The market continues to materialize for free agent reliever Robert Stephenson. Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets that the Rangers and Yankees have shown interest. Chandler Rome of the Athletic reports that the Astros have also checked in on the right-hander.
Along with that trio, the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs and Orioles have been linked to Stephenson at various points this offseason. Baltimore subsequently signed Craig Kimbrel to a $13MM contract, likely taking them out of a top-of-the-market reliever. The remainder of those clubs could still be involved, although the Angels have taken a lower-cost volume approach to build their middle relief corps.
The bullpen is the biggest question for Texas and Houston, the top two teams in the AL West. Those clubs’ respective baseball operations leaders, Chris Young and Dana Brown, have indicated they’re working with lesser financial flexibility than they’ve had in prior offseasons. Texas finalized a $4.5MM contract with former Brave Kirby Yates this evening. He joins José Leclerc and Josh Sborz as high-leverage righties, although the bullpen still seems the biggest question for the defending World Series winners.
Houston has Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu and Kendall Graveman as leverage options. Middle relief depth is more of a concern, as each of Hector Neris, Phil Maton and Ryne Stanek reached free agency. A more affordable middle innings pickup may be a better fit, particularly with the Astros right up against the luxury tax line. To that end, Ari Alexander of KPRC 2 tweeted this afternoon the Astros remain in touch with Maton’s camp.
The Yankees already have one of the league’s best relief corps. Building the bullpen has been a consistent strength for general manager Brian Cashman and his front office. Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loáisiga anchor a group that skews heavily toward the right side. While Stephenson could represent something of a luxury buy, the Yankees haven’t shied away from spending on relievers and are clearly in an aggressive win-now mode.
MLBTR predicted Stephenson to secure a four-year, $36MM deal on the heels of a dominant showing with the Rays. He was behind only Josh Hader and Jordan Hicks in the bullpen class among MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents. The 30-year-old has an inconsistent career track record but turned in a 2.35 ERA with an absurd 42.9% strikeout rate in 42 appearances after being traded from the Pirates to Tampa Bay in June.