With closer Félix Bautista recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2024, the Orioles will need another bullpen arm, and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has made that clear at this week’s General Managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Elias won’t get specific about names, but many of the candidates to pitch in the bullpen—Danny Coulombe, DH Hall, Cole Irvin, Cionel Pérez, Nick Vespi, and Bruce Zimmermann, whose recovery from core muscle surgery has been going well—are all left-handed.
For the moment, let’s focus on right-handers, and leave some attractive left-handers such as Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader and Matt Moore out of the discussion for now.
Hader is the player who everyone is talking about, but MLBTradeRumors.com thinks that he’s the eighth most attractive free agent and could attract a six-year, $110 million contract.
If that’s the case, the Orioles aren’t going to be the team paying Hader.
Here are some free agent relief pitchers who could interest the Orioles:
At 27, Hicks is the youngest top-shelf free-agent reliever. He and Jack Flaherty were teammates on the St. Louis Cardinals before both were traded. Hicks ended up with Toronto.
Hicks, whose fastball has been recorded as high as 105 mph, was 2-3 with a 2.63 earned-run average with four saves in 25 games with the Blue Jays. In 40 games with the Cardinals, Hicks was 1-6 with a 3.67 ERA.
If he’s able to get the forecasted four years and $40 million, that may turn off the Orioles, who may be able to find someone as good for fewer years.
There was a time when Kimbrel was one of the best relievers in baseball, and his 417 saves, second most among active players behind Boston’s Kenley Jansen, and 780 appearances speak to his success and durability.
While he’s not the pitcher who led the National League in saves for four straight years with Atlanta under then-manager Fredi González, now the Orioles’ bench coach, Kimbrel was still closing this season for the Phillies.
Kimbrel had a rough time in the National League Championship Series against Arizona, but he had 23 saves and a 3.26 ERA and was selected to the National League All-Star team. It was his ninth selection.
He earned $10 million on a one-year contract and, on a similar deal, could serve as an eighth-inning reliever or the closer.
Elias hasn’t given a free agent a multi-year contract yet, but perhaps López will get one.
The 29-year-old hasn’t been a closer — he has just six saves, all this season, in eight major league seasons — but the Orioles could use Hall or Yennier Cano as the closer and someone like López to pitch the eighth inning.
In 2023, López was 3-7 with a 3.27 ERA with the White Sox, Angels and Guardians. He was particularly effective with the Guardians, allowing five hits in 11 scoreless innings.
He had a 2.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and MLBTradeRumors predicts he’ll command a three-year, $30 million contract, which fits in with what the Orioles might pay.
While Neris hasn’t had much closing experience, and just two postseason appearances, the 35-year-old has 89 saves in 10 seasons with Philadelphia and Houston. He was 2-0 with a 4.40 ERA in 15 postseason games with the Astros in 2022 and 2023.
Neris had just five saves with Houston, but Ryan Pressley handled closing duties.
Like López, he can pitch in the eighth-inning role and his forecasted contract is an affordable $15 million for two years.
If you want a pitcher with postseason experience, Robertson is your guy.
He has pitched in 42 postseason games in 18 different series and is 6-0 with a 3.04 ERA.
Success seems to follow Robertson. He began his major league career with the Yankees in 2008 and won a World Series the next season.
Robertson has 175 saves, including 18 this past season with the Mets and Miami. In his career, he’s 63-42 with a 2.90 ERA in 793 games, second most among active players.
This past season, Robertson had a one-year, $10 million contract, which the Orioles could afford.
Stephenson isn’t a closer. He has only three saves in 271 games in eight seasons with Cincinnati, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
In 2023, Stephenson was 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 42 games with the Rays, who acquired him from Pittsburgh in early June.
He was effective against the Orioles this past season, allowing one earned run on three hits in five innings.
It will be interesting to see how aggressively the Orioles pursue him if his market matches the four-year, $36 million forecast.
Note: Starting pitcher Kyle Bradish, relievers Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano, shortstop Gunnar Henderson, catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Anthony Santander are the Orioles’ nominees for the All-MLB Team. Fan voting runs through November 19th at 8 p.m. Fans can vote at mlb.com/allmlb. The winners will be announced on December 16th.