A Roundup of Rush-Hour Relievers Reaped for Races, Rescues, and Rewards

Keynan Middleton
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

While some of the biggest names available did not find new homes on Tuesday, a whole lot of relievers are wearing new duds. So let’s get down to business.

The New York Yankees acquired pitcher Keynan Middleton for pitcher Juan Carela

With all the relief trades made by the White Sox, Middleton must have felt a bit like the last kid taken in gym class this weekend. This has been the year he’s put it all together, thanks to a much-improved changeup that has become his money pitch, resulting in hitters no longer simply waiting around to crush his fairly ordinary fastball. He’s a free agent after the season and certainly not meriting a qualifying offer, so the Sox were right to get what they could.

I’m mostly confused about this from the Yankees’ standpoint. He does upgrade the bullpen, which ranks below average in our depth charts for the first time I can recall. But unless they really like him and hope to lock him up to a contract before he hits free agency, I’m not sure what the Bombers get out of tinkering with their bullpen a little when the far more pressing problems in the lineup and rotation went unaddressed. As for Carela, he’s been solid in High-A ball this year, but he really ought to be as a repeater. Just how much of a lottery ticket he is won’t be better known until we see if he can continue his improvement against a better quality of hitter.

The Chicago White Sox acquired pitcher Luis Patiño for cash

Patiño, along with Francisco Mejía, was the primary haul in return for Blake Snell, sporting an upper-90s fastball and occasional command issues, but he was all upside at age 20. He showed some promise as a starter in 2021, but without the strikeout rate to match his stuff, and his ’22 was ruined by an oblique injury. This year, he’s been an absolute wreck and was featured in my list of players with the largest declines in ZiPS projections, as his fastball doesn’t have the fire it once did. In contention right now and with an ability to churn out relievers by whim, the Rays couldn’t afford to wait around for him, and cash be can used for all sorts of things.

The Rays moved Patiño to the bullpen in May, and I expect that this is likely permanent. I guess it’s not out of the realm of probability that the Sox look at him as a starter one more time, but I expect he’ll be part of the 2024 relief corps if he shows any progress. Plus, Chicago just traded most of its bullpen and has to finish games in August and September or the season will never end.

The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired pitcher Ryan Yarbrough from the Kansas City Royals for 1B Devin Mann and outfielder Derlin Figueroa

It would have been surprising to see Yarbrough fetch actual prospects of any value a few months ago, but he’s been on a good run since returning from getting hit by a line drive in the face, with quality starts in three of his four outings in the rotation and falling an out short in the fourth one. He’s never going to be a strikeout pitcher, and his cutter and sinker are harder than a lot of pitchers’ changeups these days, but he may be able to survive as an increasingly rare example of the crafty lefty, so long as he keeps the ball down with his sinkers and his control doesn’t falter. He’d be more needed as a starter in Los Angeles if not for the Lance Lynn trade, but Yarbrough will fill in the traditional Ross Stripling swingman role. It’s too bad he doesn’t have much an exploitable platoon split; he’s unlikely to be a situational lefty, something which can keep relievers employed into their 40s.

Mann has been solid for Triple-A Oklahoma City, but he was without an obvious path to playing time with the Dodgers. Except for hitting right-handed, he’s not all that different from what Max Muncy looked like six or seven years ago. He could get playing time in the majors pretty quickly, or at least he should; he’s not a young player, so if he’s going to have a time, it’s going to have to be very soon. If I’m the Royals, I might just stuff him in various places in the lineup this year. This might be blasphemy, but if the organization doesn’t really consider MJ Melendez a catcher, Mann is the more valuable player. Figueroa is a “wait-and-see” guy, down in the Anterior Cruciate Ligament Arizona Complex League, and so far off that the Royals aren’t likely to include him in any immediate plans.

The Philadelphia Phillies acquired infielder Rodolfo Castro from the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Bailey Falter

This isn’t really a classic deadline trade — just a standard swap of the strengths and weaknesses that could happen at any point in the season. Falter did a respectable job at the back of the Phillies’ rotation last year, but as a soft tosser without any kind of good trick to induce swings, he lacks much of an upside. The Phillies haven’t needed his services as much as they did last year, and with his ERA catching up to his FIP, he’s been in the minors since May and hasn’t really performed any better. His job in Pittsburgh is to cover some of the departed Rich Hill’s innings, and there’s a certain similarity in their general pitching styles and stuff, but you’d have to squint very hard to see Falter as more than a very poor man’s Hill — which I guess is fitting since the Pirates are a very poor man’s version of a baseball team.

Castro had a really nice early run this season as Oneil Cruz’s replacement at short, but the Pirates have more of a vested interest in looking at Liover Peguero and Alika Williams and needed the innings covered more. The Phillies aren’t blessed with great middle infield depth, so Castro has a real, if limited, role in the organization.

The Los Angeles Angels acquired pitcher Dominic Leone from the New York Mets for infielder Jeremiah Jackson

I’m highly disappointed that after adding Lucas Giolito, the Angels focused more on quantity and recognizable names rather than quality in their deadline trades. That’s hardly Leone’s fault, as he goes from the back of the Mets bullpen to taking lower-leverage innings at the back of the Angels ‘pen instead. He’s been hit hard at times this year, though home run totals for pitchers are extremely volatile as a statistics, so he should at least be better than he was in New York. Like the Pierce Johnson acquisition by the Braves, there is something interesting in Leone in that despite underwhelming results, he does miss bats — usually with his slider — very well, and that tends to be difficult to teach. He’s just a back-of-the-bullpen reliever, though, whom the Angels hope has enough upside to be situationally useful down the stretch and (maybe) in the playoffs.

The Mets just wanted the best return they could get from Leone, and this is not a bad one. Jackson has a number of flaws in his game, but he does have interesting power and is at least sort of faking shortstop for the time being, and that’s enough of a return in a trade like this. They’ll stick him at Triple-A next year and see what happens, but they won’t have a lot invested in him if it doesn’t work out.

The New York Mets acquired pitchers Adam Kolarek and Phil Bickford from the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations

Kolarek and Bickford are basically victims of the roster crunch resulting from Los Angeles’ recent acquisitions. Both have had success in the past in the majors and are years away from free agency, which is highly useful for the Mets, who are cutting bait on the 2023 season but fully intend to compete again in the near future. Kolarek may join Brooks Raley as the primary lefties in the Mets’ bullpen next season, and ZiPS thinks that Bickford’s plate discipline-against stats ought to result in a rebound in his walk rate to palatable levels. If either or both work out, that’s fewer pitchers to sign this offseason, resulting in more cash, which the Mets will surely want to throw at some of baseball’s top free agents this winter.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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8 months ago

“a very poor man’s version of a baseball team”

oh my