7:13pm: The deal could actually buy out a pair of free agent seasons, as Craig Mish of SportsGrid reports (on Twitter) there’s a 2024 club option as well. According to Mish, Bleier will receive $2.25MM this year and $3.5MM next season. The option is valued at $3.75MM and comes with a $250K buyout.
3:46pm: The Marlins are in agreement on a two-year, $6MM contract extension with reliever Richard Bleier, reports Daniel Álvarez Montes of El EtxtraBase (Twitter link). The deal extends Miami’s window of club control over the southpaw by a season, as he’d been ticketed to reach free agency at the end of the year. Bleier is represented by Vision Sports.
Bleier has spent the past year and a half in South Florida, as the Fish acquired him in August 2020 while their roster was being decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak. It looked like a nice buy-low for the Marlins at the time, as Bleier had performed well from 2016-18 before things went off track in 2019. Miami took a low-risk flier on him returning to his early-career form, and he’s done just that.
The Florida Gulf Coast product has made 87 appearances in a Marlins uniform, working 71 2/3 innings of 2.89 ERA ball. He’s certainly not the flashiest reliever, having only punched out 18.1% of batters faced. Yet Bleier has walked just 3.6% of opponents and he’s induced grounders on almost two-thirds of balls in play against him. Among 197 relievers with 50+ innings since the Marlins acquired him, only three (Aaron Bummer, Clay Holmes and Emmanuel Clase) have been more successful than Bleier at keeping the ball on the ground. Despite lacking high-velocity, swing-and-miss stuff, Bleier has held opposing hitters to a .242/.275/.337 line in that time.
That is more or less a formula Bleier has ridden to success for his entire career. Over parts of six big league seasons with the Yankees, Orioles and Marlins, he owns a 2.96 ERA with a 63.5% ground-ball rate in 249 innings. He was tagged for a 5.37 ERA in his disappointing 2019 campaign, but he rather incredibly owns a sub-3.00 mark in each of his other five seasons.
Bleier has been especially stifling against same-handed batters, holding lefties to a meager .218/.254/.296 mark in 455 career plate appearances. Righties have hit .297 against him, but Bleier’s combination of elite control and ground-ball numbers have held them to manageable .332 and .440 on-base and slugging marks, respectively.
Picking up a low-cost extra year of control looks like a nifty move for general manager Kim Ng and her staff. Bleier had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $2.5MM salary via arbitration this season. Today’s deal thus amounts to around $3.5MM in additional money to keep him off the market next year. Bleier turns 35 years old in April and doesn’t have the kind of high-octane arsenal teams value in high-leverage situations, so he was never going to break the bank in free agency. That said, southpaws Aaron Loup (two years, $17MM) and Andrew Chafin (two years, $13MM) landed more significant money in free agency this winter despite similar track records as Bleier has established in recent years. Those hurlers are each a bit younger, but none commanded long-term commitments anyhow.
Bleier figures to return to a middle relief role for manager Don Mattingly this season. He’s the top southpaw in a bullpen mix that also includes Steven Okert and Sean Guenther. Miami quietly had one of the more productive bullpens in the game last season, finishing 7th as a group with a 3.81 ERA.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.