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Rays Roundtable: Free Agent Relief Pitchers

Should the Rays be bolstering the bullpen??

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This article was going to run at 11 AM, and it looks like one of these names is signing with the Rays... I’m going to run this now, and then we’ll have the full write up on the signee shortly.

Should the Rays be bolstering the bullpen? With free agency dragging there are still a lot of options left on the open market. Here are a few names to consider from our writers.

Daniel Vonderwalde: The best viable option that comes to mind is Phil Maton.

The 31-year-old free agent is another guy who is coming from a career year. He ranked Top 10% in xWOBA (2.75) and xERA (3.14). Top 9% in xSLG (.324), top 5% in xBA (.192), and top 1% hard hit% (23.5) and exit velo (84.5 MPH) all of this in 66 innings of work.

Maton has one of the nastiest curves in the game; a big hook that is paired up with a 4-seamer, a sweeper, and an occasional sinker.

Cole Mitchem: José Cisnero.

The 34-year-old Cisnero has been a stalwart in the Tigers bullpen for years now and has finally hit free agency this winter. In 2023 he posted a not so great 5.31 ERA across 59.1 innings, but that did come with a more optimistic 10.6 K/9 and 4.60 FIP.

While the top line results do show some decline, Cisnero still sat between 95 and 96 mph with his high spin fastball in 2023 and showed strong downward bite on the slider. It’s a power right-handed relief profile that has worked well against same-handed hitters throughout his career, but he also can flash a changeup and cutter to mitigate lefty damage.

Cisnero went unclaimed after being placed on release waivers in August 2023, perhaps he could be attained on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

Brian Menendez: I first want to say that I second Daniel’s Suggestion of Phil Maton. I see him as another Collin McHugh. Not going to blow anyone away, but he’s got those super bendy pitch shapes that keep hitters off balance.

But since I have to bring my own name to the table here, I like Brad Keller. He’s interesting because he has a deep repertoire, but the problem is none of his pitches are very good. I think there is enough potential here that a few of them can be tweaked into being above average.

There’s also the part about him having Thoracic Outlet Syndome which is... not great. What helps is that he is still just 28, so maybe he can be once of the few success stories.

Danny Russell: If the Rays are adding relievers, I’d be interested to know if LHP Scott Alexander can be landed on a minor league deal (and not just because I think it would be funny to have two Alexander’s in the bullpen).

After many years in the Dodgers system, the now-34 year old spent the last two years with the Giants, and throughout his career he’s been an extreme groundballer, an attribute that would diversify the Rays pen well. As a bit of a one-trick pony, he throws his sinker more than 75% of the time, but has a slider (vs LHH) and changeup (vs RHH) he can use to mix it up, depending on the batters’ handedness.

Alexander had an ugly 4.66 ERA in 48.1 IP last year, but his statcast metrics were unphased by those results with a 98th percentile groundball rate, 94th percentile barrel% allowed, and 90th percentile walk rate (5.3%) and xwOBAcon (.327).