Identifying potential destinations for mid-tier free agents is always a difficult task. When it comes to the top-ranked players, the market is usually pretty clear straightaway. Yet for those who aren’t looking for long-term deals or nine-figure guarantees, the pool of potential suitors is much bigger. That’s especially true with relievers. After all, every single team could use more bullpen help, and outside of the top closers, every team can afford to take on a reliever’s salary.
Thankfully for me as I undertake this exercise, there are a few things that set Jordan Hicks apart from the rest of the relievers remaining on the open market. For one thing, he’s young – he won’t turn 28 until next September. That means he could feasibly sign a four-year deal, which is pretty unusual for a non-closer.
What’s more, when you consider his track record and potential (the man can throw 104 mph!), he’s arguably the best right-handed reliever available. Josh Hader, Aroldis Chapman, and Yuki Matsui are southpaws. Craig Kimbrel, Hector Neris, and David Robertson are in their mid-to-late thirties. Robert Stephenson is tempting but risky. Reynaldo López is already off the market.
Therefore, the teams still in need of a difference-making right-hander could drive up the bidding for Hicks, and the team that ultimately gets him might be the one willing to tack on an extra year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some potential landing spots for the flamethrowing right-hander.
St. Louis Cardinals
I don’t actually love the fit here. After spending significant money on three additions to the starting rotation, I think the Cardinals are going to focus on less expensive upside plays to improve the bullpen. Jordan Hicks doesn’t fit that description.
Still, as Katie Woo pointed out for The Athletic, the Cardinals tried to sign Hicks to an extension this past summer before ultimately flipping him at the deadline. On a similar note, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch believes “there will be a conversation about a reunion” between the Cardinals and Hicks.
It’s not a strong link, but no credible sources have connected Hicks to any other teams this winter, so the Cardinals earn top billing on this list.
Now here is a fit that I do love, says the diehard Phillies fan.
Philadelphia has signed a proven, right-handed reliever in every offseason of Dave Dombrowski’s tenure at the helm. This year, Jordan Hicks could be their guy. He certainly has the high velocity this team loves.
There was a time when Phillies fans carefully calculated how much payroll space the team had before hitting the luxury tax threshold, but those days are gone. Dombrowski convinced ownership to blow past the tax in 2022 and to spend even more in 2023. If the reports linking the Phillies to Yoshinobu Yamamoto are to be believed, this team is willing to keep adding to the payroll for the right players.
With the departure of Craig Kimbrel, the Phillies could use another high-leverage righty to take his place. Why not go for the best option available?
Here’s another team that’s willing to do what it takes to improve, no matter the cost. The Rangers spent big in each of the past two offseasons, and that spending paid dividends when they claimed the first World Series title in franchise history. Why would they stop now?
The bullpen was the Rangers’ biggest weakness in 2023, and as much as they love José Leclerc, he isn’t the kind of shutdown closer you picture on a championship team.
Many see Texas as the favorite to land Josh Hader. However, if the reigning champs lose out on the superstar closer, they could turn to Hicks instead.
The Astros have played in seven straight ALCSs, but it couldn’t have been easy losing to their Texas rivals on home soil. They’re still the reigning AL West champs, but their hold on the division has never been more tenuous, and it’s hard to imagine owner Jim Crane and GM Dana Brown aren’t looking for ways to improve.
The Astros bullpen pitched the fewest innings in the American League last season. That’s partly because the starting rotation was a strength, but at the same time, the starters had to pick up some slack because manager Dusty Baker didn’t have enough trustworthy relievers to fall back on. Jordan Hicks threw 65.2 innings last year with a 3.29 ERA – that should help.
The Astros like to develop their own pitching, but they’ll sign a free agent when they see something in him they like (see: Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, etc.). With the way Hicks throws a baseball, you’d think the Astros would be thrilled to take him on as their next pitching project.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have some talented pitchers at the back end of their arm barn, but their overall bullpen numbers last season left much to be desired. Kenley Jansen racked up 29 saves and Chris Martin led qualified relievers with a 1.05 ERA, yet the bullpen finished 20th overall in ERA, 19th in FIP, and 21st in xFIP.
The starting rotation is full of question marks from top to bottom, and addressing those questions should be Craig Breslow’s top priority. Still, that rotation will be unpredictable no matter what Breslow does (that’s the Chris Sale and Nick Pivetta guarantee), so perhaps it makes more sense to focus on the bullpen and defense instead.