In today’s world, championship baseball requires a strong bullpen, which means there will be high demand for the best MLB free agent relief pitchers in 2023. Unfortunately, relievers sometimes get left out of free agency predictions and overlooked in grading a team’s offseason. Given how hard it is to build a stable and reliable bullpen, that shouldn’t be the case.
Best MLB free agent relief pitchers in 2023
Who are the best MLB free-agent relief pitchers in 2023? Well, a few of MLB’s best relief pitchers last season are on the open market and potentially looking for a new home.
Of course, finding bullpen arms is easy, but finding good ones can be tough. With that in mind, let’s look at a list of the best free-agent relievers in 2024.
10. Yariel Rodriguez
Don’t expect Yariel Rodriguez to get the same fanfare that other pitchers making the move from Japan are getting. However, the Cuban native should get plenty of interest after a few solid seasons in Japan. He was named the Most Valuable Setup Pitcher in the Central League in 2022, which should be enough to make him an asset to an MLB bullpen.
His fastball can approach 100 mph while Rodriguez also has a decent slider, so he’s a reliever worth watching closely this offseason.
9. Robert Stephenson
Despite flying a little under the radar with the Reds and a few other teams during his career, Robert Stephenson will be a wanted commodity this winter. Several teams have already expressed interest in the big righty after he pitched to a 3.10 ERA in 2023.
Stephenson doesn’t have much experience as a closer, which could limit what kind of payday he gets. However, he will surely be a big asset for an MLB bullpen next season.
8. Hector Neris
Hector Neris certainly picked a good time to hit the free-agent market. He pitched to a 1.71 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with the Astros this past season. He had some good years with the Phillies prior to that too.
The only concern is that Neris is 34 and has pitched a lot of innings in recent years. But until he starts to show more obvious signs of aging, he’ll be an asset in the bullpen and a worthwhile investment.
7. David Robertson
To be fair, the wheels fell off for David Robertson after he was traded to the Marlins. But he was lights-out with the Mets during the first half of the season, and that was after being forced into the closer’s role at the last minute.
Robertson probably shouldn’t be signed by a contender to be their closer. However, he offers great experience and versatility, making him a great asset for any bullpen.
6. Craig Kimbrel
It’s debatable if Craig Kimbrel should still be closing games for a playoff contender. But the guy saved 23 games and posted a 3.26 ERA for the Phillies this past season.
Despite taking a couple of losses, he also saved three games during the playoffs. There is no reason to think that Kimbrel is over the hill. Even if he has to accept a job as an 8th-inning setup man, teams that expect to contend in 2024 should be looking at Kimbrel.
5. Aroldis Chapman
Teams shouldn’t expect to get the old Aroldis Chapman. The southpaw from Cuba will be 36 at the start of the 2024 season. However, he pitched to a 3.09 ERA during the regular season and a 2.25 ERA in the playoffs while winning a World Series ring with the Rangers.
Chapman isn’t a dominant closer, but he’s still a hard-throwing lefty with nearly 50 innings of postseason experience. He’ll get a lucrative but short-term deal from a team this winter.
4. Yuki Matsui
There isn’t a huge collection of proven left-handed relievers on the market this winter, which could make Yuki Matsui an interesting option. He’s 28 but has been pitching in Japan for the last 10 years. Matsui has posted a 2.40 ERA during that time while racking up 236 saves and 76 holds. He’s led the Pacific League in saves three times and been an all-star five times.
The 5’9’’ lefty doesn’t have an overpowering fastball but throws a devastating splitter, which could make it tough for batters to adjust to him while facing him just once per game, giving Matsui tons of upside for big-league clubs.
3. Nick Martinez
Despite starting 19 games over the last two seasons in San Diego, Nick Martinez should be considered a reliever right now, and a good one. He has the potential to be a long man while also pitching in high-leverage situations late in games.
Martinez spent a few seasons in Japan before returning to the big leagues in 2022. He pitched to a 3.47 ERA in 2022 and a 3.43 ERA in 2023, becoming a steady part of the San Diego bullpen. That consistency combined with his versatility should make Martinez a top target among relievers this winter.
2. Jordan Hicks
After making his MLB debut when he was just 21, Jordan Hicks is hitting the free-agent market at age 27. That should allow him to sign a long-term deal and potentially create a bidding war between several teams. Obviously, injuries have been an issue with Hicks, which is why some teams might be wary of a long-term deal.
But he stayed healthy in 2023 and was able to make 65 appearances with the Cardinals and Blue Jays, pitching to a 3.29 ERA. Given his age, there will be teams that are willing to take a chance on his upside despite his injury history.
1. Josh Hader
There should be no doubt that Josh Hader will be the most sought-after reliever on the market this winter. There could be close to a dozen teams making a serious offer to sign him. After all, the flame-throwing lefty posted a 1.28 ERA with the Padres in 2023. He was actually a little better in 2021, pitching to a 1.23 ERA.
Even with a problematic 2022 campaign in between, teams aren’t going to shy away from Hader. He won’t turn 30 until April, so he should have plenty of good years left in him and sign a long-term deal that could be among the biggest contracts ever signed by a relief pitcher.