Jan. 24: In addition to Madson and Brach (who, as Passan suggested was likely, found a home earlier today when he agreed to a deal with the Cubs), it seems that both Shawn Kelley and Sergio Romo are likely to find a landing spot in the near future.
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that Kelley is choosing among three teams and could make a decision on his 2019 home “soon.” Fancred’s Jon Heyman, too, tweets that Kelley is being “heavily pursued,” as are both Madson and Romo.
Kelley, who’ll turn 35 in April, posted a 2.94 ERA with 9.2 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.29 HR/9 and a 30.2 percent grounder rate in 49 innings between the A’s and the Nats in ’18 — his third sub-3.00 ERA in the past four seasons.
Romo, meanwhile, helped to pioneer the “opener” role with the Rays last season, making five starts in that still-developing role. The 35-year-old (36 in March) had three very successful outings and one quite ugly showing (three earned runs in a third of an inning) as an opener but turned in a 3.88 ERA with a 68-to-16 K/BB ratio in 62 2/3 innings as a more conventional reliever. Romo nailed down 25 saves for Tampa Bay and turned in a 13 percent swinging-strike ratio and a 33.1 percent chase rate.
Jan. 23: As the second and third tiers of the relief market continue to move, ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweets that there are expected to be a number of one-year agreements in the coming days as teams parse the remainder of the bullpen market (beyond top available reliever Craig Kimbrel). Ryan Madson, in particular, has been a popular target recently, Passan reports, adding that Brad Brach is “another to keep an eye on.”
It’s been fairly quiet on both right-handers this offseason, though Brach has recently been connected to the Twins, who are known to be seeking another veteran reliever after already having signed Blake Parker earlier this month. Of course, there are numerous clubs on the lookout for bullpen help, with the Red Sox, Indians, Cubs and Braves among the teams recently still eyeing relief additions.
Madson, 38, turned in poor bottom-line results but promising secondary numbers in a season split between the Nationals and Dodgers in 2018. Chest and back issues cost Madson about three total weeks of time, but he nonetheless logged 52 2/3 innings with 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9 and a 42.6 percent ground-ball rate. His velocity actually improved over its 2017 levels, as he averaged 95.9 mph on his four-seamer and 95.4 mph on his sinker, per Statcast. Madson also posted a 13.9 percent swinging-strike rate that was his best since returning from a three-year injury absence in 2015.
All of that is to say that while Madson’s 5.47 ERA is clearly unsightly, there are plenty of underlying indicators that he could yet have some run as a quality big league reliever left in his arm. Fielding-independent metrics like FIP (3.98), xFIP (3.97) and SIERA (3.54) all felt that Madson was drastically better than his ERA indicated; the right-hander was, after all, plagued by a .340 average on balls in play and a 64.5 percent strand rate — both of which are significantly out of line with his career levels.
Turning to Brach, the 32-year-old (33 in April) struggled through a tough first half with the Orioles. His walk rate in Baltimore spiked to 4.3 BB/9 — a noted increase from his strong 2016-17 seasons — and he was tagged for a 4.85 ERA through 39 innings before being flipped to the Braves. Brach, though, was torched by a .371 average on balls in play in Baltimore, where a generally poor defensive club didn’t do him many favors. His 12.3 percent swinging-strike rate and 35.9 percent opponents’ chase rate on out-of-zone pitches were both solid marks (particularly the latter), and he did improve both his control and his velocity upon being dealt to the Braves.
Brach ultimately finished out the year with a 3.59 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9 and a 46 percent grounder rate in 62 2/3 frames of bullpen work between the two teams. That’s a solid enough season, though if he’s able to rebound to his 2013-17 form — combined 2.79 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in 319 2/3 innings — he could prove an even more valuable pickup to his next team.