Though the adrenal rush that was this year’s Winter Meetings made for great spectating—and great content for sites like ours—getting spoiled in the offseason’s early months does make for a slower run-up to spring training. Yes, there are still some big fish out there lurking in the waters (here’s looking at you, Josh Donaldson), but, by and large, the next few months should largely be about teams making value-oriented additions at the edges of their 40-man rosters.
When it comes to bullpen arms, especially, this time of year can be like open season for cost-conscious GMs. Sure, there have been a few teams willing to spend at the top end of the market this offseason—with Will Smith, Drew Pomeranz and Will Harris all netting guarantees of at least $24MM in free agency—but many a good bullpen gets solidified this time of year through more low-key signings.
The Nationals, a team hamstrung in recent seasons by poor relief pitching, finally got over the hump in 2019 in part because their bullpen gelled down the stretch. Daniel Hudson, a guy the Angels signed to a minor-league deal in February last year, ultimately ended up on the mound for the Nats when they formed the celebratory dogpile. That trajectory from bargain-bin depth pickup to central cog in a World Series-winning unit is pretty good evidence as to why we should maintain a close eye on transactions in the run-up to camp.
So, which bullpen signing thus far has the best chance of being this coming year’s version of Hudson? An exhaustive list of all relief signings to this point in the offseason sounds, frankly, exhausting—for both author and reader. Perhaps a better format is to consider a few choice arms signed to relatively budget deals, with at least some proven track record of success in the majors.
Alex Wilson, signed only today by the Tigers to a minors deal, stands out as one arm that could deliver a solid return for a tiny investment. Though he’s not a strikeout artist by any means, with a 6.13 career K/9, Wilson still maintains a career 3.44 ERA—even after a dreadful sample of 11.1 innings with the Brewers last year.
San Diego’s minor league signing of Kyle Barraclough also promises to yield dividends—assuming manager Jayce Tingler’s staff can get him back to the form he showed from 2015-17 as a member of the Marlins when he logged a 2.87 ERA with 219 strikeouts in 163 IP. Last year represented a low point so far for Barraclough, as his brief stay in D.C. saw him post a 6.66 ERA across 25.2 innings; that ERA figure is not exactly a good omen, but the righty is still just 29 and has demonstrated an ability to strike out batters with consistency.
Like the Padres, the Reds are looking to wrap their rebuild this coming year and may do so with some cheap innings from Tyler Thornburg. Now 31, Thornburg has had a disastrous past few seasons after logging an impressive 1.9 fWAR as a reliever with the Brewers in 2016. Statcast indicates his raw stuff is still there, however, and part of his struggles can be tied to presumably fixable control issues.
Tyler Clippard is perhaps the most accomplished reliever on this list, having logged over 800 innings with a respectable 3.14 career ERA with nine separate big league teams. The Twins will now become his tenth team after a nearly decade-long courtship, providing him with a one-year, $2.75MM deal last month. Clippard was rather good in 2019, posting a 2.90 ERA in 62 innings with the Tribe, but less so from 2016-18, when he bounced between five teams while posting a 3.98 ERA across 192 innings. The now 34-year-old is probably the most stable option here, but it’s worth noting those quality results last year were undercut by a 4.94 xFIP.
Edinson Volquez was reportedly set on rejoining Texas’ staff after rehabbing himself back from injury with the Rangers last year. He’s never worked exclusively as a reliever, although his repertoire—and periodic inconsistency—has often caused observers to wonder what he would look like as a late-inning pen option. Last year, the Rangers got seven scoreless innings of relief work from the journeyman, so perhaps there’s a second chapter in Volquez’s career yet to be written.
Surely, there are still quite a few arms out there who could find themselves pitching October innings after signing frugal winter deals. Of this admittedly subjective selection of signings, which do you like best? Which other minor league or low-cost pickups do you like heading into 2020? (Poll link for app users)
Dylan A. Chase hits it on the nose: his writing is exhausting
Then move along? This isn’t a middle school reading assignment; no one is forcing you to read it.
Why make a “Best bargain bullpen signing” list when you haven’t even made a “Best bullpen signing” list? Shouldn’t the teams that signed the best relievers be recognized before the teams that signed the best cheap relievers? Shouldn’t the players that earned the best contracts at their position be recognized before the players that didn’t earn the best contracts at their position? Just saying.
Why does they have to make a best bullpen signing list? They can write about whatever the hell they want.. just saying
Of course they can write about whatever they want. I was literally just asking questions. Why would cheap bullpen signings be recognized before the best bullpen signings?
True you literally just asked a question, but you are complaining. just enjoy the read or move along.
I like the article. I would like to see the best bullpen signings as well but those are a little easier to grade. I’ve been surprised by the top contenders missing out on some inexpensive bullpen additions.
Better to turn failed flame arm starters into your bullpen guys then waste free agent dough.
My bet is the best bullpen signing is yet to come. When the Indians teach Matt Harvey how to work the 8th on a minor league deal.
Brandon Morrow, Cubs
Easily the best bargain if he is healthy. Very smart move by Cubs.
Kwang Hyun Kim gets my vote
Barraclough got my vote, if only because of the lower-pressure innings he’ll probably pitch more often than Clippard and the Padres run of success with re-invigorating so many relievers’ careers.
Different question for all you commentors:
Which of the foregoing relievers has the most potential upside or best case scenario, independent of his chances of delivering on that promise?
I also voted for Barraclough because I followed him in MIA, and the guy was dominant until they made him the closer. I think as long as he’s in a setup role in a pitchers’ park, he’ll return to form.
Of these, Clippard, but Jared Hughes and Matt Ramsey are two guys who have yet to sign and could really help a team this year. Other unsigned guys I’m into are Juan Minaya, David Hale, Dan Jennings and Connor Sadzeck.
I agree with each you mentioned, with Hale and Jennings the two from your group I’m most curious about seeing potentially bounce back.
If the juiced ball is gone next year, Alex Wilson will be a nice addition to that tigers bullpen. He saw an uptick in hr/9 last year (as did everyone), bb/9 was a 7.1, and his whip was 2.11. Get him on a Tigers team that isn’t playing meaningful games, in a very large pitchers park, that he was consistently good at for 4 years and he will return to his old ways.
IDK if Josh Lindblom could be considered here, but if he was i’d choose him.
I’d agree in terms of projected starters. He, Gio and Hill were amazing signings.
Gio great if has any gas left in the tank. Three FA Northside relievers still avail. All three might have good years in 2020
easily Clippard. that guy has been criminally underpaid for most of his career.
Agreed. He can pitch in any bullpen role he’s asked to. Middle relief, 7th inning, set up, closer, opener. It seems like every club he’s been on they kind of plugged him in to whatever role that team specifically needed him for and all he does is get outs. Doesnt matter what inning it is, he takes the ball and does his job. He’s taken his lumps, but overall he’s had a nice career.
I have to go Clippard. Bullpen guys are often up and down, he’s not.
He’ll pitch solid, meaningful innings at a low salary.
I’m puzzled as to why CLE showed no interest whatsoever in bringing him back given his exceptional effectiveness last year. Even the Tribe could have easily afforded that price tag, but CLE does move on from relievers quickly these days.
I picked Clippard, but this paragraph from the NY Post last month shows another name that belongs on this bargain bin bullpen list: “Brad Brach’s performance for the Mets in the final two months of last season was enough to earn him another opportunity with the club in 2020. The veteran reliever on Friday agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Mets worth $825,000 that carries a player option for 2021. That option is worth $1.25 million.”
agreed, that’s another good choice.
He’s actually earning an additional $500K that the Cubs still owe him, but even that total (~$1.35M) is a bargain if he can provide the results from the last couple months of 2019 over the whole 2020 season.
Edinson Volquez! I had forgotten he was still in the MLB.
True. If the new three batter minimum rule works out to his advantage, he could be a steal.
it should, which is good. he’s essentially the last loogy because of it.
Is Addison Reed still trying to hook up with a team? I can’t find any news about him since the Twins released him. If he’s not completely shot, he’s only 31 and someone should give him a look.
Reed would definently be a nice low risk signing, bounceback candidate.
Brad Brach $850k
Honorable Mention: Trevor Rosenthal.
Guy still throws gas and is only 30 years old. Just seemed to have some mechanical issues last year. Royals jumped on him early this off-season and I would not be surprised if he’s closing games for them by the end of May.
Write in Vote for Joely Rodriguez. He’s going to be the biggest steal of the off-season for relief pitchers. Dude was touching 100 mph in Japan.
No consideration for Darren O’Day? He was good up until the injuries last couple years with the Orioles and Braves.
Poor Tyler Clippard, been solid for years but can never get
a lot of guaranteed money from anybody.
I’ve never understood the “poor mlb player” comments.
I dont have his career earnings but I think it’s a safe bet that hes earned more than every commenter plus the owners of the site put together.
To your comment specifically, hes never gotten alot of garunteed money from teams.
With his abilities hes got garunteed money for at least the next 2 or 3 years , regardless of the “lack of garunteed contract”
He’ll get the minimum from someone next year even if he posts a 6 era this year. Then even if he does horrible the following year he could find work overseas for at least a year
In those fictional 2 years, he will still earn more than all of us combined.
If Alex Wood gets signed and used as a pen piece, he could be a lethal weapon against LHH..
Since he’s a starter by trade, the three batter rule wouldn’t be a problem, but you’d like to get a situation where at least two of the three batters he was scheduled to face were lefties.
The bullpen is where you save money. Any other approach is stupid unless it’s a one year contract with 3 option years.
This is where your scouts really need to shine. Find those uncut gems in the bushes!
Branch Ricky lives!
Rockies took the opposite approach 3 years ago and came to regret it in year one. Throwing money at the problem only made it worse.
Got to go with the guy with the best recent performance right? Bullpen guys are so up and down
He could be a great signing for the Mets if he’s healthy but he doesn’t fit this category of “bargain bin.” Most of the players being discussed are making $3M or less for the year.
Votes for Thornburg: proof of the number of ‘commenters’ who haven’t watched a single baseball game in years
Thornburg? The guy from “Die Hard?”
Write in for Pierce Johnson.
dynamite drop in monty
Write in for Turk Wendell
Tie for first between Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson.
Uh, the premise of the article is “bargain” and signed this season. Cecil was signed in 2017 and gets over $7 million this year. The fact that he didn’t pitch at all last year, would also undermine the “bargain” notion.
I don’t see Gregorson as having signed with anyone. Seeing he is 35 and didn’t seem to pitch after May, he might be done.
I suggest AJ Cole. Minor league deal with TOR. Had a 3.81 ERA in 26 IP for CLE last year. Thows 94 mph and does not give up many walks. The Jays have done well with these types of guys over the last few years.
I’m with you on this. I think Cole will build off of his decent 2019.
Of course, no surprise an American writer overlooks a Toronto signing or player for these things. MP does a good job on this site though…
One vote for whomever replaces ‘The Donnie’ next November.
Too soon,there’s more Arms to come
Tyler Clippard, because even though he has had problems with the long ball and his control, he doesn’t give up too many runs, hits and he still puts up big strikeout numbers.