Andrew Chafin and Alex Reyes Head to the NL West

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The free agent market skidded to a halt in February, with more than a week passing without a major league signing. Perhaps teams were waiting to settle arbitration cases, holding out for the 60-day IL, or simply playing free agency chicken with spring training right around the corner. Or maybe they’ve all been busy trying to wrap their heads around Chad Green’s contract so as to decide how it affected the market. Whatever the case may be, things finally started to pick up steam this past weekend.

Andrew Chafin came to terms with the Diamondbacks on Saturday afternoon, while Alex Reyes signed with the Dodgers shortly thereafter. Both contracts are one-year deals with incentives, and each comes with a team option for 2024. Chafin will make $5.5 million in 2023 with the potential to earn an additional $1 million in playing time bonuses. After that, the D-backs can pick up his $7.25 million option or pay him a $750,000 buyout. Reyes, meanwhile, will make a base salary of $1.1 million in 2023, while his team option is worth $3 million. Both years of the contract come with performance incentives that can push the total value up to $10 million.

Chafin is returning to the franchise where he spent the first decade of his professional career. In parts of seven big league seasons with Arizona, he tossed 271.2 innings with a 3.20 FIP, good for 4.0 WAR. No Diamondbacks reliever was more productive in that time. The D-backs flipped him to the Cubs at the 2020 trade deadline, and the Cubs subsequently flipped him to the Athletics the following year. Chafin signed with the Tigers after the lockout, and miraculously, he survived the 2022 trade deadline, leaving the team on his own terms this winter. Unfortunately, he may have come to regret that decision. Chafin declined a $6.5 million player option for 2023; his new deal guarantees him slightly less.

Hindsight is 20/20, but back in November, few could have disagreed with Chafin’s decision to opt out. The 32-year-old had an excellent year in Detroit, making 64 appearances and posting a 3.06 FIP. His 2.92 xFIP and 2.97 SIERA were the best marks of his career.

The last time we covered a Chafin transaction here at FanGraphs, Ben Clemens discussed the southpaw’s ability to prevent home runs by inducing groundballs and limiting hard contact. In 2022, Chafin allowed even more groundballs, even less hard contact, and, accordingly, his home run rate remained low. Ben also mentioned Chafin’s unimpressive strikeout rate and unsustainably low BABIP as potential causes for concern; Chafin responded by increasing his strikeouts and posting a league-average BABIP last season. In other words, Chafin continued to do what he does well, improved in an area where he hadn’t always thrived, and still succeeded without especially good luck on balls in play.

However, the market for relievers was all over the place this winter. Some took home lucrative deals for their past performance, while others made big money for their future potential. Chafin, unfortunately, landed somewhere in the middle. He doesn’t have the track record of a Craig Kimbrel or a David Robertson, nor did any team see in him what the Padres saw in Robert Suarez or what the Phillies saw in Matt Strahm. Thus, he signed for less money than any of those pitchers, despite arguably pitching better than all of them in 2022:

How Chafin Stacks Up
Andrew Chafin 57.1 3.06 3.27 2.92 0.9 0.6
Craig Kimbrel 60.0 3.23 4.04 3.51 0.9 0.3
David Robertson 63.2 3.58 3.71 3.05 0.7 0.3
Robert Suarez 47.2 3.22 3.24 3.27 0.7 0.5
Matt Strahm 44.2 3.72 4.02 3.34 0.3 0.1

While this surely wasn’t the outcome Chafin was hoping for, the Diamondbacks aren’t a terrible landing spot. He is familiar with the organization and the city, and the dimensions of Chase Field will be kind to a pitcher who succeeds by limiting home runs. Chafin also gets the chance to work with Brent Strom, widely considered one of the best pitching coaches in the game. Strom helped Joe Mantiply and Kevin Ginkel take big steps forward in 2022, and he helped many veteran pitchers during his tenure with the Astros.

Chafin will team up with Mantiply and Ginkel to pitch the late innings in Arizona. The D-backs had one of the worst bullpens in baseball last season, but they’ve been working to improve the ‘pen this winter with the additions of Miguel Castro, Scott McGough, and finally Chafin. The relief corps now projects to be a middle-of-the-pack group according to our Depth Charts. They’ll be in even better shape if Mark Melancon bounces back or one of their top pitching prospects takes a step forward.

And speaking of bouncing back and stepping forward, let’s turn to Alex Reyes. Unlike Chafin, Reyes did not choose free agency. Instead, the Cardinals thrust it upon him, unwilling to give him a roster spot or the $2.85 million he was projected to earn in arbitration. In spite of that, the 28-year-old managed to do reasonably well for himself this winter. At the very least, he’ll earn $1.1 million, not bad for a pitcher who missed the 2022 season with a torn labrum and whose recovery will keep him sidelined well into 2023.

The potential has always been there for Reyes. He throws two fastballs in the high 90s and two breaking balls with moves that put Jagger to shame. It wasn’t long ago that we described him as “one of the best arm talents on the planet.” Unfortunately, he’s never had much of a chance to let that talent blossom into something more.

To call Reyes injury prone is an understatement; health-averse might be a more accurate descriptor. It’s rarely the same body part twice, but it’s always something, from a torn UCL, to a torn lat, to a torn labrum, with a wall-punch-inflicted broken finger thrown in for good measure. Even when he has been healthy, Reyes has struggled with control and consistency. After an All-Star first half of the 2021 season, he floundered for the rest of the year. From the All-Star break onwards, he pitched to a 5.52 ERA, 5.59 FIP, and 4.76 xFIP in 31 appearances. He still brought the heat and racked up strikeouts, but his home run rate soared, something he couldn’t afford given his already sky-high walk rate:

Alex Reyes in 2021
Timeframe IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% WAR
First Half 41.1 11.76 6.97 0.44 0.227 41.6% 0.6
Second Half 31.0 11.90 5.81 2.03 0.239 31.6% -0.4

That’s the last version of Reyes we saw before his shoulder injury, hardly an inspiring performance. Still, if any team can help him regain his form and reach new heights, it’s the Dodgers. It’s no secret the Dodgers have done an excellent job helping pitchers at the big league level, as Noah Syndergaard mentioned when he took a discount to sign with L.A. Thor is hoping the Dodgers can help him regain the velocity he lost after major surgery; Reyes is hoping for the very same thing.

The Dodgers, for their part, get a talented arm with next to no risk. Reyes will start the season on the 60-day IL, and even if everything goes horribly wrong, the team only owes him just over a million bucks. If everything goes right, the contract will end up as an absolute steal.

The righty should return by the All-Star break, when he’ll join the bullpen. The Dodgers have a well-stocked ‘pen at the big league level and a deep farm system, but there’s no such thing as too much relief pitching. Reyes will have an opportunity once he’s ready to take it. What’s more, while he’s surely destined for the bullpen in 2023, it’s not out of the question he joins the rotation the following year. Reyes was starting as recently as 2019, and the Cardinals had planned to move him back to the rotation last year before his shoulder injury. The Dodgers, meanwhile, could certainly use the rotation depth for 2024. Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, and Syndergaard will be free agents after the coming season, while Walker Buehler’s future is up in the air. If Reyes proves himself a capable starter, the Dodgers will have one less hole to fill next winter.

Andrew Chafin and Alex Reyes could hardly be more different. One is a soft-tossing southpaw, while the other is a fire-armed righty. One overcame early-career Tommy John to become a healthy and reliable pitcher, while the other has faced countless setbacks. One is a self-proclaimed “failed starter,” and the other might still have a chance to crack the rotation. Yet as different as they are, both will head west this season, Chafin to an old home and Reyes to a new beginning.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors as well as an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgensternmlb.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Chafin seems like someone whose reputation is hurt by being left handed without Aroldis Chapman stuff. He was never given a chance at closing, pigeonholed as a bullpen lefty if not LOOGY. The fact that he’s effective as he is and is probably a better bet than the “paid for [long ago] past performance” guys seems like a great deal for Arizona and an indictment of the signers of Robertson and Kimbrel

Last edited 1 year ago by Ivan_Grushenko