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Looking for relief? Free-agent pool a deep one

Looking for relief? Free-agent pool a deep one

Will Mariano Rivera return to the Bronx? Where will Rafael Soriano wind up after leading the American League in saves? Can Trevor Hoffman find a home as a closer after a down year and at age 43?

Those are just a few questions that will be answered as a large group of relief pitchers, including several high-profile closers, hit the free-agent market in an effort to find a new uniform, or keep the same one, for the 2011 season.

The seemingly ageless Rivera, nearing 41, has been with the Yankees his entire career, and it's virtually inconceivable that he would go elsewhere. But he's still very effective and will draw some interest, assuming the Yankees don't lock him up quickly. His late-season setup man, Kerry Wood, also positioned himself up well with a dominating second-half performance.

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Soriano saved 45 games for the Rays, who are facing possible heavy bullpen losses to free agency. Several teams will be in the market for new closers, and some could be willing to take a chance on guys who don't have much closing experience.

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No fewer than four dozen relief pitchers, and possibly as many as 60, will be on the market this winter. Let the negotiating begin.

Looking to buy: The Blue Jays will be in the market for veteran relief help if they lose Scott Downs and Jason Frasor to other teams. The Braves might attempt to land a veteran reliever to provide some guidance to what will be a relatively young bullpen. The bullpen was by far Boston's biggest weakness last season, so the Red Sox will be looking to add a reliable arm to join Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, although Papelbon's tenure with the team has been the subject of trade rumors recently. The Rays could lose Soriano, Joaquin Beoit, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls and will need to find replacements. The Mets need relief help but probably won't be spending a lot of money. The Marlins will be looking heavily at relievers, especially left-handers, and could be in search for a closer. The D-backs' bullpen was terrible last season, and new general manager Kevin Towers will try to build a dominant relief corps like he did in San Diego. The White Sox appear set to non-tender closer Bobby Jenks and need to upgrade. The Angels could be in search of help, depending on how highly they value Jordan Walden, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn.

Top dogs: Rivera is coming off a season in which he posted 38 saves in 43 chances and had a 1.80 ERA, which was near the top among relievers. He's showing few signs of slowing down. Soriano will be one of the most-coveted relievers, but he'll likely be a Type A free agent, meaning he could cost a first-round Draft pick for the team that signs him. Kevin Gregg saved 37 games for the Blue Jays, who did not pick up his option for 2011.

Best of the rest: Others with closing experience include Hoffman, Wood, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes and Chad Qualls. Benoit, Grant Balfour, Frasor, Matt Guerrier, Takashi Saito, Downs, J.C. Romero, J.J. Putz and lefty Arthur Rhodes also figure to garner interest. Putz and Jon Rauch have closing experience.

Worth a shot? There are plenty of intriguing free agents who might not be at the top of most teams' lists: righties Jesse Crain, Chad Durbin, Aaron Heilman, Juan Cruz, Koji Uehara, Dan Wheeler and lefties Choate and Pedro Feliciano. Jeff Weaver, Chris Sampson, Chad Gaudin, Kelvim Escobar, Guillermo Mota, Micah Owings and David Riske are also on the market.

Potential 2012 class: Several top-notch closers could hit the market after next season. That group could include Papelbon, Jenks, Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero, Brad Lidge, Matt Capps, Jonathan Broxton, Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde. Cordero, Lidge, Nathan and Valverde have club options for 2012.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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