Fits for Atlanta Braves? 2020 Free Agents: Relievers

Like every team, the Braves are going to scour the free agent and trade market for bullpen help. And while the Braves bullpen is now anchored by two veterans, Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, there’s still a need for additions, especially of the left-handed variety.

Let’s take a look at who’s on the market, and there’s a whole lot of quality in this list.

Right-Handed Relievers

Back-end Right-handed Relievers

Dellin Betances (32)- Had some shoulder stuff that kept him out in 2019, then made his return in September ready to go for the postseson and frickin’ tore his achilles. If healthy, Betances is the most dominant pitcher on the market but shoulders are scary stuff.

Will Harris (35)- People don’t really pay attention to Will Harris, and I don’t really know why. He has been sensational for 4 straight years, is not dependent on velo for success, and carries great K/BB and GB-rates.

Chris Martin (34)- Melancon? Greene? Nope, neither one of those guys was our best reliever last year. Martin put up numbers that make GMs salivate. A K/9 over 10 and a BB/9 under 1. I want him back.

Craig Stammen (36)- Stammen doesn’t walk many, strikes out his fair share, keeps the ball on the ground, and throws a TON of innings. I like those 4 things when they’re altogether.

Mid-pen Right-handed Relievers

Brad Brach (34)- Brach has been a solid reliever for his career, but became walk prone in 2019. He’ll be cheap, for sure, and will “only” be 34.

Steve Cishek (34)- Had a nice shiny ERA in 2019, but there are warning signs as K-rate dropped and BB-rate increased. He was still lights out against RHHs.

Tyler Clippard (35)- In the life of sample sizes, Clippard has had a few clunkers but overall, he continues to be useful. The strikeouts are down, but so are the walks. Has career reverse splits due to his best pitch (changeup), but is historically effective against both.

David Hernandez (35)- Was good last year, but not what he was in ‘17&’18. That likely has to do with nearly leading the league in BABIP-against at .393. That’s the life of a reliever. He will likely be cheap and likely be solid. I’d take him.

Yoshihisa Hirano (36)- I’d like to see what he could do away from hitter’s parks as he looks filthy. FB/Splitter guy and success relies on keeping the walks under control

Daniel Hudson (32)- FB/SL guy, Hudson can push up to 98 on his FB, and that’s awesome, but it’s not the pitch that makes or breaks him each year. The slider is his out pitch and he struggled to keep it in the zone in 2019.

Jeremy Jeffress (32)- Is Jeffress the biggest buy-low option on this list? He absolutely is. He lost velo in 2019 and that could be a deterrent, but if he throws for clubs and looks healthy, he could do great things in an Atlanta uniform where his huge K and ground ball numbers could bring him back to elite status relief.

Brandon Kintzler (35)- Kintzler is a good reliever, but his numbers are going to fluctuate because his success isn’t spearheaded by the strikeout. His calling card is the groundball and there are some years he’s put up great numbers and some that were not so great (here’s looking at you, .478 BABIP against in 2015). He’d be fine in middle relief.

Collin McHugh (33)- McHugh might go back to starting, and if I were him, I’d do it. Had problems keeping the ball in the park last year and that’s always worrisome.

Brandon Morrow (35) – Morrow should be ready to go for the 2020. He had multiple setbacks in 2019 and will likely have to sign a below market deal with incentives to prove he’s healthy.

Darren O’Day (37)- Like Morrow, O’Day needs to be able to prove health and his contract will likely come with incentives based on innings pitched. I’d love to have him back.

David Phelps (33)- Phelps makes me nervous as he just doesn’t have the strikeouts to justify how many walks he gives up.

Sergio Romo (37)- Romo was pretty good again last year and that’s about all I can say. He’ll likely be fairly cheap.

Hector Rondon (32)- Overall body of work is fine and velo still intact, but you’re paying for the name and the name is going to cost more than the player should.

Joe Smith (36)- The most consistent reliever that no one knows, and not only is his name vanilla but so are his stats and his arsenal. Still…he gets people out.

Pedro Strop (35)- Had an injury-riddled 2019 that saw him lose quite a bit of velo. Proceed with caution, especially considering he’ll be more costly due to “the name”.

Josh Tomlin (35)- The Braves could do worse than putting Tomlin back in the role he had last year, but it’s not a desire of mine. He’s fine when eating up meaningless innings.

Arodys Vizcaino (29)- I mean, sure. If he wants to sign an MiLB deal and come back to rehab in a place he’s comfortable, make it happen.

Left-Handed Relievers

Back-end Left-handed Relievers

Will Smith (30)- The jewel of the LH RP free agents, Smith has put together 4 straight year of great relief and LHHs have 0 chance against him. He’s from Newnan…that’s in Georgia.

Drew Pomeranz (31)- If you look at Pomeranz’s entire body of work in 2019, you will not be impressed. However, if you look at his run after he was converted into full-time relief, you’ll be impressed as I am: 31.2 IP, 9BB, 53!K, 1.99 ERA. I’m sure the cat is out of the bag, but that would look good in Atlanta, and I’m sure it wouldn’t come at the cost of other back-end types, but man is dreaming about him in relief drool-worthy.

Mid-bullpen Left-handed Relievers

Jerry Blevins (36)- Say what you want about Jerry Blevins (I sure did), but the dude gets LHHs out and is useful as a LOOGY.

Francisco Liriano (36)- First year as full-time reliever, and he was merely ok.

Aaron Loup (32)- A good reliever but cannot stay on the field.

Chasen Shreve (29)- Strikes out a lot. Walks a lot. Useful but he’s not a LOOGY.

Tony Sipp (36)- Sipp was better than what his numbers suggest in 2019, but he’s nothing to get excited about. He’s similar to Blevins in that he’s not really worth excitement, but not like Blevins because he’s not a LOOGY, rather he’s just okay against both RH and LH hitters.

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Author: Ryan Cothran

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23 thoughts on “Fits for Atlanta Braves? 2020 Free Agents: Relievers”

  1. Last year during or some time after the big PR blunder by AA and McGuirk, Terry went on record as saying that he saw the Braves’ budget rising to $145M for the 2020 season. Up to this point, we’ve never been told what the actual budget has been for the team, so I felt like this was a real transparent glimpse into their budget-thinking. It now looks as though last year’s budget was right around $140M, which only makes $145M seem that more plausible…

    I think they’ll always try to save $10M for a rainy day, BUT if there’s not a good player stuck in FA due to the compensation, I wouldn’t just leave $15M laying aside for no reason–they should spend if the talent is there to buy (like up to ~$135M).

  2. Drew Pomeranz as a reliever really intrigues me. His statline: 28.2 IP, 8BB, 50! strikeouts, 1.88 ERA.

    He also touches 97 as a reliever.

    Sign. Me. Up.

  3. Man, it’s quite a conundrum when you need LHRP, and the best guys are RH…

    I really like Sergio Romo. I saw a story on him last year that gave me so much respect for him. The Marlins were getting pounded, and he asked the coach to let him pitch, take the beating, and save the younger arms. Plus guys don’t make hard contact on him much, and he’ll be cheap.

    Going cheap on a RH means I can like Will Smith as a lefty option, right? That’s my pick.

  4. Jc’d

    So I received a notification from my Score app with free agent predictions, so naturally I took a look. They predicted us to sign Mad Bum for 5/95 and Donaldson for 3/70. I don’t think there is any way we go 5/95 for Mad Bum and I felt like the JD money would have to be a little higher to get him back. They also had Cole to the Angels at 8/244, Strasburg to the Astros at 5/150 and Rendon back the the Nats at 8/280.

  5. From last thread:

    MikeM, I’m not sure there’s any team in MLB nowadays spending that high of a percentage of their revenue on player payroll. In fact, IIRC, it’s like the Rays who are spending the highest percentage of their revenue on payroll, but it’s nowhere near above 50%. I’m not sure if those 2001 numbers are accurate, or the entire game has changed a lot.

  6. Well, then, I am quite mistaken. I did remember the Braves being fairly middle of the road, so that memory didn’t fail me.

  7. I don’t know how much of the Braves’ current revenue is going towards “building the edifice”, but I’ve got more confidence in them returning to being a top 10 spender the more debt they manage to pay down. When they opened the year with a payroll under $120M, I don’t think anyone saw them spending $140M by season’s end. I think that earns them some good will for now, at least.

  8. @11 I wouldn’t have a huge issue if they went into the season around 140M, though I’d prefer it to be closer to 150M. If they go in @140M with the intent to add if needed, I’m not going to complain.

  9. Interesting development in the reassignment of Dom Chiti by the Braves. I wonder if there’s some dissatisfaction with the development of some of these young pitchers, specifically with so many seeming to have troubles with control?

  10. David Lee, who is a great follow on Twitter, suggests that many were disappointed in the rapid promotions of players these past few years and guys like Greyson Jenista weren’t able to develop appropriately and could be lost in the system now.

  11. How about “none of the above”? Old guys trying to keep their careers going by pitching short intervals. As soon as you go all in on Pomeranz, he will get injured or otherwise disappoint you. Will Smith will either take the QO or be available on June 1st. No way we sign him and give up a draft pick.

    The only one I am really “in” on is O’Day and that’s only with an incentive laden contract. I wouldn’t mind taking a flyer on Hudson but I seriously doubt the Nats let him get away. I do like Martin but he, too, would need to be signed on the cheap.

    I honestly don’t care that much about the bullpen on OD any more. A lot of our young pitchers can start in the pen. Wright showed a lot of potential in that role. Any of the good guys that can be had for cheap will be fine. Looking at projected salaries for bullpenners in the MLBTR top 50 list makes me want to upchuck. Any of that money is better spent on signing JD and Grandal and a SP. Spend money proportionally to usage – innings spent on the field.

  12. Thanks for the payroll/revenue info Rob & Donny. That chart is really interesting.

    I really don’t think fans should be content with $140-150 million payroll in 2020. That’s not gonna be a top-10 payroll.

    I just see this team as in the EXACT spot where a team should make big free agent splashes. Good team, young core, needs some more star-level players to really be a WS contender, just so happens to be all-star talent at the positions they need (#1 SP, 3B, C). Nobody but people employed by Liberty Media should give a hoot about the luxury tax.

  13. Right, wrong, or indifferent, they’re not ever gonna be close to the luxury tax. It’s all about them hitting their numbers, and those numbers are nowhere close.

  14. @17 I don’t think they would say that. I’m sure there’s some golden egg scenario where the team just makes total bank off all its properties and there’s suddenly north of $200M to spend on payroll. Just let me dream, damn it.

    @16 Mike, I believe that the team is fully engaged on making a big splash. I just think that baseball is in a bit of a funny phase. Even though the Braves have a growing budget, we’re witnessing a lot of veteran signings that are going bust. 30 is the new 35. Your team has the opportunity to become something special, but successfully signing Bryce Harper makes you the Phillies–we all just saw what happened. If you ask me, the free agents need to be really careful. Even Gerrit Cole. Some of these guys look really promising, but it’s the length of the contracts that are driving the smarter teams away. The Braves don’t want to be locked into a 4-5 year deal with anyone over 30 because it has high bust potential. Even 3 years to Josh Donaldson carries significant risk, especially if he shows serious decline next season–those next two years then look really bad.

  15. @18 There’s an element of risk involved with any player signed, at any age. You could lock up a 24 year old ace pitcher, his shoulder could go to shreds, and that’s that. I don’t think you can say let’s not go long term on guys because they might decline in the last year or two of a contract. If Donaldson helps the Braves win a WS this season coming, he can hit .260 with 15hrs in 2022, and I’m fine with it.

  16. @14 I’ll have to look him up.

    That’s interesting, though. There’s definitely been some guys who’ve been shot through the system. If that’s why the change was made, I’m glad they made it.

  17. @19 And if the Braves still get bounced in the first round next season, provided they return to the playoffs, would you still feel the same way about .260 with 15 HRs for $27M in 2021?

    I’m not advocating for passing on Donaldson, as I think he’s a better risk to take than most, but if they could get Moustakas on a short deal and sign Grandal, then that’s an equally appealing route to go.

    That’s the path our GM appears to be going down. You don’t want to arrive in 2022 with dead money locked up in declining players and possibly have not appeared in a World Series yet. There’s a window for this team, but it’s size is still yet to be determined.

    I think there’s a peak to this team that is still out ahead by a year or two. The closer we get to it with all the moneys not being tied up, the more likely we are to be able to shock all of baseball when we suddenly make a big risky move.

  18. @20
    William Contreras was also mentioned and “taking a step back” was thrown around by many prospect gurus in regards to his development, yet he was promoted to AA after struggling on both aspects of his game.

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