As teams scour the market for bullpen help, Carlos Estévez is emerging as a popular target. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic wrote earlier this week some teams view the right-hander as a potential closer and suggested he was finding a decent amount of interest. Will Sammon of the Athletic reported yesterday that seven teams had been in contact with his camp.
A career-long member of the Rockies, Estévez hit the open market for the first time this winter. He’s coming off a 3.47 ERA across 57 innings, a solid mark for a pitcher who spent half his games at Coors Field. The native of the Dominican Republic punched out a league average 23% of opponents against a slightly elevated 9.8% walk rate. Those are decent peripherals, although he only generated swinging strikes on a career-low 9% of his offerings.
While Estévez was a decent middle innings option in 2022, the appeal for teams lies more in the belief he could elevate his game outside the sport’s most hitter-friendly environment. He’s one of the league’s hardest throwers, averaging 97.5 MPH on a four-seam fastball that runs into triple digits at its best. He turned to that heater more than 70% of the time this past season, occasionally mixing in a slider against same-handed batters and a changeup against lefties. Each of his secondary offerings had success in their limited usage, and teams could certainly look to scale up how often he throws either pitch to pair with his high-velocity heater.
That kind of arsenal makes Estévez an intriguing target for teams, but his six-year tenure in Denver was mixed. He posted an ERA above 5.00 in three of his first four seasons. A 4.38 mark through 64 outings in 2021 was an improvement over much of his earlier work, but Estévez carried a career 4.85 ERA into this year. He posted a 5.17 ERA through this past season’s first half but was excellent down the stretch, limiting opponents to a .146/.206/.281 line while allowing fewer than two earned runs per nine innings after the All-Star Break.
Estévez has a bit of closing experience, having picked up 11 saves in 2021. Colorado has otherwise used him in setup work, affording him a fair number of high-leverage assignments going back to 2020. He had decent results against hitters from both sides of the plate in 2022, but his 26.5% strikeout rate against right-handed batters was far better than a 19.7% mark against southpaws. Clubs targeting him for a leverage role in the middle innings would presumably prefer to match him up against same-handed hitters when possible.
MLBTR forecasts a three-year, $21MM deal for Estévez, who turns 30 next month. Free agency has been slow to develop thus far, but there were a few early deals for relievers that possibly portend a strong market. The Mets made Edwin Díaz the first nine-figure reliever in league history, inking him to a five-year, $102MM pact shortly before free agency opened. The Padres followed up with a five-year guarantee of their own, retaining Robert Suarez for $46MM in a deal that allows him to opt out after 2025. Not long thereafter, Rafael Montero returned to the Astros on a three-year, $34.5MM contract that topped general expectations.
That series of early deals removed three of the top options from the market. Kenley Jansen and David Robertson are veterans with extensive closing experience, while Seth Lugo, Chris Martin, Adam Ottavino and Trevor May are among the productive setup types available from the right side.