Will the Braves actually use Reynaldo Lopez as a starter?

MLB: SEP 05 Twins at Guardians

The Braves made a pretty substantial splash in free agency yesterday, signing Reynaldo Lopez to a three-year contract worth $30 million. The 29-year-old right-hander has been an elite reliever over the last two seasons and gives the Braves bullpen the high-powered arm they’ve been missing.

Lopez has a heater that can eclipse 100 MPH. He pitched for three different teams last season, recording a 3.27 ERA; however, he did his best work after the trade deadline. Lopez recorded a 2.77 ERA in 13 games with the Angels before being waived, then recorded a 0.00 ERA with the Guardians in 12 appearances. In the year prior, he had a 2.76 ERA in 61 games for the White Sox.

But before Reynaldo Lopez was a full-time reliever, he served as a starter in Chicago. He was inconsistent, but several reports suggest the Braves want to at least give him a chance at the rotation by stretching him out this offseason. They’ll then decide what his role will be at the end of Spring Training.

I think this is more about the Braves keeping their options open more than anything, and I don’t think it has any bearing on what they will do in free agency. The Braves reportedly went hard after Aaron Nola, and though he ended up back with the Phillies, they are far from done in their attempts to add to their rotation. All eyes are now on Sonny Gray, and even if they miss out on him, there are still plenty of other options available, whether it be via trade or free agency.

But let’s say the Braves land Sonny Gray, keeping their options open remains a wise decision. Injuries have ravaged Atlanta’s rotation in previous seasons, and there has to be at least a sliver of concern regarding Max Fried‘s health heading into the 2024 campaign after he missed most of 2023 with an elbow injury.

Plus, there’s always an off chance that Reynaldo Lopez figures something out with the Braves as a starter. He struggled in that role with the White Sox, but Chicago’s pitching developmental staff doesn’t hold a candle to Atlanta’s. Lopez’s stuff is also much better than it was when he was a starting pitcher. His velocity has continued to rise each season, as his average fastball sat at 98.2 MPH in 2023. For reference, it was around 95 MPH when he was a starting pitcher for the White Sox.

Guys who throw that hard don’t grow on trees, and while it may turn out that he is better suited as a reliever, trying to get the most value out of Reynaldo Lopez by moving him to the rotation could pay substantial dividends. It will be an intriguing development throughout Spring Training.

Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

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