Within the few weeks following the conclusion of the World Collection, with no significant main league video games on the calendar till March, our collective consideration shifts shortly to scorching range season. However as keen as we’re to begin slotting free brokers into new rotations, bullpens, and lineups, there’s a little bit of paperwork to maintain earlier than the total extent of the winter’s class is even identified. Groups have unique five-day home windows with their departing purchasers, gamers and groups resolve to decide in or out of non-obligatory contract years, and qualifying provides are issued and routinely rejected.
This previous Friday was one of many last deadlines of MLB’s early offseason, by which groups had to decide on whether or not or to not tender contracts to gamers on their 40-man roster with fewer than six years of service time. These tendered contracts will stay below crew management in 2024, however these whom groups declined to supply contracts have been added to the free-agent pool and can search for work elsewhere. By the top of the day, a majority of groups had no less than one additional empty 40-man spot, and dozens of gamers — headlined by two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff — have been newly accessible.
Woodruff, who’s recovering from a shoulder surgical procedure and can miss a lot of the upcoming season, is definitely the standout arm on this yr’s cohort of non-tenders, however he’s not precisely the prototypical non-tender. On this yr’s crop, there are a variety of attention-grabbing low-profile arms who wish to re-establish themselves as bullpen contributors with one other huge league alternative after accidents or stretches of underperformance. Let’s check out a handful of men who can be hoping to search out good suits as low-risk potential contributors over the following few months.
Jovani Moran, LHP
Over 79 appearances throughout three seasons within the majors, the difficulty with the 26-year-old Moran is obvious: How a lot would you be prepared to abdomen the walks? All the pieces else about him seems like a winner; over his profession, he has a 29.0% strikeout fee, .194 xBA, .288 xSLG, .277 wOBA, .273 xwOBA, and a median exit velocity of 85.7 mph. However these walks are killer. He put up an 11.0% fee in his spectacular 2022 mini-breakout; with the good thing about a giant league scouting report, hitters took an much more affected person strategy final season, and it obtained worse, taking pictures as much as 14.7%. Much less luck on balls in play and extra runners left on meant his run prevention stats additionally took a giant hit, as he went from a 2.21 ERA, 1.78 FIP, and a pair of.88 xFIP in 2022 to a 5.31 ERA, 3.82 FIP, and 4.46 xFIP in ’23. The Twins, apparently, had seen sufficient.
However the stuff is so tempting. Moran throws a four-seamer and a devastating changeup at about the identical fee, mixing in a slider to same-handed hitters almost 20% of the time. Whilst he scuffled final season, his common exit velocity of 86.2 mph, hard-hit fee of 27.5%, and whiff fee of 37.0% have been close to the highest of the league, albeit in simply 42.1 innings. If he can get his stroll fee nearer to 10% than 15%, he could possibly be a tantalizing addition to any bullpen.
How Moran Compares, 2022-23
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Adam Cimber, RHP
The side-arming Cimber went via the wringer with the Blue Jays in 2023. He didn’t make it via April earlier than being positioned on the injured record with a rhomboid pressure in his throwing arm, rehabbed his method again in Could, and was sidelined once more in June with an impingement in that very same shoulder. He’d go almost three months with out seeing any motion earlier than stepping into 4 video games at Triple-A Buffalo in September.
Cimber was efficient in 2021 and ’22 in Miami and Toronto, and his success derived from two expertise: preserving runners off the bases and lacking barrels. He went proper at hitters within the zone at above-average charges, and regardless of low velocity, his pitches have been powerful sufficient to hit to make that technique work. Not solely did he end within the 88th percentile in stroll fee in 2021 and 94th in ’22, however he was additionally fooling hitters effectively sufficient that he had a constructive run worth on swings at strikes as effectively. Along with his funky supply, he was getting just-bad-enough contact, with most hard-hit contact going for laborious groundouts or flyouts. These expertise weren’t gone in a small pattern in 2023; his 7.4% stroll fee and 6.9% barrel fee are above his profession averages, however not too far a cry.
A slow-throwing 33-year-old coming off a shoulder harm might not be on the prime of your want record. However if the shoulder is wholesome sufficient — a giant if, absolutely — he may have a shot at changing into a dependable choice from the fitting facet once more, and given his unlucky 2023, he needs to be accessible at fairly a modest value. For a crew prepared to provide him a scrutinizing bodily, that’s a bet that would repay.
Trevor Gott, RHP
Gott is one other right-handed reliever on the improper facet of 30, and he’s ended up on the non-tender record for the second straight yr after the Mets declined to supply him a deal for 2024. It looks like he’s been round perpetually, however the Gott we see now’s fairly completely different from the pitcher who was despatched all the way down to spend the complete 2021 season in Triple-A. He got here again in 2022 with a very completely different strategy to his pitch combine, favoring a brand new cutter and reviving a sinker that had pale from his arsenal.
When he’s been on the mound since 2021 (he’s handled a handful of minor accidents within the final two years), it’s felt like he’s that shut to figuring all of it out. In 2022, he had a 2.94 xERA based mostly on a wholesome Statcast batted ball profile, however posted a 4.14 ERA, 4.45 FIP, and three.82 xFIP (eight homers in 45.2 innings didn’t assist). In 2023, he ranked within the 82nd percentile with a 3.40 xERA, thanks partially to a 92nd-percentile barrel fee of 4.5%, however as soon as once more, the run prevention metrics instructed completely different tales, as he completed with a 4.19 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 4.16 xFIP. For the reason that begin of 2022, he has a .278 xwOBA — 52nd out of 370 pitchers who’ve thrown no less than 1,500 pitches — however a .301 wOBA that ranks 152nd.
All that mentioned, he’s been on 5 completely different groups since 2018 and hasn’t managed to stay but, and he has misplaced among the fastball velocity that carried his early years. As is the case with Cimber, a crew can’t be blamed for passing on Gott, however some crew might stand to profit from giving him a shot.
Brett Martin, LHP
What’s working towards Martin is that he missed all of 2023 after shoulder surgical procedure carried out in January. That’s no small hurdle to clear in free company; clearly the Rangers discovered it motive sufficient to non-tender him. However the reality is, when he’s been wholesome, he’s been efficient.
Martin’s Rangers Tenure
He’s by no means been a strikeout man, fanning simply 18.6% of opposing hitters over his profession, however an elite chase fee has helped him induce weak contact on the bottom and restrict injury within the air. In 2022, hitters swung at 38.3% of pitches within the chase zone, whiffed on 53.1% of these, and posted a .166 wOBA in that zone total. That yr, he went in heavy on the sinker and curveball from a utilization standpoint, a alternative he may take into account dialing again, as his slider and four-seamer ended up his only pitches on a per-use run worth foundation.
For Martin, the misplaced yr might imply taking a minimal or minor league take care of an invitation to spring coaching, however he’ll nonetheless be 28 on Opening Day in 2024. So long as he’s bodily succesful, he’s proven that his pitch combine might be efficient in a big-league bullpen, and somebody can at all times use a giant lefty.
Codi Heuer, RHP | Brandon Hughes, LHP
Whereas we’re with regards to misplaced seasons, why not a one-two punch of 27-year-old former Cubs prospects with latest harm frustrations? The powerful information is that it appears that evidently neither Heuer nor Hughes are certain issues for spring coaching; the previous is recovering from an elbow fracture suffered throughout Tommy John rehab in June, the latter is recovering from surgical procedure on his knee that very same month. Heuer hasn’t pitched within the majors since 2021 however was sturdy over two seasons with each Chicago golf equipment, boasting a high-90s fastball with a dropping changeup and a good slider, a mixture that yielded each excessive swing-and-miss charges and delicate contact. His fastball was his hallmark, so he’ll must persuade potential employers that he nonetheless has a few of that overpowering velocity.
Codi Heuer’s 2021 Percentile Rankings
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Hughes struggled in 17 outings this season earlier than the knee harm was revealed. However in 2022, he confirmed a powerful capability to get swings and misses on the highest stage with a 33.1% whiff fee and a 28.3% strikeout fee. He struggled with walks and residential runs, and a fly-ball reliever who isn’t capable of restrict laborious contact successfully is a dangerous prospect. However a younger lefty who has proven he can strike out huge league hitters will greater than doubtless proceed to get probabilities as bullpens search for assist.
In the end, groups trying to restock their bullpens could have loads of choices, and most of those pitchers must be affected person to see who nonetheless wants assist when the highest of the market settles. However aid pitching is at all times in excessive demand, and if you wish to discover the hidden gems, it will probably pay dividends to take probabilities on gamers on the lookout for an opportunity to show they’re each wholesome and able to dealing with huge league innings. When all is alleged and executed, free company is not only about what choices groups make with the Woodruffs of the world, but in addition with the Cimbers and Morans and Heuers.