Some Quiet Moves Were Made, Too: Rounding Up the Reliever Signings

Lots of money flowed ahead of this week’s unofficial lockout deadline, but not all of the moves involved swimming pools of cash. Among the many made were some low-key bullpen additions, usually by contenders, all of which arguably upgraded their respective bullpens. Let’s talk about some of the more interesting ones!

Michael Lorenzen to the Angels

Lorenzen signed a one-year, $6.75 million contract to head to Anaheim, a surprisingly juicy figure for a pitcher with an ERA well in excess of five for the Reds in 2021. As you may have guessed, his peripheral numbers were better. A FIP just over four isn’t going to evoke prime Craig Kimbrel, but it’s a good bit better than the rest of the disasters in Cincy’s bullpen. The drop in strikeout rate was scary, but ZiPS doesn’t think it’s real when looking at the Statcast data, estimating that you ought to have expected him to finish up with 12 more strikeouts than he actually racked up — an impressive number in only 29 innings. Among relievers, that was the second-largest negative deficit, behind only Keynan Middleton of the Mariners. Scouting can also pick up this sort of thing, which is likely one reason the Angels were so willing to drop this amount of money.

The other is that Lorenzen wants to explore being a two-way player more than he got to in recent years. The Angels are apparently happy to grant this wish, given they’re the home of arguably the best (simultaneous) two-way player ever in Shohei Ohtani.

Lorenzen’s .233/.282/.429 line doesn’t scream “spare outfielder,” but one has to remember that his at-bats have been widely scattered, hampering his offensive development. In addition, a healthy chunk of them came as a pinch-hitter, a role in which players hit considerably worse compared to games they start.

ZiPS Projection – Michael Lorenzen
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 2 2 4 4.05 43 1 53.3 49 24 6 22 51 110 0.5

Kirby Yates and Darren O’Day to the Braves

One of my favorite stories of 2017, Yates rode a dominating splitter to his first real major league success at the age of 30, spending the better part of three years dominating in late innings,, but we’ve seen little of him the last two years due to injury. First, surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow cost him most of the shortened 2020 season. Then, after signing with the Blue Jays before the 2021 season, he required Tommy John surgery before ever getting to play a game in Toronto (or Buffalo, as it were). This is one of those backloaded injury-option contracts; Yates will make $1 million in 2022 and $6 million in ’23, and the Braves hold a $5.75 million team option for ’24 with a $1.25 million buyout. He gets guaranteed cash while recovering, and Atlanta gets the opportunity to get a dominating reliever at a steal of a price, should the fates be kind.

ZiPS Projection – Kirby Yates
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 3 1 22 3.41 33 0 31.7 25 12 4 11 44 132 0.5
2023 2 1 21 3.21 30 0 28.0 22 10 4 10 40 141 0.5
2024 2 1 18 3.58 29 0 27.7 22 11 4 10 39 126 0.4

O’Day gets a minor league deal to return to Atlanta after a shortened 2021 due to a rotator cuff strain and season-ending surgery on his hamstring, and though he’ll turn 40 during next year’s playoffs, that’s only 32 or so in Boring Overhand Thrower years. He has almost always been effective when healthy, but like most sidearmers and submariners, he has large platoon splits, making his role even more situational than most relievers. But the price is right for Atlanta, especially if it allows the front office to shove all the cash in the world to Freddie Freeman, as it probably should.

ZiPS Projection – Darren O’Day
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 1 0 0 3.75 14 0 12.0 10 5 1 4 14 120 0.1

Daniel Hudson to the Dodgers

Hudson returns for a second stint in Dodger Blue, and like that first time, when Los Angeles signed him after he was released by the Rays, he’s looking for a bounceback season. The veteran righty was having a solid year for the Nationals before getting sent to the Padres at the deadline, where he struggled for the final two months of the season, just like everything else associated with the Padres did. The bullpen isn’t a massive need for the Dodgers, but the additional depth is still much-needed with Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Jimmy Nelson, and Corey Knebel all departing via free agency. Hudson doesn’t have the upside of some of the team’s younger relievers, but he’ll fill a role in the middle of the bullpen on his one-year, $7 million contract. The Dodgers likely want to avoid colossal relief signings given they’re going to have to drop a lot of money to patch up the rotation.

ZiPS Projection – Daniel Hudson
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 5 3 2 3.93 54 0 52.7 44 23 8 20 64 109 0.4

Brooks Raley to the Rays

A forgotten prospect from a decade ago? Check. Strikes out a ton of batters despite a fastball that could be tracked with a sundial? Check. Throws like five different pitches? Check. Had a FIP way below his ERA? Check.

I don’t think there was a more obvious future Ray than Brooks Raley. The only thing that may be a surprise is how much Tampa is paying: a two-year, $10 million contract (plus an option year), which is downright princely for a reliever and this franchise. The Rays already have several interesting lefties in the pen, but I think that Raley presents a good opportunity for them to be creative with their bullpen usage. While I wouldn’t expect them to use him as a full-time starter, he was a starter in the KBO, with his performance there earning his ticket home, and he would be a natural fit for longer relief stints and the occasional two- or three-inning special at the start of the game as opposed to the straight opener.

ZiPS Projection – Brooks Raley
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 4 2 1 3.36 62 0 61.7 53 23 4 27 66 122 0.7
2023 3 2 1 3.44 56 0 55.0 47 21 4 25 59 119 0.6
2024 3 2 1 3.50 55 0 54.0 47 21 4 25 58 117 0.5

Héctor Neris to the Astros

Neris is the type of pitcher the Astros have been very successful employing in recent years: a decently hard thrower with a wicked out pitch (a nasty splitter) but some command woes to iron out. From the advanced data, ZiPS saw him as “deserving” of a FIP around 3.50 in 2021; the computer thinks that given his profile, there are still some walks to wring out of his line. He won’t rack up a bunch of saves in Houston unless bad things happen to Ryan Pressly, but pending other moves this offseason, he should be one of Houston’s top setup men, along with Ryne Stanek. You don’t give two years and $17 million to a middle reliever unless you think you can trust them in high-leverage situations.

ZiPS Projection – Hector Néris
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 6 4 14 3.68 68 0 66.0 52 27 10 27 88 118 0.8
2023 5 4 14 3.79 61 0 59.3 46 25 9 25 80 114 0.6

Yimi García to the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays signed García, formerly of the Astros, to a two-year, $11 million deal with a club option for the 2024 season. He had a rather up-and-down stint with the Astros after coming over in a deadline trade with the Marlins, with a much better FIP (3.36) than ERA (5.48) but an absolutely atrocious strand rate of just 43%. The postseason was also a mixed bag of good and awful. But García is a hard thrower who can find the strike zone on a map, which means he’ll get a lot of chances. This may be a slight overpay from Toronto’s perspective, but after last year’s midseason débâcle when seemingly every reliever worth pitching suffered an injury, the contending Jays aren’t taking any chances. There will likely be more bullpen signings for them, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the long quiet to find out what they are.

ZiPS Projection – Yimi García
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 6 5 11 4.27 58 0 52.7 47 25 9 16 57 105 0.3
2023 5 4 11 4.13 52 0 48.0 43 22 8 14 52 109 0.4
2024 5 4 11 4.22 51 0 46.0 42 22 8 14 50 107 0.3





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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MRDXolmember
1 year ago

It’s interesting that the Angels are particularly happy to experiment with two-way guys; Jared Walsh came up as a two-way guy, as I recall, until his 1) arm injury and 2) success at the plate pushed him into a regular position player only role. I’m not sure if they got into that concept because of Ohtani, or they were already doing that and that’s a big part of why he signed with them.

Angelsjunky
1 year ago
Reply to  MRDXol

I don’t think they really seriously considered Walsh as a pitcher. He was just used as a kind of emergency option a few times in 2019 and only 21.2 innings in the minors, despite having about 2000 PA. Meaning, I think when he came up they saw him as a platoon OF/1B who could pitch in an emergency. When he emerged as a solid hitting first baseman in 2020, and coupled with the injury, they just dropped the pitching part, although I suppose he could still pitch a few innings over the course of his career.