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2024 off-season stuff: right-handed relievers in Free Agency.

The best I could find that might make the current right-handed relief pitching better.

World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Last week we took a look at available left-handed relievers on the free agency market. Why? Not necessarily because we think we need them, but because we might consider an upgrade over the ones we have currently: Joe Mantiply, Andrew Saalfrank and Kyle Nelson. Possibly Tommy Henry, if he falls out of the rotation, and, maybe, Blake Walston.

Is that a weird thought? Not really: no one saw the signing of Andrew Chafin coming next year. However, the opinions of commenters on the necessity of signing a left-handed reliever were quite mixed:

Although we have no idea of what might go on behind the scenes, it doesn’t necessarily look like the bullpen is an area of need or attention for this front office, although you might expect that some reinforcements might arrive sooner or later.

Like we mentioned last week, looking at this year’s free agency market of relievers, it is probably a weaker class than last year’s. Even the relievers that have hit rock bottom look less likely to bounce back than last year’s crop. Taking into account the possible budget we invented of $10MM, who do we have left on the free agency market that might be gotten for $10MM a year?

Is a righty really necessary? Currently, the Diamondbacks have Miguel Castro, Kevin Ginkel, Ryan Thompson, Luis Frías, Ryne Nelson and Scott McGough. Further down the depth chart we see the likes of Slade Cecconi, Bryce Jarvis, Justin Martinez and Peter Strzlecki. Corbin Martin and Drey Jameson will return from injury at some time during the season in 2024.

Again, looking at quantity, we probably don’t need one, but Castro was borderline fine in 2023, Frías and Martinez have potential but failed to impress, McGough and Nelson were below average while Kevin Ginkel was awesome but saw little high leverage situations in 2023. Cecconi, Jarvis and Strzlecki will probably only play part-time roles and we will have to see how Corbin Martin and Drey Jameson will return.

Sewald is a lock as a closer and Thompson was an impressive waiver claim who thrived in a set-up role, but those two, combined with Ginkel seem as the only no-brainers. We surely wish to add an arm to them, right?


Hector Neris (HOU), $7.3MM AAV market value

  • 68.1 IP, 1.71 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 31 H, 2 SV, 66.7 SV%, 10.1 K/9, 4.1 BB/9. Fastball in 2023: 93.0 mph (-1.3).

Ever since establishing himself in the Phillies bullpen in 2016 and except for a down year in 2018 and a COVID-shortened 2020, Hector Neris has averaged around 70 innings per year, flashing the durability of his arm that way. Neris is a solid back-end reliever, seizing the closer job in Philadelphia and pitching in the late innings in Houston the past two seasons, where he comes of a 2-year $17MM contract after opting out of a third $8.5MM option. Looking back, that was quite the steal for Houston for the value he has provided (2.4 fWAR).

Neris comes of a career year in Houston, pitching to a 1.71 ERA. His FIP definitely shows otherwise (3.83) and is caused by a spike in base-on-balls, a drop in strikeouts and a leap in homeruns allowed.

His pitching was still fine, but all of his pitches clocked over 1mph lower than they did in 2022, so the 34-year old Neris definitely carries some red flags in his bag. With that durability he has showcased during his career you don’t wish to think of a Bumgarner-scenario. MLBTR predicts a two-year $15MM contract.

Jordan Hicks (STL), $3.5MM AAV market value

  • 65.2 IP, 3.29 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 13 H, 12 SV, 80 SV%, 11.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9. Sinker in 2023: 100.1 mph (+0.7).

A market value below $5MM seems rather off for Jordan Hicks, who has been one of the best relief arms in the leagues...when healthy.

There’s no denial in that Jordan Hicks is potentially one of the best arms in the league. He has been sporting a triple digit fastball/sinker since high school and has been blowing batters away with it, combined with some command issues that normally chase these kind of missile throwing pitchers.

Apart from the 4.9 BB/9 over 5 MLB seasons, Hicks has been injured a lot. After an impressive 2018 season as a 21-year old rookie, he blew out his arm and needed TJ. He opted out of the COVID-shortened 2020 season as a diabetes patient and recovering. He then had some setbacks in 2021 which limited him to just 10.0 innings. He had to ramp up to get back on track in 2022, but in 2023 was very good, achieving a higher strike-out ratio again.

Hicks throws a sinker, so allows quite some hits, and amasses ground balls, requiring some good defence behind him, like the Diamondbacks can offer. In 2023 in general he allowed almost a hit per inning and put one on the bases every 2, so his appearances might involve some nerve wrecking experiences, put we’d probably rather see him as a perfect set-up guy, just like he was used in Toronto, who acquired him at the trade deadline, freeing Hicks of a QO.

Imagine hard throwing sinker-baller Hicks, together with weird tosser Thompson and a low velocity guy like Brent Suter, maybe Joe Mantiply, combined with another reliever like Ginkel, all in front of Paul Sewald. Sounds like a great bullpen to put batters of their guard.

MLB Trade Rumours has predicted a 4 year $40MM-contract for Hicks, which doesn’t seem like a contract that is out of reach. Hicks is just 27 years old, so might still have the best years in front of him.

David Robertson (NYM/MIA)

  • 65.1 IP, 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 10 H, 18 SV, 75 SV%, 10.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9. Cutter in 2023: 93.3 mph (+0.3).

FanGraphs dubbed him in an article as the best trade deadline reliever available in 2023 and indeed he came of a good first half in New York, where he was deployed in save situations because of the season-long absence of Edwin Diaz. While he was really good for the Mets, he was rather bad in Miami, so now Robertson all of a sudden comes with question marks.

According to Mr. BABIP he probably wasn’t really good as in New York nor was he really bad as in Miami and his FIP for both teams was rather in line (give and take a 3.50 FIP, similar to his 2022 season). What does seems clear is that 2022 was probably an outlier for David Robertson in these stages of his career. That year got him a one year $10MM contract at 38 years of age. He’ll be 39 when the 2024 regular season starts, so his possible contract won’t be longer than a year nor will it surpass the $10MM. Projections vary between a 3.50 and 4.00 ERA, so you’d really have to value if he is the one you’d take over a Ginkel or Thompson at the moment.


In a previous version of this article I also included Chris Stratton, who ever since has signed with the Kansas City Royals. Other possible options on the free agency market are Jakob Junis and Phil Maton. Junis showed improved velocity in his pitches and improved strikeout rates, but was probably a bit more unlucky in achieving results as his stats end up. Junis is more of a long-relief guy and a spot starter than one that excels in short bursts. Phil Maton had a fine 2023 in the Houston bullpen, but didn’t face many high-leverage situations either. For both guys you’d be inclined to say that you’d rather stick to the in-house options we currently have.

Other possible names like Liam Hendriks and Michael Fulmer are probably not an option: both are out with TJ for the 2024 season, although Hendriks could potentially make a late season return.


Poll

Would you add one of these right-handed relievers?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Yes!
    (22 votes)
  • 56%
    No, I will wait and see how the season unfolds.
    (28 votes)
50 votes total Vote Now