December 5: The Angels and Red Sox have also checked in on Hicks, per Ari Alexander of KPRC 2. Both clubs could use some bullpen reinforcements, with Boston relievers having posted a collective 4.32 ERA in 2023 while the Angels were at 4.88.
December 4: The Astros, Rangers, Cardinals and Orioles are among the teams with interest in right-hander Jordan Hicks this offseason, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post. The Cardinals and Orioles having interest is no surprise since they had previously been linked to the 27-year-old earlier in the offseason. The connections to the Rangers and Astros, however, are new.
The Rangers make plenty of sense as a potential fit for Hicks. The reigning World Series champions got excellent results out of their offense and starting pitching in 2023, but faced significant struggles in the bullpen. The club’s relief corps combined for a 4.77 ERA that was bottom-seven in the majors, while the group’s 4.45 FIP and 2.6 fWAR were also bottom-ten figures. The Twins, Diamondbacks, and Marlins were the only other playoff teams to feature a bottom-ten bullpen in even one of those three categories, and no club besides the Rangers appeared in the bottom of those leaderboards more than once.
That acute need for bullpen additions has led the Rangers to be frequently connected to top-of-the-market closer Josh Hader, who posted a sensational season in 2023 with a 1.28 ERA and a 36.8% strikeout rate while picking up 33 saves in 56 1/3 innings of work with the Padres. That being said, Hader has a chance to land a record-breaking contract in free agency this offseason, with MLBTR projecting the lefty for a six-year, $110MM contract on our annual Top 50 MLB Free Agents list, on which he ranks eighth overall. Coming off a World Series championship in 2023 and a pair of offseasons where they were among the league’s biggest spenders, it’s possible that sort of contract won’t be a problem for Texas.
That being said, GM Chris Young recently cautioned that the club doesn’t expect to spend quite as lavishly this offseason as they have the past two winters. If the Rangers do find that Hader is out of their price range, Hicks could represent a more affordable alternative who has still flashed elite upside as a late-inning arm. Hicks, who was the second-highest rated reliever (#21 overall) on MLBTR’s list with a projected price tag of four years and $40MM, boasts a triple-digit fastball with sinking action that allows him to post groundball rates near 60% on a yearly basis.
While control and injury issues have dogged Hicks throughout his career, the righty is still three seasons away from his 30th birthday and impressed this season with a career-high 28.4% strikeout rate. While his 3.29 ERA hardly jumps off the page for a back-end relief arm, it’s worth noting that Hicks’ season numbers are skewed by a brutal early-season performance where he surrendered nine runs (eight earned) in just 5 2/3 innings across seven appearances. After that point, Hicks boasted a sterling 2.40 ERA and 2.59 FIP with a 30% strikeout rate against a 9.6% walk rate in his final 60 innings of work. While its not reasonable to simply ignore a rocky start to the season entirely, Hicks’s strong performance after the first two weeks of his season does highlight the tantalizing upside the right-hander has flashed throughout his career.
The Astros, on the other hand, are a somewhat less obvious suitor. Veteran righty Ryan Pressly is entrenched as the club’s closer, while young hurler Bryan Abreu has emerged as one of the best young relief arms in the league with a 1.84 ERA and 2.59 FIP across the past two seasons. That duo led the Astros’ relief corps to a sterling 3.56 ERA in 2023, the sixth-best figure in the league. Houston’s bullpen sports similarly strong advanced metrics, as only six clubs posted a better collective SIERA than the Astros’ 3.79 figure.
Good as the club’s relief corps was in 2023, however, it’s important to note that the Astros have since lost key pieces such as Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton to free agency. While Pressly and Abreu certainly make for a strong back-end duo, Houston looking to replace those outgoing arms is hardly a surprise, and few options available figure to be better than Hicks. While the Astros clearly need additional relief arms to supplement the roster, it’s fair to wonder if Hicks is the most realistic target for the club from a financial perspective. GM Dana Brown cautioned earlier in the offseason that the club doesn’t have “a ton” of financial flexibility to work with this winter while telling reporters he’s “not interested in overpaying” for bullpen arms.
Given the club’s limited financial flexibility, it would register as something of a surprise for the Astros to commit a hefty sum to a single reliever given their other needs. The Astros are known to be in the market for a backup catcher in addition to bullpen, to say nothing of the possibility they look to add a left-handed bat to replace Michael Brantley or shore up a starting rotation lacking in certainty behind Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez. While it’s impossible to deny that the addition of Hicks to a bullpen that already features Abreu and Pressly could create a three-headed monster that few teams could replicate, it’s fair as a wonder if a cheaper option could be more feasible for Houston from a financial perspective. One such option could be a reunion with Hector Neris, who The Athletic’s Chandler Rome relayed this evening Brown has been in contact with. MLBTR ranked Neris, who posted a 1.71 ERA and 3.83 FIP in 68 1/3 innings for the Astros last year, as the offseason’s #46 free agent while projecting him for a two-year, $15MM deal.