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Late-Offseason Reliever Roundup

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camp this week, now feels like a good time to run through a few of the reliever transactions from the past two weeks.

Twins sign Jay Jackson to a one-year deal with 2025 team option

Jay Jackson’s baseball career has taken him almost everywhere there is to go. The 36-year old has tossed just 87.1 innings in the majors, but his professional career has spanned three continents, nine major league organizations, and nearly 700 games pitched. Once a highly ranked prospect in the Cubs system, his stock fell as he struggled against upper-minors competition. After a four-inning callup with the Padres in 2015, the 27-year-old Jackson parlayed a strong performance in the Mexican Pacific Winter League into an NPB contract. In 2016, Jackson led all NPB relievers with a 32.8% strikeout rate and 2.6 WAR, helping his Hiroshima Toyo Carp (a team featuring a 21-year old Seiya Suzuki and 41-year old Hiroki Kuroda) to a Central League pennant. He’s spent the past three seasons in North America, being cycled between the majors and minors for the Giants, Braves, and Blue Jays.

Jackson’s arsenal is pretty unremarkable as far as relievers go, throwing a 93 mph fastball and 85 mph slider, with slight preference to the breaking ball. Neither of his pitches stands out notably in spin or movement, but he has consistently gotten batters out and runs above-average whiff rates on his slider. His command has improved since his days as a minor league journeyman, no longer walking a batter every other inning as he did during his first big league stint. Over the past three seasons, he’s landed pitches in the shadow of the zone at a 66th percentile rate, missing bats and avoiding hard contact, as well.

Jackson joins some pretty solid company on his new squad, which now ranks second in projected relief WAR, according to Depth Charts. The Twins have built a strong bullpen with former castoffs and late draft picks like Caleb Thielbar, Brock Stewart, and Kody Funderburk, each more than capable of setting up for closer Jhoan Duran. Jackson, along with fellow new acquisitions Justin Topa and Steven Okert, should be able to handle low-leverage innings on a contending team. It’s not the most glamorous job description, but Jackson is about as good as an eighth reliever gets.

Giants acquire Ethan Small for cash considerations

Once a first-round pick by the Brewers, Ethan Small’s stock has fallen in the past couple years as two formerly projected areas of improvement – command and the discovery of a breaking ball – seem to have stalled out. The former zone-filling ace at Mississippi State has struggled to find the zone, running walk rates north of 11% at every level of the minors; he faced similar issues with walks during two brief stints in the majors. A fastball-changeup specialist, Small has still yet to develop a third pitch five years into his pro career, and Milwaukee officially moved him to relief last year, seemingly resigned to his destiny as a two-pitch hurler. Now, with just one option year remaining, the Brewers decided they have more important talents to keep on the 40-man roster and sent Small westward to figure things out on a new team.

Even without big stuff or velocity, Small stands out thanks to his unique delivery. Standing at 6-foot-4 (and definitely not living up to his name), Small fires from a standard high-slot lefty release point, nearly identical to those of Jordan Montgomery and Carlos Rodón. But the way he gets there is quite different, hiding the ball behind his body before releasing it at an over-the-top angle. His arm action lends well to the shape of his two primary pitches, a low-90s four-seamer and a low-80s changeup, both with near-perfect spin efficiency. As a result, the heater generates above-average carry with almost no horizontal run, oftentimes getting batters to swing under it. And his changeup – well, you should just watch it in action.

This visual beauty of an offering is enhanced by his delivery and synergy with his fastball; both spin on nearly identical axes while one falls off the table after starting from a sky-high arm slot. In Triple-A last year, batters slugged just .226 against the pitch (on par with Merrill Kelly’s changeup) with a swinging strike rate of 17.7%. But he failed to replicate those results during his cups of coffee in Milwaukee, as big leaguers could see the pitch better. What Small’s changeup has in visual appeal, it lacks in actual movement, with below-average marks in both the vertical and horizontal direction. As last season went on and he gained more experience in the bullpen, Small actually threw fewer changeups in favor of a more fastball-heavy diet, a trend that may continue should he stay in a relief role.

Ethan Small Pitch Usage, 2023
Month Fastball Usage Changeup Usage
May 67.3% 28.8%
June 63.2% 34.2%
July 55.4% 34.8%
August 69% 24.1%
September 70.1% 26.2%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

Even after a Giants season in which they, at times, ran a two-man rotation, they’ve somehow still managed to find a way to shed volume over the offseason. While rookie Kyle Harrison and new signing Jordan Hicks outclass Anthony DeSclafani and Ross Stripling on a rate basis, neither has ever put up full-time starter innings; Logan Webb is now the only member of their projected Opening Day roster to have done so over a full major league season. The lack of length from the rotation will necessitate longer appearances from the likes of Ryan Walker, Sean Hjelle, and Small – each with multi-inning or starter experience. At this stage in his development, Small certainly isn’t the proverbial lefty with a changeup that sticks around as a starter for a decade, but the potential for him to be a good long reliever is certainly still there. And for the low price of money, the Giants could be the team to cash in during his final 26-man evaluation year.

Angels sign José Cisnero to a one-year contract and acquire Guillermo Zuñiga for cash considerations

In lieu of signing starters, either position players or members of the rotation, the Angels have spent the offseason signing more relievers than I can count with my fingers. José Cisnero and Guillermo Zuñiga are the latest in this bunch to join the staff, one that is certainly new but not as shiny as you’d hope given the sheer number of additions.

Cisnero has spent the past five years on the Tigers, latching on there after a tumultuous early career that included a two-year absence from affiliated baseball. In Detroit, he rattled off a couple of good seasons, including a 2020 campaign where he finished an inning off the league lead in relief usage while maintaining an ERA around three. But like countless other journeyman relievers, his command has seemingly disappeared at times, and he’s experienced large fluctuations in walk rate from season to season.

Despite spending his entire big league career in single-inning relief, Cisnero’s pitch mix hasn’t changed from his days as a starter 15 years ago. He uses each of his five pitches at least 10% of the time, digging into his diverse arsenal to vary his looks based on batter handedness. None of his offerings stand out in terms of pitch value, though his slider is probably the best from a shape perspective, generating almost curveball-like depth with his main offspeed pitch. Cisnero is coming off a season with a 5.31 ERA, primarily the result of batters capitalizing on fastballs left over the plate; he was in a minority of pitchers to amass a negative run value on pitches in the heart zone, per Statcast’s classifications.

In contrast to Cisnero’s unremarkable kitchen-sink arsenal, Zuñiga’s more limited mix can only be described as absolute gas. The 25-year old reliever has had an unusual path to the majors, reaching minor league free agency twice as a prospect due to his original contract being voided in the wake of the John Coppolella scandal. As a farmhand in the Dodgers’ and Cardinals’ systems, Zuñiga developed electric stuff, touching triple digits with his fastball while freezing hitters with his bullet slider. In a two-game cup of coffee last September, he averaged 99 mph and touched 101, striking out four of the eight batters he faced. His command isn’t great, but the primary barrier to his success in the minors was allowing loud contact; he allowed 18 homers in 85 minor league innings across the past two seasons.

We have Zuñiga projected to start the year in Triple-A, not because the guys on the big league roster have better stuff, but simply because he still has minor league options. Of the eight relievers on the Angels’ projected Opening Day roster, only José Soriano can be shuttled to Salt Lake City without being exposed to waivers. But as the season goes along and arms wear down, it’s a near guarantee that we’ll see the Angels make moves to add younger, option-able relievers like Ben Joyce, Sam Bachman, and Zuñiga to the big league club.

When It Comes to Relievers, the Mets Sure Have a Type

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s Mets were a bit of a mess. After entering the season as a projected powerhouse, things fell apart quickly. They jettisoned their two highest-paid pitchers at the deadline for prospects and finished with a lackluster 75 wins. There were multiple reasons for such a disappointing season — their bats stalled and only one starting pitcher reached 130 innings — but perhaps no loss was more devastating than that of closer Edwin Díaz. Before the season, his injury dropped the Mets from second to 19th in projected bullpen WAR; they ended up 29th.

The Mets knew that Díaz would be back in 2024, but they still entered the offseason needing to improve a bullpen that way too often turned to the likes of Trevor Gott, Tommy Hunter, and Jeff Brigham. And in a wave of recent moves, they’ve done just that, signing Adam Ottavino, Jake Diekman, and Shintaro Fujinami to one-year deals. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Veterans Sign With the Non-Contenders of the AL West

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve spent a fair deal of time the past few months discussing the AL West, producers of the past two World Series winners. There’s the reigning champion Rangers constructing a pitching staff built for next October, the always-potent Astros assembling a mega-bullpen to go along with their core of offensive talent, and the Mariners making a whole lot of trade as part of their perpetual roster churn. Each of these three teams won at least 88 games last year, and all three had a shot at the division crown entering the final weekend of the regular season. Their offseason moves reflect their hopes to contend again in 2024.

The same cannot be said for the two other teams in the division. The Angels spent most of the offseason bolstering their bullpen while doing nothing to fill the Ohtani-sized hole in their lineup. The 112-loss Athletics did even less. They signed reliever Trevor Gott, traded for Abraham Toro, and that’s about it. That is, until a few days ago, when Oakland signed lefty Alex Wood and Los Angeles added outfielder Aaron Hicks. The two players improve their new clubs along the margins, but it’s going to take more than them to turn things around.

Alex Wood Moves Across the Bay

Wood, 33, agreed to a one-year deal with Oakland over the weekend, though the terms of the contract have not yet been reported. He began his career as a highly effective starter on the Braves and Dodgers, posting a 3.29 ERA and 3.36 FIP through his first six seasons. Since then, he’s been more up and down. After injuries limited him to nine appearances combined in 2019 and 2020, he took a prove-it deal with the Giants on their miracle 2021 squad, parlaying a bounceback campaign into a two-year, $25 million contract, which didn’t work out as well. Wood had a 4.77 ERA across the two seasons and was nearly replacement level in 2023, looking nothing like the mid-rotation arm he once was.

Wood’s struggles in the first year of his second contract with the Giants were largely the product of batted ball luck; he outperformed his peripherals by about a run and a half. While his numbers in 2023 returned to nearly league-average levels, the under-the-hood numbers took a big turn for the worse. Take a look at his three-year run in San Francisco.

Alex Wood’s Giants Tenure
Season O-Swing% K% BB% SIERA
2021 32.2% 26.0% 6.7% 3.60
2022 33.5% 23.6% 5.4% 3.45
2023 28.9% 17.2% 9.8% 4.98

The numbers in 2021 and 2022 look remarkably similar, despite a vastly different ERA. But nearly everything fell apart last year. The drop in strikeout rate is significant, but what stands out most to me are the elevated walk rate and plummeting chase rate, signs of a loss in command. Part of the issue may be mechanical; Wood dropped his arm slot significantly upon joining the Giants, and his funky delivery almost resembles a shotput throw rather than a baseball pitch. But between 2022 and 2023, his vertical release point stayed about the same while his arm got about two inches less horizontal extension.

In terms of actual pitch locations, Wood often missed his spots high. I’m not just talking about intentionally-placed flat sinkers; his slider and changeup also had a generally upward drift – not an ideal outcome for someone who uses the lateral action on each of his offerings to induce ground balls. Indeed, last year he had the worst grounder rate of any full season in his career. These frequent misses made it easier for batters to lay off pitches just below the zone, an area where Wood has frequently generated value in the past, leading to a ballooning of his walk rate.

This signing is as much about Wood’s role as it is about his performance. A career starting pitcher, Wood was frustrated last year when the Giants made him a swingman. San Francisco’s decision to break down the traditional roles of starter and reliever gave jobs to rookie arms like Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck, but staff veterans certainly had to adapt to the unorthodox change. Wood averaged less than four innings a game in his dozen starts, while making relief appearances of between one and 15 outs. On one occasion, he tossed four innings and 70 pitches the day after a bullpen session and on short rest from his previous appearance.

Luckily for Wood, the A’s are the perfect team for a veteran to attempt a comeback in a consistent role. He joins fellow low-slot lefty JP Sears as the only members of the projected rotation to ever complete 120 innings in a big league season. The presence of “relative innings eaters” like Sears, Wood, and Paul Blackburn (who has topped at 111 innings) will allow a pair of young arms with big stuff in Luis Medina and Joe Boyle to pitch full seasons in the rotation with minimal risk of being overworked. They’ll also help take the load off Mason Miller, who touches 102 mph and projects as a top-five reliever by Steamer, but has spent the bulk of his professional career on the injured list. With this signing, both sides gain some stability, and if Wood pitches well, the A’s could trade him to a contender before the year is over. In the meantime, though, Wood gets a team willing to give him the ball every fifth day, while Oakland gets a live breathing man willing to pitch on a bleak-looking squad – the smallest of win-wins.

Aaron Hicks Comes to Anaheim

Once an everyday center fielder who received an MVP vote in 2018, Hicks has taken quite the fall from grace in recent years. He signed a seven-year deal worth $70 million with the Yankees after his ’18 campaign, when his combination of solid home run power and a disciplined approach made him a four-win player. But his subsequent issues with injuries and performance have sapped his value, and in May, he was released with nearly three years left on his contract. He played out the rest of 2023 with the Orioles and had a surprising return to form, though he did this in just a 65-game sample and outperformed his expected numbers considerably. The Yankees will now be paying Hicks over $8 million to play for the Angels as he attempts to rebuild his career.

First, there’s the health aspect of things. The season that prompted Hicks’ lengthy extension is, to date, the only time he’s qualified for the batting title, thanks to a laundry list of injuries that have afflicted pretty much every body part there is. These issues have had a considerable impact on his performance, most notably seen in his steady decline in power over the past half decade. Since his best season, his maximum exit velocity has declined by 4 mph, and his barrel and hard-hit rates have cratered. As someone who’s never excelled at spraying line drives, Hicks isn’t able to rely on soft flares that land in front of outfielders.

A switch hitter, Hicks tapped into his power with New York because of his ability to pull the ball in the air, a skill aided by the juiced ball era and Yankee Stadium’s short porch for left-handed hitters. The Yankees as a whole were successful in optimizing the batted ball profiles of many of their hitters, turning DJ LeMahieu and Didi Gregorius into 25-homer threats. During the peak juiced ball years of 2018 and ’19, Hicks hit nearly all of his homers to the pull side, especially taking advantage when stepping into the box as a lefty. Since then, his aerial contact has been considerably weaker. Combine that with a baseball that behaves in line with normal physics, and his entire source of power disappeared. From 2017-19, Hicks homered every 22 plate appearances; that rate has been slashed nearly in half over the past four seasons. Hicks is still likely a near-average hitter, but that value will be exclusively coming from his still-great walk rates, not through homers.

Exit Velocity on Line Drives and Fly Balls
Season Exit Velocity
2018 93.3
2019 94.6
2020 93.2
2021 94.7
2022 92.1
2023 90.0
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

The addition of Hicks, now 34, complicates the Angels’ outfield situation a bit. They already have two clear everyday outfielders in Mike Trout and Taylor Ward, leaving just one spot and a fraction of DH time for Hicks, Mickey Moniak, and Jo Adell. Even without Hicks in the picture, allocating playing time is still a challenge. On a contending team, it would make sense to set up Moniak and Adell in a power-heavy (and OBP-light) platoon. But the Angels aren’t in such a situation. Rather, they should be prioritizing the out-of-options Adell in their plans, either to build up trade value or to give him a last chance at being a viable everyday player. Now with Hicks, a veteran and known quantity who can also be traded, in the picture, the playing time picture gets squeezed a bit more.

Because of the team’s outfield logjam, Hicks probably won’t see tons of playing time to start the year. But he certainly provides a much-needed insurance policy if things don’t go as planned. He can play center field if Trout gets injured or a corner if Moniak or Adell are waived or traded. And the positional shuffling in the case of an Anthony Rendon injury could open up time at DH for him to fill. Hicks certainly shouldn’t be stealing playing time, but especially at his price point, the Angels will be glad to have him if (or when) things go wrong.

Angels Make a Move, Ink Robert Stephenson

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The first two months of the offseason were entirely defined by one player: Shohei Ohtani. The two-way star’s departure for (the actual city of) Los Angeles had a particularly meaningful effect on his former club, which is in need of some major moves to be remotely competitive in his absence. To fill the Ohtani-sized hole on the roster, the Angels have signed… a 37-year old reliever, two different sidearmers named Adam, and a hurler whose claim to fame is having suffered multiple self-inflicted injuries as a result of frustration. In spite of these lackluster additions, ZiPS views this team rather favorably given the circumstances – nowhere near title favorites, but not complete embarrassments either. And while none of the relievers they’ve added thus far will really move the needle in either direction, their latest signing adds a significant high-leverage arm to the mix, with righty Robert Stephenson inking a three-year deal worth $33 million to come to Anaheim. Read the rest of this entry »

Charlie Culberson Takes the Mound

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Culberson had quite the interesting 2023 season. Like many mid-30s journeyman infielders, he started the year in the minors, unable to secure a big league guarantee. After six weeks playing for the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers (with a .489 OPS), a spot on the Braves roster opened up when Ehire Adrianza hit the injured list, bringing Culberson back to his hometown team. As an onmipositional bench player, you could generally picture him as a giant bag filled with different-sized gloves, giving starters rest late in games for a team that was kicking the snot out of their opponents every night. But surprisingly, he played exactly zero innings in the field, letting his arsenal of leather collect dust in the dugout for a month. I can’t even say for certain whether he brought a bat with him from Gwinnett; he took just one trip to the plate (hitting a single) and may very well have borrowed a teammate’s.

Such infrequent usage of a bench player is unorthodox, to say the least. Roster spots are valuable for platoons, rest days, and stuffing the bullpen with arms, so it’s not exactly great value to devote a 26-man slot to someone who appeared in just one of the 263 team innings he was around for. But the Braves have a way of doing things that works for them. They finished dead last in position players used per game, with nearly their entire starting lineup playing every game they were healthy for. Culberson remains in Atlanta’s organization on a minor league contract, and I’m sure he’d like his next big league opportunity to consist of more than a single at-bat. With a career wRC+ of 76 and negative defensive value despite playing every position, he might not get another chance to make a roster as a hitter. Instead, Culberson has decided to make a late-career switch – to the mound. Read the rest of this entry »

“Catcher” Mitch Garver Sets Sail to Seattle

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners have made their first significant upgrade of the offseason, inking Mitch Garver to a two-year deal worth $24 million. Formerly a member of the Twins and Rangers, the soon-to-be 33-year-old Garver first made a name for himself in the peak of the juiced ball era, clubbing 31 homers in just 93 games while slugging .630 in his 2019 campaign. He hasn’t reached such heights since, but Garver has remained an offensive threat, even as he’s struggled to stay healthy and demonstrate his prowess over a full season.

Let’s take a look at the best-hitting catchers of 2023. In the modern era of lower catcher workloads and backstops moonlighting at first base, DH, and even in the outfield, you can define “best-hitting catcher” in many ways. But for now, I’ll just use primary catchers as defined by our leaderboards:

Best-Hitting Catchers of 2023
Name PA wRC+
Ryan Jeffers 335 138
Mitch Garver 344 138
Sean Murphy 438 129
Willson Contreras 495 127
Adley Rutschman 687 127
Yainer Diaz 377 127
William Contreras 611 124
Will Smith 554 119
Danny Jansen 301 116
Cal Raleigh 569 111
min. 300 PA

On the surface, Garver was the best offensive catcher in the league, along with former teammate Ryan Jeffers, who broke out in his first season as Minnesota’s “primary” backstop (his 82 starts behind the plate were barely a majority). Michael Baumann pointed out last month that Garver is masterful at waiting for his pitch and then pulling it out of the yard. Those pitches are usually fastballs, which he’s crushed with authority throughout his career to the tune of a +51 run value. Over time, pitchers have picked up on his tendencies, throwing him breaking balls at a 98th-percentile rate. And while 2023 marked an improvement in his results against bendy stuff, Garver’s success in spite of this has come thanks to his selective aggression, patiently waiting for heaters in his wheelhouse. Read the rest of this entry »

Veteran Southpaws Smith, Chafin Return to Old Homes

Will Smith
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest domino of the offseason has fallen. Shohei Ohtani is the newest member of the Dodgers, and the discourse surrounding the unique nature of his contract could be enough to last the entire offseason. But for teams, the floodgates are now open to throw the money earmarked for Ohtani elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I don’t have Cody Bellinger or Yoshinobu Yamamoto news to report; it’s only been three days, after all. But the weekend did bring a couple more reliever signings, this time at least slightly more impactful than the wave of minor league and split contracts that characterized the early offseason.

Royals sign Will Smith to one-year, $5 million deal

Smith has been a solidly good, sometimes great reliever for a decade now, but his biggest claim to fame (aside from his name) is that he’s won rings in each of the past three World Series, each with a different club. His talents took him from Atlanta to Houston to Arlington, celebrating a championship in each city before promptly leaving for a new destination. His latest stop is a return home of sorts; Smith made his big league debut with the Royals back in 2012 as a starter, before being moved to the bullpen the next year and immediately taking off.

Smith has consistently found himself near the top of the league in strikeout rate thanks to his plus slider, which he threw nearly as much as his fastball before it was cool to do so. But he isn’t the pitcher he used to be before crossing the wrong side of 30, and his days as one of baseball’s premier late-inning arms are coming to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Utility Infielders Find New Homes

Paul DeJong
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Royals sign Garrett Hampson to one-year, $2 million deal

Hampson defines what it means to be a utility player — the 26th man on the roster who contributes not through offensive prowess but via baserunning and defensive versatility. Despite once being a 50 FV prospect, he never became an everyday regular with the Rockies, hovering around replacement level thanks to his consistently poor hitting (he posted a wRC+ of 64 in each of his first three full seasons in a Khris Davis-esque streak). Concerns about his power potential in the minors were validated by his pedestrian exit velocities in the majors, maxing out at 11 homers even in the favorable conditions of Coors Field.

After being non-tendered by Colorado, Hampson signed a one-year deal with the Marlins, where he was roughly a league-average hitter over 250 plate appearances. This sudden uptick in offense was largely a mirage of batted ball luck; he posted a .379 BABIP compared to a .320 career baseline (in the ballpark with the highest BABIP), the lowest barrel rate of his career, and no improvements in walk or strikeout rates.

You certainly shouldn’t be expecting anything resembling a league-average hitting line from Hampson, but his baserunning and defense are still enviable. He has averaged +4.2 BaseRuns per 150 games played, and while he’s not a volume stealer, he has an 81% career success rate. His skills on the basepaths have translated to defensive range at every single position besides first base and catcher. It’s extremely difficult to maintain a high quality of fielding despite being constantly ping-ponged between the infield and outfield, especially from the beginning of a big league career, yet Hampson has performed admirably wherever he’s been stationed.

Garrett Hampson, True Utilityman
Position Innings RAA + UZR Arm Runs
2B 1014 -4
3B 97 1
SS 621 1
LF 94 0.2
CF 1300 2.9
RF 86 -1.1

Hampson has been above average with the glove spending the considerable majority of his time at up-the-middle positions, an asset to teams who can spend a roster spot on a defense-first player and/or rebuilding clubs looking to boost their inexperienced pitching staffs with solid gloves. The Royals certainly fit the latter criteria, with eight members of their current projected pitching staff, including three members of the starting rotation, entering 2024 with fewer than three years of service time. A most likely use case for Hampson will be as a platoon partner with the left-handed Kyle Isbel and Michael Massey, though he could get time almost anywhere given the lack of proven talents on the roster.

Mets sign Joey Wendle to one-year, $2 million deal

Wendle is best known for his four-year tenure with the Rays, where he thrice eclipsed 500 plate appearances and 3 WAR (or a pro-rated 2020 equivalent) despite never locking down a single position. Instead, he rotated between second, third, and shortstop, primarily manning the keystone early on, then seamlessly shifting the bulk of his starts to third base when Brandon Lowe had a fully healthy season at second. When he hit at an above-average clip, he did so without much pop or plate discipline, putting bat on ball and consistently placing line drives into the outfield. He maximized his productivity given his lack of raw power or lift in his swing, but it relied on his plus speed and bat control, which couldn’t last forever.

Wendle broke into the majors late, playing his first full season for the Rays at age 28. Despite entering free agency for the first time, 2024 will represent his age-34 season. As a result, he’s lost a step over the years, evident in his declining defensive and baserunning value. He took extra bases on hits less frequently than before, and last season was his first as a below-average defender by RAA. His line-drive rate went from great with the Rays to below-average with the Marlins, and hitting the ball on the ground over half the time isn’t effective for someone who doesn’t have the foot speed to leg out infield hits. The warning signs were there in his age-31 season in 2021, so it’s unsurprising Tampa traded him that offseason, (correctly) anticipating a future decline. Wendle was never great with the Marlins, but his production completely fell apart during the last couple months of his tenure there, with a -6 wRC+ over the last two months of the year.

Joey Wendle Speed Metrics
Year Sprint Speed Percentile BsR/150 Def/150
2018 81 3.2 5.4
2019 86 3.2 8.6
2020 83 4.2 5.4
2021 71 -0.2 10.4
2022 50 0 7.3
2023 61 0.3 2.1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Def incorporates RAA and positional adjustment

Wendle will slide into the role previously held by fellow left-handed multi-positional infielder Luis Guillorme, who was non-tendered following a down year truncated by a calf injury. It’s somewhat surprising that Guillorme was let go given his arbitration estimate of $1.7 million and track record of success in a bench role, especially with his disciplined approach at the plate and high walk rates. Should both Wendle and Guillorme return to form next season, the Mets will be trading a points of OBP for a few more extra-base hits, though the former’s decline in athleticism make it difficult to see him as an impact player, even in his limited role.

White Sox sign Paul DeJong to one-year, $1.75 million deal

Only one position player contributed more negative WAR to his team than Wendle in last season’s second half, and it just so happened to be DeJong. In the first half with the Cardinals, he hit below league average and put up the best defensive numbers of his career, putting him on a three-win pace for the season. With St. Louis well out of contention, they flipped him to the Blue Jays, where he fell into a historic slump. In 13 games north of the border, he went 3-for-44, striking out 41% of the time without drawing a walk or clubbing an extra-base hit. His .068/.068/.068 slash line was good for a -76 wRC+, prompting the Blue Jays to release him after just three weeks.

DeJong then signed on with the Giants, themselves in the middle of a horrific offensive implosion. While he was acquired to take playing time from the aging Brandon Crawford, his struggles in Toronto followed him west, where he hit even worse than Crawford. He wasn’t as historically awful as he was with the Jays, but he still hit just .184 without a walk before the Giants cut him loose as well.

The question going forward remains whether or not DeJong’s abysmal second half was a 31-game anomaly or a true change in his talent level. There are certainly red flags in his under-the-hood numbers; zero walks in 94 plate appearances is concerning, but his chase rate shooting over 54% after leaving St. Louis (compared to a 32% career rate) may be even worse. His power almost completely evaporated as well. A combination of lowered exit velocity with more ground balls than fly balls for the first time in his career led to just one barrel in 60 batted ball events. Steamer’s projections certainly put a good deal of weight into his disastrous run, forecasting a .276 OBP and 76 wRC+, with a strikeout rate a few points above his career norm.

DeJong’s signing won’t drag the White Sox, who scored the second-fewest runs in the majors last year, out of the cellar, but it will at least stabilize their infield situation in the short term. With the arrows pointing down on 40-man infielders José Rodríguez and Lenyn Sosa, the Sox lack immediate plug-and-play options at the six beyond Nicky Lopez. Their clearest option for the future is top prospect Colson Montgomery, our 12th-ranked prospect atop the 55 FV tier. But while Montgomery has looked great in pro ball, he’s far from a perfect prospect, and his poor defense at shortstop may necessitate a future position change, though he’s never played an inning anywhere else in the minors. He also suffered a back injury that limited him to just 84 games in 2023, including a relatively unimpressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. It’s possible that DeJong could hold down the fort for the early season, making way for a midseason debut from Montgomery.

Early Offseason Marginal Pitching Transactions, Part 2

Cal Quantrill
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we looked at a few single-inning relievers who changed hands in the recent flurry of transactions. We’ll wrap up this series with another small reliever signing, as well as looking at two swingman/starter-types who could have a larger role on their new teams in the upcoming season.

Rockies acquire Cal Quantrill from Guardians in trade

With Quantrill coming off a career-worst year and with a looming arbitration salary estimated at $6.6 million, the Guardians decided to part ways with the 28-year-old righty, designating him for assignment to clear up 40-man roster space. The Rockies opted to cut the waiver line, acquiring him in exchange for low-minors catcher Kody Huff. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Offseason Marginal Pitching Transactions, Part 1

Nick Anderson
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency has been ongoing for two weeks now, but for the most part, the big dominoes are yet to fall. While teams certainly have their sights set on the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Cody Bellinger, the early offseason has been defined by smaller moves and signings made around the non-tender and Rule 5 protection deadlines.

The players being exchanged aren’t the most notable members of their respective rosters, yet they’ll still impact the quality of their teams in the upcoming season. We’ll be knocking out many of the more intriguing pitchers who have changed hands in this two-part series. Read the rest of this entry »