Braves Make Great Bullpen Even Better With Raisel Iglesias

Raisel Iglesias
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Squeezing in once last deal before the looming deadline, the Braves acquired right-handed reliever Raisel Iglesias from the Angels in exchange for Tucker Davidson and Jesse Chavez. In doing so, they obtained one of the best bullpen arms of the past few years, filling a gap created by the departure of Will Smith (who was traded for Jake Odorizzi) and more. The Angels, meanwhile, shed a long-term contract and take on two pitchers who should keep their bullpen in a tolerable state this year and beyond.

Traded to Anaheim before the 2021 season, Iglesias hit the free-agent market that winter but quickly signed a hefty four-year, $58 million deal to return to the Angels. It made sense: If you have a lights-out closer, as he was in ’21, and see a window of contention, it’s a darn good idea to keep him around for as long as possible. And though his on-field results have been a tad disappointing — a 4.04 ERA, the third-highest mark of his career — his peripherals suggest he’s no pitcher on the decline. His 3.17 FIP is much better, and so is his 3.05 xFIP; he’s striking out fewer batters and walking slightly more, but he’s also giving up fewer home runs. And though the velocity is down a tick, the swinging-strike rate on his fastball hasn’t wavered.

I’m only human, but it’s clear that the computers also agree Iglesias is in no imminent danger of falling off a cliff. Check out his ZiPS projection for the remainder of his contract, courtesy of Dan Syzmborski:

ZiPS Projection – Raisel Iglesias
2023 9 3 2.67 58 0 57.3 43 17 6 13 85 169 1.6
2024 8 3 2.61 52 0 51.7 38 15 6 12 76 173 1.5
2025 7 3 2.66 52 0 50.7 38 15 6 12 74 169 1.4

That is… very good. So much so that, surprisingly, the Braves have agreed to take on the entirety of Iglesias’ contract. The righty reliever is owed $10 million this season, followed by $16 million annually from 2023 to ‘25, and while that’s not an insignificant sum, a reliever of his caliber is hard to come by. Outside of Edwin Díaz, the market for an A-list reliever should be thin this offseason, and what the Braves need to do as they nip at the heels of the Mets is improve at the margins. It’s not unreasonable they’re going all-in on with Iglesias.

The timing of it all also worked in the Braves’ favor. Had the Angels been in contention for a wild card spot, shipping Iglesias away would have been out of the question, but after a torrid April, they’re dead in the water. In a situation like that, an expensive sports car of a closer isn’t a luxury the team needs, and as luck would have it, they found an aggressive trading partner willing to take him. That the Angels needed to trade him, particularly so soon after signing him to a long-term deal, doesn’t exactly paint the organization in a good light, but all things considered, they did well here.

But Iglesias nonetheless creates a vacancy in the ‘pen, and so the Angels have themselves a new reliever as a bit of consolation. Chavez is 39 years old, but he’s a 39-year-old who’s reinvented himself late in his career. With the Braves, he abandoned his four-seamer and embraced his cutter, which he now throws nearly 60% of the time. The results: a 2.66 ERA on the season, and a FIP, xFIP, and SIERA that are all in line with it. The lone dissent comes from xERA (4.34), which sees Chavez as a pitcher who hasn’t been punished for the contact he’s allowed. He may not be a mid-2 ERA guy, but I also don’t think he’s due for harsh regression, either. Let’s keep it simple: He currently has a K-BB% of 20.7%, the best of his career.

Unlike Chavez, Davidson is 26 years old, but he’s a 26-year-old who hasn’t quite finished his development. While he was brought up as a starter, he now projects as a multi-inning reliever per Eric Longenhagen; that, combined with a fastball that plays down due to its generic approach angle, warranted a 40 FV grade. There’s no overwhelming stuff here, but at least Davidson’s slider and curveball are plus pitches. Considering his experience as a starter, there’s a good chance he gets to eat some necessary innings out of the bullpen. Given the state of Los Angeles’ starting rotation minus Shohei Ohtani, that is indeed a relief. Maybe Davidson pans out, maybe he doesn’t, but the Angels don’t lose anything from giving him a chance. Together with Chavez, he (somewhat) makes up for the loss of Iglesias at a much more affordable price.

Looking at the names on the Braves’ depth chart, the top of their relief corps — Kenley Jansen, A.J. Minter, Colin McHugh, Tyler Matzek, and now Iglesias — is going to be a problem come October. Atlanta loves to pull off spectacular win-now moves, and snatching away a star reliever is the latest example. It’s aggressive, yes, but it puts the Braves in a position to make a genuine postseason run, and even if they hit a snag this season, they’ll still have Iglesias around for three more attempts.

On the other hand, it’s unfortunate the Angels found themselves in a position to unload Iglesias, but they easily could have done worse. With a different suitor, they might have been cornered into eating some of Iglesias’s contract, or maybe they might have not gotten much in return. Thankfully, the Braves were willing to send Davidson, a genuine prospect, and Chavez, who’s been great. This is a deal that both sides were happy to have seen through mere minutes before that ironclad deadline.

Justin is a contributor at FanGraphs. His previous work can be found at Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest. His less serious work can be found on Twitter @justinochoi.

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1 year ago

Braves will also be adding Kirby Yates soon. I think this is a great move. You can really shorten a game with a pen like that.

1 year ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

If Yates comes back and pitches like the Yates of yore, that bullpen is going to be absolutely ridiculous.