It’s true every season that clubs need bullpen help, but the desperation for quality relief help seems more palpable this season than in years past. Perhaps it’s because one of the best closers in baseball history is still sitting unsigned in late May, which only leads to more fan outcry for bullpen help and more of a spotlight to be placed on teams that are struggling in this regard.
I got more than a few questions about what’s out there in terms of readily available bullpen help in yesterday’s MLBTR chat. While the general answer can be snarkily summed up in brief fashion (“not much!“), it’s also true that the landscape of available arms is in a constant state of change as players opt out of deals, or are designated for assignment/released. So while we all know that Craig Kimbrel is available for the highest bidder, here’s a look at a handful of newly available arms that have hit the market in the past 10 days or so.
Free Agents (or soon-to-be free agents):
Luke Gregerson (released by Cardinals)
- Why he was cut loose: Hamstring and shoulder injuries limited Gregerson to just 18 1/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2018, and he hasn’t been effective in that time. Gregerson posted a 7.36 ERA with a 14-to-7 K/BB ratio and 25 hits allowed (including a pair of homers) in parts of two seasons with the Cards, and his fastball/sinker combo dipped to 86.4 mph and 87.4 mph, respectively, in this year’s tiny sample.
- Why he could hold appeal: Prior to signing with the Cards, Gregerson was a bullpen workhorse. From 2009-17 he averaged 69 appearances and 67 innings per season, logging a collective 3.02 ERA with 9.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 50.9 percent ground-ball rate. That grounder rate topped 60 percent in both 2015 and 2016, and he averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016-17 with Houston.
Addison Reed (released by Twins)
- Why he was cut loose: Reed’s time with the Twins started well, but his velocity dipped early last summer and he landed on the shelf with triceps soreness and an elbow impingement. A sprained thumb in his non-pitching hand has kept him on the shelf all season to date, and he was reportedly throwing 88-89 mph in recent rehab outings. For context, his average heater in 2017 was 92.3 mph. Reed logged a 4.50 ERA in 56 innings last season, but his ERA over his final 30 games with Minnesota was 6.44. He allowed four homers and a total of eight runs in five Triple-A rehab innings this year.
- Why he could hold appeal: As with Gregerson, Reed’s appeal is all in his track record. He had a career 3.40 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 at the time he signed with the Twins, including a superb 2015-17 run in which he notched a 2.66 ERA with 218 strikeouts against just 34 unintentional walks in 209 2/3 innings. He won’t turn 30 until December, so unlike the other free agents listed here, he still has age on his side. One year ago, Reed had a 2.49 ERA and 27-to-7 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings with the Twins.
- Why he was cut loose: Torres opted out of a minor league deal after a solid showing in Triple-A, hopeful of finding an easier path to the Majors than he faced in San Diego.
- Why he could hold appeal: Torres pitched to a 2.49 ERA with a 23-to-10 K/BB ratio and a 50.7 percent ground-ball rate with Triple-A El Paso to open the season. From 2012-17, he recorded a 3.73 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in a total of 449 innings between the Rockies, Mets and Brewers. During that time, he averaged 75 innings per season. Torres is 36 and struggled in a brief 9 2/3 innings with the Nats last year, though he was very effective for their Triple-A team.
- Why he was cut loose: Venters’ 2018 comeback was a feelgood story, but he was rocked for nine runs on nine hits and eight walks in 4 2/3 innings with the Braves this season. Atlanta’s bullpen has been a revolving door this season, and keeping the struggling Venters aboard limited the club’s flexibility.
- Why he could hold appeal: Venters’ sinker still checked in at a healthy average of 93.6 mph in 2019, and he’s a year removed from holding left-handed opponents to a comically bad .133/.200/.200 batting line through 66 plate appearances. Even through this season’s struggles, his grounder rate checked in at 50 percent, and it was nearly 70 percent last year.
Dan Jennings (opted for free agency after being DFA’ed by Nationals)
- Why he was cut loose: Jennings struggled in Spring Training with the Angels and didn’t fare any better with the Nats. He walked seven batters (two intentional), hit another and threw a wild pitch in his 4 2/3 innings with Washington. As with the Braves and Mariners, the Nationals’ bullpen has been rife with turnover, and it seems that nearly every member of those clubs’ relief units is on a short leash.
- Why he could hold appeal: In parts of seven MLB seasons prior to 2019, Jennings never logged an ERA of 4.00 or higher, and he was solid with the Brewers in 2018 (3.22 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 56.1 percent ground-ball rate). He’s not a prolific strikeout arm but has typically been a ground-ball machine who can hold his own against lefties and righties alike (2018 struggles against righties notwithstanding). His velocity held steady in 2019 as well.
Ryan Garton (DFA by Mariners)
- Why he was cut loose: The Mariners have used 22 different relievers already in 2019. (Heck, four of them are listed in this section!) Garton’s selection to the big league roster, like many of the names being cycled through the Seattle ’pen, seemed almost destined to be short. He allowed four runs in three innings and was designated when the Mariners signed Anthony Bass.
- Why he could hold appeal: Garton has pitched reasonably well in Triple-A over the past two seasons, though his FIP is roughly a full run higher than the 3.28 ERA. Still, Garton has fanned 71 hitters in 68 2/3 Triple-A frames in that time. He walked too many in 2018, but he has some experience, some Triple-A success and a minor league option remaining. There’s a solid chance Garton clears waivers, but less intriguing guys have been claimed in the past.
Neil Ramirez (DFA by Indians)
- Why he was cut loose: Surrendering five home runs and issuing nine walks in 16 1/3 innings isn’t a great way to hold onto a roster spot, and Ramirez is out of minor league options, which put the Indians in a particularly tough spot. He’s never enjoyed consistent success at the MLB level, but teams continue to be intrigued by his raw ability.
- Why he could hold appeal: The fact that six teams have given Ramirez a big league look as he’s struggled to a 5.70 ERA in 113 2/3 innings over the past four seasons speaks both to his potential upside and his frustrating level of inconsistency. Ramirez averages 95 mph on his heater and has turned in a 15 percent swinging-strike rate across the past two seasons. His fastball spin is elite, and his curveball spin isn’t far behind. If anyone could coax some consistency out of him, he’d be controlled through 2020.
Yefry Ramirez (DFA by Orioles)
- Why he was cut loose: Ramirez has been more of a starter than a reliever, but what the heck, let’s add him here anyway. The 25-year-old has an ERA north of 6.00 and 5.4 BB/9 over the past two seasons in the Majors, but it’s frankly still a bit surprising to see the Orioles cut him loose not 24 hours after their manager lamented a lack of rotation depth. The front office has apparently seen enough of Ramirez, though.
- Why he could hold appeal: Ramirez has a 3.40 ERA and a 96-to-31 K/BB ratio in 90 Triple-A innings. He averaged 93.2 mph on his fastball and has a 10.7 percent swinging-strike rate in addition to 73 punchouts in 75 2/3 innings working primarily as a starter in the Majors. It’d be interesting to see what Ramirez could do in shorter stints; in 19 career relief frames, opponents have batted .206/.320/.270 against him. His slider was an effective pitch for him in 2018 while his changeup has gotten good results in 2019. He’s 25 years old and has a minor league option remaining.
Zac Rosscup (DFA by Mariners)
- Why he was cut loose: Rosscup allowed 14 walks in 14 innings of work as the Mariners’ apparent plan to dramatically increase his slider usage — he ranks fifth among MLB pitchers in slider percentage (min. 10 IP) — didn’t pay off as hoped. He’s out of minor league options, so the Mariners had no way to send him down to try to rediscover last year’s solid control (3.2 BB/9).
- Why he could hold appeal: In his last 25 1/3 big league innings, Rosscup has racked up 40 strikeouts with an 18.3 percent swinging-strike rate and a 32.6 percent opponents’ chase rate. He falls behind hitters far too often. His slider hasn’t been as effective this season, but in 2018 he threw the pitch 101 times and generated 30 swinging strikes. He’s controllable through 2021.
Nick Rumbelow (DFA by Mariners)
- Why he was cut loose: Rumbelow has been injured more than he’s been healthy over the past few seasons, and while he’s recovered from 2015 Tommy John surgery and a 2018 neck injury now, the results weren’t there for him in Triple-A. He’s allowed 16 earned runs on 25 hits and 10 walks with 11 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings.
- Why he could hold appeal: Rumbelow will sit 93-94 mph with his fastball and, prior to 2019, had experienced a good bit of success when healthy enough to take the ball in Triple-A. He carried a 2.95 ERA and a 131-to-34 K/BB ratio in 116 career Triple-A innings into the season.
Mike Wright (DFA by Mariners)
- Why he was cut loose: Wright has had ample big league time in each of the past four big league seasons but has an ERA north of 6.00 to show for it. The Mariners traded a struggling low-level infielder to acquire him, hoping they could help him tap into his potential, but Wright lasted only 11 innings (and 11 earned runs) before being designated for assignment. Like many DFA casualties, he’s out of minor league options.
- Why he could hold appeal: Both the Orioles and Mariners have seen fit to give Wright a shot at the MLB level, perhaps in part because he’s been a solid starter through nearly 400 innings (70 starts, one relief appearance) of Triple-A ball in his professional career.
It’s easy to be dismissive of the majority of the names on any list like this, but that was also the case when the likes of Kirby Yates and Brad Hand were cut loose a few years ago. Teams are constantly mining the scrap heap, and even the smallest pickup can prove to be consequential down the line.