The Astros’ acquisition of Brooks Raley over the summer appeared to be a mostly straightforward trade bringing a journeyman lefty to a beleaguered bullpen in exchange for a player to be named later. The 32-year-old Raley had less than a year of service time in the Majors, so it seemed as though if he stuck with the club, he’d be an affordable, pre-arbitration player moving forward. That’s not quite the case, as The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan reports that the minor league contract Raley signed with the Reds over the winter actually contains a $2MM club option for the 2021 season and allows him to become a free agent thereafter.
Raley, 32, went seven years between big league appearances, pitching for the Cubs back in 2013 and then falling off the big league radar until he was selected to the Reds’ roster early this season. He split the 2014 season between the Triple-A affiliates for the Twins and Angels and did enough to attract some interest from the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization. Raley capitalized on that first KBO opportunity, turning in 179 1/3 innings of 3.91 ERA ball in his first season — an effort which he parlayed into a successful five-year run in the KBO.
Raley didn’t impress Major League clubs enough to score the type of multi-year arrangement Josh Lindblom landed to return to the big leagues and instead took a non-guaranteed pact with the Reds. But while Cincinnati quickly moved on from Raley after just four innings, the Astros saw something they liked enough to part with a PTBNL in a seemingly minor swap. The lefty rewarded their show of faith with a 21-to-4 K/BB ratio and a 3.94 ERA over 16 frames out of the Houston bullpen. He went on to pitch in six postseason games, holding opponents to a pair of runs on four hits and five walks with nine punchouts in 5 2/3 innings.
All told, Raley pitched 21 2/3 innings with the ’Stros between the regular season and the playoffs. In that time he worked to a 3.74 ERA with 30 strikeouts against nine walks. As Kaplan notes in his column, Raley’s performance makes the club’s decision on that $2MM option a pretty simple “yes” — particularly when looking at the glut of unproven rookies on which they were forced to rely in 2020.
Looking ahead, if Raley can maintain his strong showing over the course of a full season in 2021, he’d position himself for a much more lucrative free-agent deal in the 2021-22 offseason. He’d be heading into his age-34 campaign, so a multi-year pact is plenty feasible. At present, there’s a pretty thin class of lefty relievers projected to reach the open market that offseason, headlined by Andrew Miller (who’ll be heading into his age-37 season) and also including Alex Claudio and Adam Morgan. There will surely be some one-year deals this winter that add to that group, and some names could take unorthodox paths to reaching the market, as we’re currently seeing with Raley.