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

Ranked by annual average value according to Spotrac.

World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Last year we took a look at both closers and relief pitchers that were available in free agency and the Diamondbacks could sign. After several years of struggling with a patch-and-glue bullpen that didn’t stick, it was time for Mike Hazen to make some serious moves and improve what had been one of the team’s weakest parts thus far.

And so he did...not.

While it was always far-fetched to expect the Diamondbacks to make a splash in the relief pitching market, not one bigger or not so little free agent relief pitcher showed up in Arizona in February.

When the February fog was gone, we saw Scott McGough, Miguel Castro and Andrew Chafin appear.

While it wasn’t the worst we have seen on this team, you cannot really say that they made the bullpen a lot better than in 2022. They were average, or perhaps “meh”, and will be forgotten once their time is up in the desert.

Last year there were definitely some interesting options the Diamondbacks completely passed on. All of the possible closers we mentioned could have been a fine to great reinforcement: Kenley Jansen, David Robertson and Craig Kimbrel. Taylor Rogers didn’t close but was a serviceable arm as well. Those teams that did dumpster diving found some jewels in Will Smith and Aroldis Chapman. Even most relievers we pointed out enjoyed a fine, good or great season: Carlos Estevez, Chris Martin, Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo. Others struggled but also had moments of success: Robert Suarez, Trevor May and Michael Fulmer. The season of Rafael Montero, however, shows that there will always be that great reliever that fits the “volatility” risk.

But because of that volatility, Mike Hazen cannot permit himself the luxury of settling down with the current bullpen and hope for the best. The Diamondbacks’ best reliever in 2023, Kevin Ginkel, has been a perfect example of extreme ups and downs, having struggled the past seasons with his performance at the highest level, walking the thin line of getting designated for assignment.

The corner Hazen won’t have to turn is that of looking for a closer. Although he will walk around now with a musty smell after the World Series, with Paul Sewald the Diamondbacks finally have a fixed closer for the first time in 6 years.

That excludes Josh Hader from our list of pitchers to take a look at, although if we hadn’t had a closer he probably wouldn’t have been an option anyhow for this franchise.

But you’d expect Hazen to take at least one bigger name off the market to upgrade his bullpen, because the competition isn’t sitting in the chair looking out of the window: Reds have committed $42MM in Emilio Pagan and Nick Martinez, while Atlanta has promised to pay Reynaldo Lopez $30MM. That is some serious dope. $10MM on annual basis is probably a fine rate we can take as a comparison for some of the more experienced arms.

Looking at this year’s free agency market of relievers, I tend to say it is 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. So who do we have left on the free agency market that might be gotten for $10MM a year?

Last year we added Andrew Chafin, surprisingly, to the left-handed mix in the bullpen. So we start with left-handed relievers and in a follow-up article we will take a look at the right-handed relievers.

Is a lefty really necessary? Currently, the Diamondbacks have Joe Mantiply, Andrew Saalfrank and Kyle Nelson as lefties in the bullpen. Mantiply has had his ups and downs, Nelson might never outgrow mediocrity and Saalfrank has just appeared, so sticking with them would be pretty uninspiring. Tommy Henry could be added to the lefty mix if he falls out of the rotation. On the depth chart we also have Blake Walston. If we look at quantity, then we don’t need a lefty. If we look at quality, then we might like to know who is out there.


Lefties.

Aroldis Chapman (KCR/TEX), $7.5MM AAV market value

  • 58.1 IP, 2.52 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 14 H, 3 SV, 55 SV%, 15.9 K/9, 5.6 BB/9. Fastball in 2023: 99.5 mph (+1.8).

Last year we mentioned Aroldis Chapman as one of the relievers that could be taken off the scrap heap. He came off an extension he had signed with the Yankees, earning $16MM a year, and hadn’t been successful any more, hindered probably by a sling of injuries. Add to that some questionable issues surrounding his professionalism, like missing out on a workout and an infection because of a leg tattoo, and Chapman’s market was probably thin. He took a $3.5MM redemption contract with Kansas, setting himself up for a trade mid summer, if he was able to regain something of his former self.

He did just that. Chapman regained velocity, hitting 3 digits regularly again, with spin rates similar to his success in 2017 and surrounding years. An increased walk rate, an issue chasing him since 2021, kept the Cuban missile from replicating the success he experienced in those early years, but with good peripherals, velocity and success, the reliever is probably one of the best set-up guys available on the free agency market.

Chapman is valued at $7MM AAV according to Spotrac, while MLBTR has predicted a two-year contract at $12MM AAV. The Diamondbacks might not be the best fit here with Kevin Ginkel in the set-up position and possibly McGough, nor does Chapman fit the lefty option out of the bullpen like an Andrew Chafin. Chapman also did not face that many high-leverage situations in 2023. That was already tough in itself being a member of the Royals family, but Kansas didn’t always deploy him in higher-leverage situations either. That changed a bit more in Texas, but it is obvious that no one believes that vintage Chapman will return and even less at almost 36 years of age.

But there is no doubt that a fireballer like 2023 Chapman would reinforce the bullpen and perhaps Hazen could consider a bit more aggressive one year double digit contract to lure him to the desert. After all, if Tommy Pham was seen as a great fit on the team, then why wouldn’t Aroldis Chapman be one?

Wandy Peralta (NYY), $7.25MM AAV market value

  • 54.0 IP, 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 18 H, 4 SV, 57.1 SV%, 8.5 K/9, 5.0 BB/9. Sinker fastball in 2023: 95.8 mph (+0.4).

Dominican-born Wandy Peralta has entered the free agency market for the first time in his career after wrapping up two years and a half with the New York Yankees, where he played on a $3.5MM arbitration contract in 2023.

Peralta was a Red early in his career and played on the Giants squad in 2019 and 2021, but really established himself in the big leagues in the AL East as a set-up man, not being able to shut down the door in a closer role because of clear splits between left- and right-handed batting. As such, Peralta makes for an interesting alternative acquisition a la Andrew Chafin last year, also as one of the “younger established” arms on the free agency market as he enters his age 33 next year.

Peralta gained some velocity this year, so perhaps that is an explanation for the increased command issues he had this year. He has an excellent change-up but both his secondary offerings (he also sports a slider) were off this year. He still kept the damage limited, but because of the increased walk rate FIP wasn’t nice to him.

Peralta probably isn’t as good as he was in 2022, but probably isn’t as bad as his FIP indicates in 2023. He could be the Andrew Chafin the team was looking for in 2022. His calculated market value is rather high for a pitcher that can’t really count on a large history of success, so Mike Hazen would have to decide if he is willing to pay Andrew Chafin-money for a pitcher here.

Will Smith (TEX), $6.5MM AAV market value

  • 57.1 IP, 4.40 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 8 H, 22 SV, 81.5 SV%, 8.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9. Fastball in 2023: 92.4 mph (+0.3).

Just like Aroldis Chapman, we mentioned Will Smith last year more as a possible rebound candidate that had fallen very deep, but we didn’t pay much attention to him in last year’s articles.

The strikeout heydays of Will Smith are over, but in 2023 he redeemed himself on a perfect squad and earned a World Series ring as Texas’ closer. Smith struggled tremendously with the Braves in 2022 and found some new success in Houston, but had to do with a $1.5MM contract in Arlington and secured $2.5MM in incentives during 2023. According to Spotrac Will Smith is valued at a $6.5MM AAV, although you’d have to wonder if he is really worth that.

Will Smith’s fastball was never much of a great pitch, but in 2023 it was worse than previous years, with a .303 batting average against. It led to an increased usage of his slider (he threw it more often than the fastball), his best pitch, which batters had huge problems putting away: .120 batting average against, thanks to a terrific command of it. The increased command was also visualised by a strong base-on-balls percentage.

Will Smith will enter his age-35 year and with a pretty worthless fastball he basically relies on just one single pitch. With a falling K-rate he really seems like an investment that comes with a huge amount of risk. Perhaps a one-year deal as a seventh or eighth inning guy could be appetising.

Matt Moore (LAA/CLE/MIA), $3.3MM AAV market value

  • 52.2 IP, 2.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 22 H, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9. Fastball in 2023: 94.0 mph (+0.1).

It was certainly a surprising move when the Angels signed Matt Moore on a 1-year $7.5MM contract last season. Moore had enjoyed a terrific year with Texas, where he started the season on a minor league contract, out of the bullpen, inducing lots of weak contacts and strikeouts on an increased velocity on all of his pitches. The only caveat was the amount of walks.

In Anaheim in 2023 he provided value for the money paid before the Angels shockingly waived Moore in an attempt to shed off money to get under the luxury tax. Until that moment the lefty had accounted for 20 holds on the team, pitching most of the times as the set-up man. After getting waived by the Angels he was on Cleveland’s roster for a few weeks, before the Guardians decided to throw in the towel as well. After that he stayed with the Marlins for a few weeks before getting designated for assignment ahead of the wild-card games.

He was a bit BABIP-favoured while with the Angels, but ended the season pretty much close to average BABIP, although his FIP is nearly a digit higher, just like his 2022 season.

With a recent move to the bullpen, Matt Moore has been able to add to his velocity and his command, which makes him quite an interesting pitcher to add to the late-inning mix, although baseball reference and FanGraphs have him projected to pitch closer to a 4.00 ERA than a 3.00, because of the increased hard-hit percentage on his fastball. Still, his move to the bullpen is still fresh and with perhaps a few tweaks to the fastball with some help from Brent Strom, Moore could be good value for money had.

Brent Suter (COL), $3.0MM AAV market value

  • 69.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7 H, 0 SV, 0.0 SV%, 7.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9. Fastball in 2023: 87.1 mph (+0.6).

You don’t see a reliever leaving Colorado each year with a 3.38 ERA and even less often one who set a new career record on HR/9. That is exactly what Brent Suter has achieved and he has done that at exactly the right moment, right before entering free agency for the first time.

Suter was a back-end starter until injuries derailed him and made him reappear in the bullpen, where he became an unspectacular low-leverage baller. He was non-tendered in Milwaukee in 2022 and was subsequently claimed by the Rockies. He agreed to a $3MM arbitration contract last year, which is probably somewhere close to where his current value lies due to his lack in high-leverage pitching.

I can’t remember seeing him pitch this season despite the Diamondbacks playing Colorado frequently. One who should know him quite well is Mike Hazen.

Suter is an interesting player, with a really weird wind-up. It looks like he sits on an invisible chair and then launches the pitch from a low arm-slot. On top of that, the velocity is incredibly slow. I was a bit baffled to see that this season he has increased heavily his sinker usage. It probably explains the reason for this year’s success, as both pitches have more or less the same terribly slow speed, but tend to end somewhere completely else in the strike zone.

It has helped him to decrease the hard hits this season and thus to suppress the home run rate. That renewed pitching arsenal is probably likely to stay and if Suter is able to increase his command and induce more ground balls, because he doesn’t get batters to chase his pitches, then perhaps he could become one of the better surprises in the entire MLB with a strong defence like the Diamondbacks’ behind him.


Poll

Would you add one of these left-handed relievers?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Definitely!
    (34 votes)
  • 45%
    Nope, we should stick to the ones we have (for whatever reason).
    (28 votes)
62 votes total Vote Now