One More Time: The Top Free Agent Relievers Still Available

With spring training on the horizon, relief arms are quickly coming off the board. Here are the best free agent relievers still up for grabs.

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 16: Relief pitcher Ryan Brasier #57 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after the final out of the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 16, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Alright, let’s do this one more time.

Just under two weeks ago, I listed the top 15 free agent relievers on the market. January was already halfway done, but the list still featured superstars, breakout stars, an international star, and plenty more appealing names for teams in need of bullpen help.

Apparently, my piece started a domino effect. In the days since I hit publish, seven of my top ten relievers signed: Josh Hader, Robert Stephenson, Aroldis Chapman, Yariel Rodriguez, Hector Neris, David Robertson, and Matt Moore. In addition, my No. 14 pick, Collin McHugh announced his retirement.

Thus, the top of the list already looks completely different, and there are plenty of new names to add at the bottom. There aren’t any surefire back-end relievers left on the board, but there are still options for teams in need of a little more than just Quad-A depth.

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1. Jakob Junis, RHP

2023 Stats: 86.0 IP, 3.87 ERA, 10.05 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR

Some sources see Junis as a starting pitcher, but he looked great as a longman for the Giants last season. He’s much better than your standard mop-up guy, and he provides rotation depth, too.

2. Ryan Brasier, RHP

2023 Stats: 59.1 IP, 3.02 ERA, 10 HLD, 8.45 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, 1.1 fWAR

Brasier might be the biggest “What if?” remaining on the market. If he can recapture the magic he found with the Dodgers last season, he’s a back-end weapon. That kind of upside is worth the gamble.

3. Jesse Chavez, RHP

2023 Stats: 34.2 IP, 1.56 ERA, 13 HLD, 10.13 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR

Chavez is still going at 40 years old, and he’s coming off another successful season. Durability will be a big concern, but he should be able to give his new team some quality innings.

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4. Shintaro Fujinami, RHP

2023 Stats: 79.0 IP, 7.18 ERA, 9.46 K/9, 5.13 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR

Do I already regret ranking Fujinami so high? I’m starting to.

It seemed fine to go with a high-risk, high-reward arm at No. 11 on my previous ranking, but now that he’s No. 4, I’m second-guessing my decision. The 29-year-old struggled last season with the A’s and Orioles, and he is a project, to say the least. Still, how am I supposed to ignore his blistering fastball and top-notch splitter?

TORONTO, ON – JUNE 24: Shintaro Fujinami #11 of the Oakland Athletics delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on June 24, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

5. Keynan Middleton, RHP

2023 Stats: 50.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 11.37 K/9, 4.09 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR

Middleton is another high-risk, high-reward pitcher, although not to such an extreme degree. He has proven he can survive in the major leagues, and occasionally, he has shown flashes of something more.

In 2023, he threw his first full season since 2017 and ranked among the top 30 qualified relievers in strikeout rate.

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6. Phil Maton, RHP

2023 Stats: 66.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 10 HLD, 10.09 K/9, 3.41 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR

Unlike the two names ahead of him on this list, Maton is a guy you sign for his floor. He’s not particularly exciting, but he’s a good bet for 60+ medium-leverage innings with an ERA between three and four. He’s not the free agent signing every fanbase wants to see, but he’s the kind of player every team needs.

7. Scott Alexander, LHP

2023 Stats: 48.1 IP, 4.66 ERA, 6 HLD, 5.77 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR

The final name remaining from my previous ranking, Alexander impressed me with his ability to induce weak contact in 2023. With a 60.7% groundball rate and 83rd-percentile hard-hit rate, the veteran lefty was surprisingly hard to hit, despite his low fastball velocity and even lower strikeout rate.

He’s been in the majors for nine years but fell off the radar around 2019. After his solid 2023 campaign, Alexander is a name to keep an eye on once again.

8. Ryne Stanek, RHP

2023 Stats: 50.2 IP, 4.09 ERA, 3 HLD, 9.06 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR

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Stanek looked too good to be true in 2022 when he pitched to a 1.15 ERA and 0.9 fWAR in 59 games. That turned out to be the case, and in 2023, his ERA rose by nearly three runs and his WAR dropped dangerously close to zero.

Still, he has tossed over 50 innings in each of the past three seasons, and his ERA has never risen above league average. As with his former teammate Maton, he’s not exactly exciting, but he throws hard and gets the job done.

9. Wandy Peralta, LHP

2023 Stats: 54.0 IP, 2.83 ERA, 4 SV, 18 HLD, 8.50 K/9, 5.00 BB/9, -0.5 fWAR

Ranking Peralta was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. On the one hand, he has a 2.77 ERA in 110.1 IP over the past two years. I can’t argue with those results.

On the other hand, I can’t make much of a case for Peralta based on his underlying numbers. He walked 30 batters in 54 innings last season, and despite his high groundball rate, he gave up a surprising number of home runs. His FIP, xFIP, and xERA are worrisome, to say the least.

Still, if he can recapture his 2022 form – when his peripherals were as sparkling as his ERA – he’ll be a great pickup for his new team.

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10. Brad Hand, LHP

2023 Stats: 53.2 IP, 5.53 ERA, 5 HLD, 9.89 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, 0.5 fWAR

Brad Hand is younger than I thought he was. He’s entering his 14th MLB season, but he won’t turn 34 until March.

When I first saw his 5.53 ERA in 2023, I was sure that Hand was cooked, but he’s not actually the washed-up elder statesman I thought he was. He should be a capable innings eater in 2024 if nothing more.

11. Jake Diekman, LHP

2023 Stats: 56.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 8 HLD, 10.16 K/9, 6.04 BB/9, 0.4 fWAR

Like Hand, Diekman is another veteran left-handed innings eater. He was better than Hand in 2023, but he’s also significantly older, and I err on the side of caution with older arms.

If Diekman repeats his 2023 performance, he’ll have deserved a higher spot on this list. However, his strikeout rate dropped last year, and he benefitted from a low home run-to-fly ball ratio, so I think he’s in store for a bit of regression.

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12. Aaron Loup, LHP

2023 Stats: 48.2 IP, 6.10 ERA, 9 HLD, 8.32 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR

Loup was a mess in 2023, but he still managed to pitch 55 games. The lefty might be reaching the tail-end of his career, but if his shoulder is healthy this spring, he’s not the worst bounce-back candidate out there. In 2022, he posted a 3.84 ERA and 3.76 FIP in 65 games. That’ll certainly play.

13. Joely Rodríguez, LHP

2023 Stats: 11.0 IP, 6.55 ERA, 11.45 K/9, 4.91 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR

A lot of lefty relievers at the bottom of this list, huh?

A hip injury ruined Rodríguez’s 2023 season with the Red Sox, but there’s a reason Boston signed him to a $2 million contract in the first place. From 2020-22, he was a solid big league contributor. At 32 years old, he still has plenty of time to get healthy and return to form.

Special Mention: Liam Hendriks, RHP

2023 Stats: 5.0 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1 SV, 5.40 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, -0.1 fWAR

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I didn’t include Hendriks in my ranking because he’s highly unlikely to pitch in 2024, but he’s not a guy you want to forget. The 2023 AL Comeback Player of the Year has been one of the best relievers in baseball since 2015, and given all he’s accomplished, a little Tommy John surgery shouldn’t stand in his way for long.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 07: Liam Hendriks #31 of the Chicago White Sox reacts after the final out to beat Seattle Mariners 9-6 at T-Mobile Park on September 07, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

More Relievers on the Board

José Cisnero, RHP

  • 2023 Stats: 59.1 IP, 5.31 ERA, 14 HLD, 10.62 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR

Jay Jackson, RHP

  • 2023 Stats: 29.2 IP, 2.12 ERA, 8.19 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR

Victor Arano, RHP

  • 2023 Stats: DNP

Bryan Shaw, RHP

  • 2023 Stats: 45.2 IP, 4.14 ERA, 4 SV, 4 HLD, 7.88 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, 0.4 fWAR

Derek Law, RHP

  • 2023 Stats: 55.0 IP, 3.60 ERA, 2 SV, 3 HLD, 7.36 K/9, 4.25 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR