The Marlins have room to improve in several areas entering 2023, one of those being high-leverage relief. This season, their bullpen ranked second-worst among MLB teams in win probability added, per FanGraphs. Omit the contributions of Anthony Bass, who was traded to the Blue Jays in August, and they would’ve been dead last in that department. Since the 2022 campaign ended, they have selected four minor league arms to the 40-man roster—Josh Simpson, Sean Reynolds, George Soriano and Eli Villalobos—and acquired JT Chargois from the Rays. Those moves don’t move the needle, though.
The most coveted relievers on the free agent market are going to cost more than the Marlins feel comfortable spending. Edwin Díaz received a record-setting $102 million deal ($86.9 million present day value). Robert Suárez and Rafael Montero got guarantees of $46 million and $34.5 million, respectively, despite very limited samples of MLB success. That’s not efficient enough for Miami’s taste.
Expect to see the Marlins pursue arms with good upside but some type of “baggage” that suppresses their asking price. Arms like...Alex Reyes?
The 28-year-old right-hander is a free agent after being non-tendered by the Cardinals on Friday. He was due to make approximately $2.85 million via arbitration, Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors projects. Evidently, his value to the Cards and other teams around the league is lower than that.
Widely regarded as a premier pitching prospect earlier in his career, Reyes was a 2021 NL All-Star selection, so St. Louis’ decision to non-tender him had the baseball world buzzing. Marlins fans are particularly attuned to Reyes’ availability after Sandy Alcantara tweeted his desire to play with him.
Take this endorsement with a grain of salt. Alcantara and Reyes got acquainted when both were minor leaguers in the Cardinals farm system. Two years ago, Alcantara hired CAA as his agency. He’s being represented by Adriel Reyes, who just so happens to be Alex’s older brother. Sandy is speaking out as a friend rather than as an objective talent evaluator.
That being said, there are legitimate reasons to be intrigued by Alex Reyes. He’s been practically unhittable when healthy. His consistency from April-June 2021 was unbelievable: 20-for-20 in save opportunities with no more than one hit allowed in any appearance.
Reyes still utilizes a deep, starter-like repertoire despite having since been converted to a reliever. He is equally effective against lefties and righties. Set up by his high-90s fastball, his slider, changeup and curveball all generated whiff rates of at least 50% in 2021.
Even when Reyes was excelling at his job, he was doing so while walking a tightrope (literally). He has very poor control, issuing walks to 15.5% of total batters faced in his MLB career, including 16.4% in 2021. That’s almost twice as high as the league average. He lost his closer’s job by the end of 2021 and did not pitch in any official games in 2022 due to right labrum surgery. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that he isn’t expected to be fully recovered until May.
For what it’s worth, Alcantara had a 15.7% walk rate in 2017-2018. With a lot of hard work and the guidance of Mel Stottlemyre Jr., he has gotten better in that department every season since then. Stottlemyre recently signed a multi-year extension to remain the Marlins pitching coach.
I assume Reyes won’t be in any hurry to sign with his next team. Why not wait until he’s cleared to throw off a mound again, then hold a showcase to demonstrate that his tantalizing stuff is still there? Under the right circumstances, he could ultimately sign a deal worth more than the $2.85 million he was projected for, or at least one with easily obtainable incentives pushing him beyond that number.
In the meantime, the Marlins must get their ‘pen ready for Opening Day. It’s fine to set aside a small portion of their 2023 budget for a wild card like Reyes, but they should explore all avenues for acquiring impactful, late-inning relievers who will actually be available to help immediately. This group will not suffice.