, still-effective names (like Kenley Jansen, 35, or Adam Ottavino, 37), or gamble on the name value of the inconsistent Craig Kimbrel (35), or hope that Taylor Rogers (soon to be 32) is a lot more like he was before 2022 than in 2022, or work your way down from there.

All of which means that teams will look to the trade market or, in some cases, bet they can bring out the best in some lower-tier arms who haven’t exactly had long track records of success. It’s that group that we’re interested in now, the flamed-out long-ago top prospects or the anonymous middle relievers, the non-closers who don’t make All-Star teams. Each year, we see a handful of those players land somewhere and end up offering big returns. Here are four of the most interesting available this winter.

 

Shelby Miller, RHP

Yes, that Shelby Miller, the one chosen six picks before Mike Trout in the first round of the 2009 Draft. Miller looked like a breakout young Cardinals ace (3.33 ERA in 69 games through age 23) before he was flipped to Atlanta for Jason Heyward in 2015. Then, after one successful season as a Brave (3.02 ERA in 205 1/3 innings), he was sent to Arizona in one of the all-time trade heists, a deal that sent No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson and future three-time Gold Glover Ender Inciarte back to Atlanta.

Miller was rarely healthy and never effective as a D-back, posting a 6.35 ERA across parts of three seasons, and he was let go after 2018. In the five seasons since, he’s cycled through the organizations of the Rangers, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Yankees and Giants, putting up an 8.48 ERA in 36 scattered Major League games. Now that Miller is 32 years old, nearly seven years removed from his last big league success, you might have written him off. You might have forgotten about him entirely -- and the five runs he allowed in four late-season games for San Francisco (6.43 ERA) probably aren’t doing much to change your mind.

Generally, that kind of profile leads to another non-roster invite, if even that. But the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Miller already has two Major League offers, and the fact that he hasn’t jumped to take one yet suggests that he might have others too. How? You’d be extremely well advised not to put too much stock into seven late-season innings, but it’s also hard to ignore that Miller faced 30 hitters and struck out 14 of them, a 48% rate. It’s a tiny sample, sure. It’s also not something you do by accident.