The Atlanta Braves are bringing in some relief reinforcements. The six-time defending NL East champions signed free agent right-handed relief pitcher Reynaldo Lopez to a three-year contract worth $30 million, the team announced on Monday.
Lopez will earn a lower salary in 2024 with an increase of more than double over the next two seasons, a jump from $4 million to $11 million. The deal also includes an $8 million club option in 2027.
Lopez pitched for three different teams in 2023, beginning with the Chicago White Sox, whom he'd been with since 2017. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in late July but pitched in only 13 games for the team before they placed him on waivers.
He was claimed by the Cleveland Guardians on the final day of August and was spectacular for them in the final month of the season. Lopez did not allow a run in 11 innings with Cleveland. He finished the 2023 season with a 3.27 ERA and 12 saves across 68 games.
Making his debut with the Washington Nationals in 2016, Lopez has appeared in 241 MLB games, 97 of them starts. He became a full-time reliever in 2022 after starting 96 of his first 112 MLB appearances. He has a career ERA of 4.32 in eight seasons, with a 3.01 ERA as a reliever.
Braves showing their hand
After a historical season from the Braves offense, it's perhaps no surprise that Atlanta is focusing on pitching this offseason. In addition to signing Lopez, the Braves traded five players to the White Sox for Aaron Bummer and acquired right-hander Jackson Kowar from the Kansas City Royals in a like-for-like deal for Kyle Wright.
Though starting pitching would be the logical place for the Braves to add, it's never a bad thing to solidify the bullpen. Atlanta had a decent bullpen all year in 2023, finishing with the 11th-best reliever ERA in the league at 3.81. Interestingly enough, though, it appears as if the Braves are planning on preparing Lopez as if he will be a starter, despite his dominant 2023 campaign out of the bullpen.
Via Ken Rosenthal:
“Reynaldo López will prepare as a starter this winter and the Braves will stretch him out in spring training, sources tell The Athletic. Team will determine role at end of spring. Lopez averaged 32 GS/186 IP for White Sox in 2018-19. Potential versatility appealed to Braves.”
Six different relief pitchers tossed 55 or more innings for Atlanta last season, with only four starters topping that number. In fact, only three Braves pitchers threw more than 80 innings, the same three were also the only ones to make more than 14 starts, so it's clear that the Braves are placing a high price on Lopez's versatility to assume several different roles for them in their pitching staff.
The Reynaldo Lopez signing looks like a good one for the Braves, but it's not exactly what they need to take the next step.