Before the offseason, I pleaded with Alex Anthopoulos to make significant additions to the Braves bullpen. Overkilling it during the winter is the best course of action. He probably didn’t hear my prayers at night, but it’s only just turned December, and they’ve been answered already.
The Braves first move of the offseason was re-signing Pierce Johnson. A few days later, it was announced that Joe Jimenez would also be returning. Those were musts for Alex Anthopoulos. The Braves traded for both Johnson and Jimenez within the last year, and by the end of the season, they were two of Brian Snitker‘s most reliable arms.
Alex Anthopoulos continued to add to the bullpen a few weeks later via trade. He dealt Michael Soroka and several other players to the White Sox in exchange for Aaron Bummer. On the surface, it doesn’t look like much. Bummer posted an unsightly 6.97 ERA for Chicago this year, but his underlying metrics tell an entirely different story.
The 6’3″, 215-pound southpaw had an expected ERA of 3.58, so he was the subject of some almost unfathomable poor luck. He also finished in the 99th percentile in Barrel %, 97th percentile in GB %, 87th percentile in Whiff %, and 87th percentile K%. Bummer is a solid reliever, posting a 2.36 ERA in 2022 and 3.51 ERA in 2021. He also gives the Braves another lefty in the ‘pen, something they desperately needed. This is a better acquisition than people realize.
The most significant addition came a few days later, however, as the Braves inked hard-throwing Reynaldo Lopez to a three-year, $30 million contract. Soon after the signing was announced, reports suggested the Braves may try out Lopez as a starter again, but more than likely, he’ll be relied on in high leverage relief situations when push comes to shove. If there was one thing missing from Atlanta’s relief core last season, it was velocity. Those concerns are now put to bed with the acquisition of Lopez, who can touch triple digits with his fastball.
With the additions of Reynaldo Lopez and Aaron Bummer, the Braves bullpen already looks considerably better than it did a year ago, when it was one of the better units in the league. However, that’s not even including the potential comebacks of Dylan Lee and Tyler Matzek.
Lee missed most of last year with a shoulder injury. Braves fans know all too well how tricky those can be, but if he can get healthy, he can also be an integral piece to this relief core.
Matzek is coming off Tommy John surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training. Like Lee, it would be unfair to expect him to return to the dominant reliever he once was right away, but by the end of the season, who knows what to expect.
The Braves also have a couple of lottery tickets in Huascar Ynoa and Jackson Kowar, who can hum it in the high-90s. Ynoa is still young and was looking like a bright young arm before undergoing Tommy John surgery himself. He’s also expected to be back by Spring Training. Kowar was acquired in the deal that sent Kyle Wright to Kansas City. His numbers at the AAA and major-league levels are grotesque, but he’s a former first-round pick with a big arm, and the Braves are far better at developing pitchers than the Royals.
Thought I was done?
Just for some insurance, along with some upside, the Braves signed Jackson Stephens and Penn Murfee to one-year, non-guaranteed contracts earlier this week. Stephens has proven to be reliable in a pinch if injuries arise, and Murfee was an outstanding reliever before undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier this summer. There’s a chance he doesn’t make an appearance for the Braves, but if he can get healthy, he could be a huge addition later in the season.
The Braves bullpen has a surplus of arms, all of which offer something a bit different. It could be the best relief core in baseball next season. With one more significant addition to the rotation, Atlanta’s pitching staff will be up there with the best in baseball, to pair with the best offense in the league.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire