On Thursday, the Phillies signed 28-year-old reliever Archie Bradley to a one-year deal worth just $6 million — a steal of a deal for a pitcher that posted a 2.95 ERA / 2.59 FIP in 2020. In recent seasons, he has been one of the better closers in the sport. With Atlanta’s former closer Mark Melancon now a free agent, a guy like Bradley could’ve been a solid add for the Braves, especially at that price.
It appears the market for relief pitchers is at an all-time low this winter, giving the Braves plenty of cheaper options if Alex Anthopoulos plans to do most of his big spending on the offense. Other than Liam Hendriks, who signed with the White Sox recently, no free agent reliever has received a contract worth more than $20 million overall. So far, Hendrik’s deal is the lone relief pitcher signing that has featured more than two years in length. Atlanta should definitely be able to add a reliever or two without hurting the team’s chances at upgrading the third base position or bringing back Marcell Ozuna.
Looking at FanGraphs‘ 2021 Free Agent Tracker, the reliever class is still loaded at this point. Guys like Brad Hand, Alex Colome, and Trevor Rosenthal remain unsigned, and all would instantly improve any team’s bullpen. Hand, Colome, and Rosenthal each project to earn anywhere from $6-9 million in salary this coming season, which, shown by Bradley’s price point above, is a little too expensive for AA’s taste. If Atlanta’s going to be in on a reliever this winter, it will have to be a cheaper signing.
As of today, the list of cheap relievers with fair projections for 2021 includes righties Jeremy Jeffress, Anthony Bass, Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, and Ryan Tepera, as well as lefties Sean Doolittle, Aaron Loup, and Jose Alvarez.
Doolittle, 34-years-old, will most likely be the most expensive of that group. FanGraphs projects him to earn a one-year, $5 million contract. Though he’s coming off a down-year in 2019 and an injury-riddled 2020 in which he only tallied 7.2 innings, Doolittle was still an all-star for the Nationals three seasons ago. At $5 million, it’s probably worth it to see if he can return to his 2016-18 form — a three-year stint for him that featured a per-season average of 45 innings, 18 saves and a 2.53 ERA (2.61 FIP).
O’Day and Bass are the others that are most logical, in my opinion. We know all about the former, given he pitched the last two seasons in Atlanta (even though a lot of that time was spent on the injured list), and the latter has been a consistent performer for three years now. If you don’t know much about Bass, that’s understandable. He’s a 33-year-old with average stuff and has never been much of a strikeout guy (career 6.4 strikeouts per nine over nine seasons). But since 2018, Bass has managed a strong 3.44 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 89 innings while bouncing between the Cubs, Mariners, and Blue Jays. Both of these guys will most likely command one-year deals worth a few million dollars.
Tepera and Loup are intriguing as well; both put together impressive 2020 seasons. In fact, Tepera received MVP votes last year, acknowledging a ridiculous 13.5 strikeouts per nine across 20.2 innings with the Cubs. He’s always been a guy that’s struck batters out above the league average, and he’s also been considerably more durable over the last few seasons, but his 2020 sort of came out of nowhere. Loup would also make a solid add as a lefty. Over nine big league seasons, he sports a 3.38 ERA (3.50 FIP).
Any of the names listed here should be on AA’s radar. All should cost $5 million or less and shouldn’t require anything more than a one-year deal. At this point, Atlanta isn’t looking to rebrand the bullpen, for much of its core from 2020 remains, and if needed, Will Smith could easily be transitioned to the closer’s role.
As the hot stove heats up, we should start seeing these guys signed, so be sure to check back for any updates.
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