Free agency is all about timing, as Zack Greinke can attest. There were multiple teams that passed on him in trade talks just 23 months ago, concerned about whether he would be worth the expense and whether he would fit in their respective markets. Now, after a couple of good but unspectacular seasons, he's entering the kind of bidding war that agents can only dream of: The incumbent employer (the Los Angeles Angels) against a division rival (the Texas Rangers) and a market rival (the Los Angeles Dodgers), in an offseason when there's very little pitching available.
Like Greinke, the players below are all trending upward as the market takes shape this winter.
J.P. Howell, LHP
The 29-year-old lefty had surgery in May of 2010 and gradually worked his way back in 2012, as he regained fastball velocity and command. According to FanGraphs, Howell's fastball velocity was in the 84-85 mph range in the first four of his 55 outings last season, and in his last appearance, he had his best fastball of the year, at 88 mph, after a steady and slow climb through the year.
After a slow start, Howell didn't allow a run in 20 innings in July and August, before having four rough innings in September. The Rays had a deep bullpen in 2012 and Howell didn't serve in the high-leverage role that he did in 2008 or 2009, and he was used more as a matchup guy against lefties last year, rather than in the all-encompassing role he had before.
It'll be left to the interested parties to determine if Howell can get back to being the force he was for the Rays before his surgery, but the timing of his second-half surge in velocity and performance couldn't have been better.
Jonathan Broxton, RHP
After Broxton lost his closer's job with the Dodgers, there were doubts within the industry whether he could handle the high-pressure role again. But everything played out perfectly for Broxton's free-agency chances last season. Joakim Soria got hurt and Broxton climbed back into the closer's job in K.C., picking up 23 saves in 27 chances with the Royals before he was traded to the Reds. And after joining Cincinnati, he walked just three batters in his last 22⅓ innings, with 20 strikeouts.
Broxton is just 28 years old and he throws really hard, with his average velocity just a tick below 95 mph. There has been substantial interest in him during this offseason, and it appears that he could get one of the biggest deals in the relief market.
Cody Ross, OF