Winter Moves Update: Middle Reliever Bonanza!

The Hot Stove is operating a  simmer right now after the busy weekend with Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton. We’re getting a couple moves per day, but they are far from blockbusters. In fact, it’s been a bunch of middle relievers of late with a pair of TJ recovering SPs mixed in. It’s never ending! As I was typing up this paragraph, the Mets agreed to terms with yet another middle reliever.

This is the first piece in a pen rebuild for the Cardinals. Trevor Rosenthal is out with Tommy John recovery so they non-tendered him while Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio, and Zack Duke are all free agents. Gregerson joins Tyler Lyons and Brett Cecil at the backend of the pen. Alex Reyes will also start the season in the bullpen, but probably as a multi-inning option earlier in games. Gregerson logged 47 saves in three years with Houston, including a 31-save season back in 2015. The Cards could tab the 34-year old as their closer, but I wouldn’t draft him as such right now.

While the Cubs have more pieces in place than the rival Cardinals, they, too, are in need of multiple arms to round out their bullpen. Morrow had a huge season with improvements across the board that included major velocity bumps and elite results with it. His fastball hit a career-high 97.7 mph while also adding to his cutter (92.3) and slider (88.9). He became a dominant arm for the Dodgers with a 29% K rate and 16% SwStr rate in 43.7 IP. He has a horrific health record (6 DL stints), but made it through 2017 in one piece. I think he’ll remain a swing-and-miss force, but I don’t see him closing or logging a ton of innings, limiting him to NL-only viability.

The Phillies made a big impact on their bullpen as they inch closer to relevance. The bullpen is often the quickest way for poor teams to turn things around and while I don’t necessarily see the Phillies contending in 2018, they should easily improve upon their 96 losses from 2017. Neshek had a fantastic 40.3 innings with them last year before getting dealt to Colorado and maybe they end up flipping him again.

Hunter has quietly been a fireballer out of the pen for years now, but he finally started missing bats to go with his consistently strong walk suppression with a 28% K rate and 6% BB rate in 58.7 innings. He could push Hector Neris for the closer’s role if they prefer to have Neris during the key situations prior to the ninth.

I told you it’s been a middle reliever bonanza! The Rockies are also reportedly talking to Greg Holland about bringing him back, too. Shaw has been a rubber-armed force, who is quietly getting better with age. His 359 relief innings are an MLB-best since 2013 and he added velo to his nasty cutter for the second straight season, jumping to 94.4 mph. He didn’t keep all of his 2016 strikeouts gains, dipping from 25% to 23%, but he brought his walk rate back down so there was a net gain and a career-best 16% K-BB rate.

If they don’t re-sign Holland, I think McGee gets a shot at the closer’s role. He’s done it before back in Tampa Bay and they have multiple other lefties in the pen so they could still matchup leading to the ninth. After a down first year in Colorado (4.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 11% K-BB, 93.1 mph heater), McGee looked a lot more like himself in 2017 with a 3.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 18% K-BB in 57.3 innings. His velocity was back at 94.9 mph, a little off his 96.3 peak from TB, but still very strong. If you’re in early drafts like 50-round NFBC draft and hold leagues, I’d consider McGee as a later round saves lottery ticket.

Swarzak’s skills started to turn in 2016, but a 2.9 (!!!) HR/9 ensured a terrible bottom line as he managed just a 5.52 ERA in 31 innings with the Yankees. He did manage a career-best 93.4 mph fastball with a 25% K rate and 6% BB rate, though, setting up his big breakout in 2017. He logged a 30% K rate and 14% SwStr rate while the homers came back to earth at 0.7 HR/9 en route to a 2.33 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 77.3 innings split between the White Sox and Brewers. The 32-year old uses his slider 52% of the time and it’s been the key behind his strikeout emergence. I know I’m becoming a broken record here, but I just don’t see him being the ninth inning guy in NY, instead he’ll fill the Addison Reed role while Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos battle it out for the closer’s role.

I paired these two moves because both are returning from Tommy John surgery and will miss the bulk of 2018, making these moves 2019. Smyly will get $3 mil and Pineda will get $2 mil to rehab this year and then make the remainder in ’19 when they’re expected to be back. Smyly has $6 mil in incentives while Pineda has up to $3 mil. I prefer Pineda between the two, but both are massive risks with injury history prior to their TJ surgeries in ’17. Only dynasty leaguers need to be concerned with these two right now and even then, I wouldn’t be dying to roster either.

Headley’s going back to SD! Remember that 2012 season? Headley hit 31 HR with 115 RBI and a .286/.376/.498 triple slash at age-28. It was just five fewer homers than he’d put up through 2114 PA to that point and it was fueled by 23 in the second half, casting a lot of doubt on how much of it would hold going forward. None of it did.

He hit 26 HR in the next two seasons combined (1131 PA) and was dealt to NYY in the midst of the second of those seasons. He’s spent his 30s as a league average-ish bat with some defensive value. The 34-year old will be a veteran presence with a budding Padres team. Mitchell throws 95-96 mph, but he’s never been able to turn it into much with a 4.94 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 98.3 innings and very unappealing skills: 14% K, 10% BB, 7% SwStr. A tweak or two could unlock something and give SD a solid win in this trade.

Blash is a cult favorite because he’s a huge dude who has reportedly swung and missed with some regularity in batting practice. He has a 36% K rate in 279 MLB PA along with an extensive injury history. Surprisingly, the 28-year old has just a 22% Chase rate, well below the 30% league average. Heat gets him, though, as his 32% K rate on fastballs since 2016 (min. 150 PA) is 8th-worst.

Speaking of former Padres who can’t make contact, Schimpf is 6th on that last with a 33% K rate against fastballs. He is a three-true-outcomes stud with 53% of his career plate appearances ending in a strikeout, walk, or home run. He joins a Rays team that clubbed 228 homers last year, 6th-most in the league. Knowing the Rays, this is the first of multiple moves otherwise Schimpf and Brad Miller feel like overlap. Podhorzer has more thoughts on Schimpf here. Tansel is a 24-year old who just finished Low-A. He was a 32nd-rounder in the 2016 draft and looks like a utilityman at best.



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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. He is the purveyor of the SP Guide (on hiatus for '17). Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer, on Snapchat at psporer, and on Twitch at psporer24.

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boaz525
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boaz525

Great article, Paul.

Curious to get your thoughts on this idea: Betances to Pittsburgh for Josh Harrison.

Pirates bullpen is garbage outside of Rivero/Kontos. Searage is infinitely better than Rothchild. Yanks need a 2B/3B type. Seems to make some sense, no?