Every year, MLB’s non-tender deadline sees club’s allow players under team control to head for the open market early, whether it be due to an increasing price tag in arbitration or a need for additional space on the club’s 40-man roster. While being cast aside in this manner is often a bad omen for a player’s prospect, the likes of right-hander Kevin Gausman and center fielder Cody Bellinger have gone on to find considerable success after being non-tendered.
Relief arms are among the players most commonly cut loose at the non-tender deadline. Though it’s elite players on the level of Bellinger and Gausman aren’t found among the relievers non-tendered each year, teams find quality bullpen pieces among the pile of discarded players fairly frequently. Rays right-hander Jason Adam, Orioles lefty Danny Coulombe and Phillies righty Jeff Hoffman are among the pieces non-tendered in recent years who went on to have strong seasons out of the bullpen.
Now that we’ve discussed five hitters and starters to keep an eye on this coming winter, let’s turn our attention to bullpen arms. Though this offseason’s crop of free agent relievers has plenty of interesting options, headlined by relief ace Josh Hader, all 30 clubs are constantly on the lookout for additional bullpen help, more so than they are for any other position. Without further ado, let’s take a look at five relievers who hit free agency following last week’s non-tender deadline and could be worth keeping an eye on throughout the offseason. Players are listed in alphabetical order, with their age for the 2024 season in parentheses.
Adam Cimber (33)
A ninth-round pick by the Padres in the 2013 draft, Cimber made his big league debut with San Diego during the 2018 season but was almost immediately shipped to Cleveland alongside Brad Hand in a deadline deal that sent catching prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres. Cimber remained in Cleveland through the end of the 2020 season, acting as an adequate middle reliever with a combined 4.30 ERA (108 ERA+) and 4.70 FIP across 110 appearances. The sidearming righty had a breakout season in 2021, with a 2.26 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 71 2/3 innings of work between the Marlins and Blue Jays.
His excellence continued for Toronto last year, as he posted a 2.80 ERA with a 3.47 FIP while appearing in 77 contests, the most in the big leagues that season. Unfortunately, things came off the rails for Cimber in 2023 as he was sidelined for much of the year by multiple shoulder injuries. That being said, it’s easy to see how Cimber could positively impact a club’s bullpen in 2024 if healthy, given the late-inning potential he flashed in recent years.
Trevor Gott (31)
Gott was drafted by the Padres in the same year as Cimber, with San Diego selecting the righty in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. He didn’t stick in the Padres organization long, however, as he was quickly shipped to Anaheim before making his big league debut with the Angels in 2015. Though he posted a strong 2.85 ERA and 3.68 FIP across his first 57 big league appearances with the Halos and Nationals, the 2017-20 seasons saw Gott struggle with injuries and under-performance as he posted a ghastly 6.36 ERA and 5.18 FIP in 89 big league appearances. Those struggles saw Gott spend the entire 2021 campaign in the minor leagues.
Since then, however, Gott has fashioned himself into a solid middle relief option with peripherals that could hint at something more. Gott has been roughly league average by the results the past two seasons, with a 4.17 ERA across 103 2/3 innings of work split between Milwaukee, Seattle, and Queens. During that time, Gott has posted 23.7% strikeout rate against a 6.9% walk rate, both better-than league average marks. If Gott can replicate his 2023 campaign while getting his sky-high .343 BABIP under control in 2024, he could prove to be a valuable relief arm for a contending club.
Tim Hill (34)
The oldest entrant on this list, Hill was a 32nd-round pick by the Royals in the 2014 draft and made his debut with the club in 2018 at the age of 28. Hill was a steady if uninspiring left-handed relief option for Kansas City and San Diego from 2018-22, with a 3.88 ERA and 3.98 FIP that both clocked in slightly better than league average in that time. Unfortunately, his 2023 campaign saw him post a brutal 5.48 ERA and matching 5.49 FIP in 44 1/3 innings of work.
While Hill posted a well-below league average 12.9% strikeout rate and allowed a massive 1.033 OPS to right-handers this year, his fantastic 61.2% groundball rate in 2023 and strong .223/.302/.304 slash line allowed against lefties for his career suggest he could be a solid option against left-handers out of the bullpen next year for a club lacking depth in that area.
Brandon Hughes (28)
A 16th-round pick by the Cubs in the 2017 draft, Hughes began his professional career as an outfielder before converting to left-handed relief prior to the 2019 season. He posted solid numbers in the lower levels of the minors in that first season as a bullpen arm before breaking out in a big way during the 2021 campaign, with a 1.71 ERA in 42 innings between High-A and Double-A. After 16 2/3 scoreless innings of work at the Double- and Triple-A levels in 2022, Hughes got the call to the majors and fashioned a strong rookie campaign, with a 3.12 ERA and 4.64 FIP in 57 2/3 innings of work for Chicago while picking up eight saves.
Hughes appeared poised to be a key piece of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2023 after his strong 2022 debut. While he managed a strong 27% strikeout rate, he struggled badly with his control (12.7% walk rate) and surrendered 11 runs in 17 appearances before seeing his 2023 cut short by knee surgery. That said, he’s expected to be ready for Spring Training in 2024, and could be an interesting left-handed relief option for clubs thanks to his youth and recent late-inning success.
Penn Murfee (30)
Murfee stands out somewhat from the rest of the options on this list thanks to his consistently excellent results at the big league level. Initially drafted by the Mariners in the 33rd round of the 2018 draft, Murfee debuted in the big leagues during the 2022 season and fashioned an excellent rookie campaign with a 2.99 ERA, 3.10 FIP, and 27.9% strikeout rate across 69 1/3 innings of work. He followed that up with even better results in 2023, as the right-hander posted a sterling 1.26 ERA across his first sixteen appearances this year. Unfortunately, those would prove to be his only appearances in 2023 as he underwent UCL surgery in late June.
Murfee was cut loose by the Mariners but found himself claimed by both the Mets and Braves before being non-tendered by Atlanta at the deadline earlier this month. Though Murfee figures to miss most, if not all, of the 2024 campaign, the right-hander is under team control through at least the 2028 season. That long-term team control could make the late-blooming righty an interesting pickup for a team willing to take a chance on him as he continues his rehab process.