Angels Bring Back Iglesias to Close

Raisel Iglesias, who ranked 24th on our annual list of the top 50 free agents, inspired one of the biggest gaps between the contract projection of Ben Clemens, who pegged him for three years and $15 million, and that of our readers, who had the same length, but a median AAV of just $10 million. Ben was right and then some: the best reliever on the market is returning to the Los Angeles Angels on a four-year, $58 million deal reached in the final days of the league’s pre-lockout free agent frenzy.

Iglesias rejected a qualifying offer from these same Angels two weeks ago, and in the end received a deal consistent with that of other elite late-inning relievers. He’s coming off his best season as a professional, combining a career-high strikeout rate with a career-low walk rate to give him a phenomenal 103-to-12 K/BB ratio over 70 innings during which he posted a 2.57 ERA and 2.83 FIP.

Iglesias’ entry into professional baseball was a difficult one. A native of Cuba, he spent his ages-20-22 seasons pitching in the Industrial League in his native country; he was able to leave Cuba in late 2013. Establishing residency can often be a struggle for Cuban players, and that was the case for Iglesias, who was ultimately forced to settle in Haiti.

While Haiti shares the island of Hispañola with the Dominican Republic, it might as well be on another planet. The two nations are separated by a mountain range, with Haiti on the west side of the Sierra de Bahoruco; the country has been ravaged by colonialism, corruption and severe natural disasters in the form of earthquakes and hurricanes. Unlike the Dominican Republic, baseball is not a big part of Haitian culture, and while Iglesias would later have a much more well-attended workout in Mexico before signing, teams’ first exposure to him was in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. There weren’t baseball fields suitable for a workout, so the Iglesias showcase took place literally at the airport, with him throwing from a makeshift mound. Team personnel flew in that morning, watched him throw, then caught a quick jump back to Santo Domingo. By June of 2014, he had agreed to a $27 million deal with Cincinnati.

Initially developed as a starter, Iglesias has blossomed in short stints due to a 94-98 mph fastball and a deeper-than-normal secondary arsenal that includes a plus-plus slider and an above-average changeup that becomes his primary off-speed weapon against left-handed hitters. Combined with control that has gone from good to elite, he’s one of the best relievers in baseball, with the only real hole in his game being a tendency to give up a few too many home runs.

Because of his background as a starter — and the fact the he often pitches like one, only for shorter stretches — Iglesias has the ability to get more than just the final three outs to preserve a victory, though he’s rarely asked to. While there is considerable discussion on how starters are used in the modern game, there has been precious little talk about extending relievers. While 22 relievers pitched in 70 or more games during the 2021 season, only two — Giovanny Gallegos and Tyler Rogers — delivered more than 80 innings. Teams seem to be ratcheting back relievers’ innings as well as starters’ and simply making up the difference by using more and more relievers, rather than having their best relief arms throw for more innings. Frankly, I’ve never seen the data to support the philosophy. With every team looking for the next competitive advantage, isn’t the good reliever who can go 100 innings a distinct one, and isn’t Iglesias a perfect candidate to be one of the pitchers who can do it?

The departure and quick return of Iglesias leaves the ninth inning — and hopefully a bit more here and there — of Angels games in the hands of one of the best relievers in the game. The Angels still have considerable work to do to put together the kind of pitching staff necessary for both a postseason push and to create more save opportunities for Iglesias. But providing manager Joe Maddon with some late-inning insurance while they try to find better options for the first five or six frames is a good start for a team that should be willing to spend.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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CC AFCmember
2 years ago

Cool. Now go get a starter. Sam hell, Marcus Stroman was staring you right in the face and you let him go to the Cubs of all places. I’m starting to think this team really does hate Mike Trout.

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Ohtani, Syndergaard, Sandoval, Detmers, Suarez and Canning sound like they could use one dependable pitcher but it’s not that far away from cromulence. Something like Chris Bassett and Zack Greinke should do it.

bing bong enjoyer
2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

They still need another arm, but signing a guy like Thor and keeping Iglesias around are good signs. Stroman would have been nice but there are still options, and unless there is a strong upturn in Angels defense this year Stroman doesn’t fit as well as a K-heavy pitcher anyways.

Rodon is out there with a lot of possible upside and would potentially fit in well if they are committed to a 6 man rotation to keep his and Ohtani’s workload lighter.

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

I hope the Angels sign 2 more starters. Some pretty good options are already off the market.