That question above, that's the question we're going to answer. It's a tough question to answer, because it's been proven enough times by now that we really don't know who the heck is actually available in trades. But we'll do our best, because at this point in the winter there isn't much more to think about than, "So, who's left out there?"
Relief pitchers, they're fascinating beasts. They get the big bucks, even when many smart people have very good explanations for why they shouldn't. They get traded even when nobody expects them to get traded, because it seems like nobody can agree on their value. You want a good closer? I'm not sure that some people can even define what that is, because some will say it's merely a good pitcher and others will say it's something else in addition to that.
So basically, what I'm saying is that nobody can really predict the relief pitcher market. But what we can do is keep some tabs on it, and try to put some context into all of the madness.
Francisco "The Closer" Cordero
If you're looking for that established Closer, you're looking at one final option. Ryan Madson's recent signing with Cincinnati leaves the man he replaces, Francisco Cordero, as the lone remaining option for any team that's looking at what would be considered a Closer. Unfortunately, the 36-year-old didn't pitch great last season once you get past the ERA and save numbers. His strikeout numbers were the lowest of his career, he's losing velocity and he's already shown cracks in his armor. He's still a decent option on a one-year deal, but there isn't another top-level closer on the market.
He's been tied to the Cubs and the Phillies, and is coming off a very strong season. He's presumably looking for a one-year deal with a solid salary for a contender, with Chicago obviously being the exception given his ties to the organization.
Lidge, 35, quietly pitched well in 19 innings with the Phillies last season. His issues as a closer with Philadelphia have been well-documented over the years, but it's worth noting that he's had major struggles before only to regain his magic. The big-time velocity is gone, though, so Lidge may need to find some new ways to succeed.
He struggled with home runs last season, but quietly posted great K/BB numbers for the Boston Red Sox last season. The 34-year-old doesn't throw hard, but he walked just eight guys in 49 innings last season and has always had the ability to miss bats. His mediocre 2011 ERA could end up allowing some team to get him at a slight discount.
He's been decent as a reliever for Milwaukee over the past couple years. He's not great against lefties, but he throws quite hard and is effective against right-handed hitters. He'll likely be able to come cheap and can offer some additional depth.
A longtime stater, Padilla converted to the bullpen in 2011 for a short stint with the Dodgers. The results were mixed, but teams may be more interested in Padilla as a reliever at this point given the questions surrounding his durability.
His command is bad, but he still throws hard and he still misses bats. Cruz was decent with Kansas City last season, posting a 3.88 ERA in 48 innings, but he's risky given that he's an extreme flyball pitcher that gives out so many free passes.
The Marlins tried Hensley as a starter temporarily in 2011 and he really struggled, but he's been much more effective in relief. He posted a 3.51 ERA as a reliever in 2011, and he posted a 2.16 ERA as a full-time reliever in 2010. His 2011 ERA is inflated by his poor performance as a starter, but he's a pretty decent option as the fifth-best pitcher in your bullpen.
Once an up-and-coming reliever with Arizona, Pena's career really stumbled after a trade to the White Sox. The 30-year-old struggled with command after joining the American League, and his velocity dipped in 2011, too. He'll likely get another shot based on the stuff and relative youth, though.
Qualls, 33, had a nice bounceback year with San Diego. After a disastrous year with the Tampa Bay Rays, Qualls decided to go to a pitcher's haven to reignite his career. He struggled to miss bats as a Padre, but limited walks and induced tons of grounders. In the right park and with the right defense behind him, Qualls could be a nice get.
Linebrink had a good K/BB but struggled with homers in 2010, and posted a mediocre K/BB but did better with homers in 2011. The mid-90's velocity is there on his fastball, but his command isn't great and he's walking the tightrope with his flyball tendencies. Someone will likely give him a chance given the name value he offers, though.
Durbin has pitched a lot of relief innings over the past three years, but his numbers haven't been great. Since posting a 2.87 ERA with Philadelphia in 2008, Durbin has posted a 4.57 ERA in 206 innings, essentially what you'd expect from a replacement-level reliever.
Wuertz was released by Oakland after a brutal 2011 caused by thumb injuries, but he was a pretty great reliever not that long ago. He was one of the top relievers in the AL in 2009 before the injuries hit, and he could end up being a nice buy-low for teams if he's healthy.
Like Wuertz, he's coming back from injuries. He missed the entire 2011 season, but he's always had huge velocity and good numbers when he's been healthy enough to pitch. He's a very intriguing pitcher, and he's only 27.
Wright posted a quality ERA with the Seattle Mariners last season, but he's never missed tons of bats and he's never had great walk numbers. He's basically just a depth guy.
The former closer for the Seattle Mariners had Tommy John surgery in July, and likely won't be able to contribute until the middle of 2012. He's been effective when healthy over the past few years, though, missing bats and limiting strikeouts even though his command wavers.