The Atlanta Braves have spent a good chunk of their offseason resources adding to their bullpen in hopes of having a more well-rounded and versatile group. Atlanta’s bullpen ranked tenth in fWAR, eighth in ERA-, and third in xFIP- in 2023, but it was a group that they were essentially locked into, as few of the players had options. Additionally, the Braves found themselves short on quality left-handed options after a shoulder injury sidelined Dylan Lee for most of the second half.
The 2024 group looks a little more versatile and balanced.
- Raisel Iglesias - RHP
- A.J. Minter - LHP
- Pierce Johnson - RHP
- Joe Jimenez - RHP
- Aaron Bummer - LHP
- Tyler Matzek - LHP
- Reynaldo Lopez - RHP
- Dylan Lee - LHP
The first six listed above appear to be locked in if everyone remains healthy. Raisel Iglesias missed the first month of the season with shoulder soreness, but still finished with 33 saves, a 62 ERA-, and a 75 FIP-; he’s under contract through 2025 for big bucks ($16 million annually). A.J. Minter got off to an unlucky start in 2023 before things stabilized. He is arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter and will be a free agent at the end of the season.
The Braves acted quickly this offseason bringing back both Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez on multi-year deals. Johnson signed a two-year, $14.25 million deal that also includes a club option for a third season. Jimenez inked a three-year, $26 million deal. Johnson was lights out after coming over from the Rockies at the Trade Deadline, allowing just two earned runs over 23 2/3 innings with the Braves with a corresponding 66 FIP- and an insane 48 xFIP-. Jimenez underwent a procedure on his back last offseason after he was acquired from Detroit and saw his velocity dip to start the season. He had a 68 ERA- and 83 FIP- overall last year, but those marks improved to 53 and 72, respectively, from June-onward.
Atlanta acquired lefty Aaron Bummer in a six-player trade with the White Sox in November. Bummer’s ugly 153 ERA- from last season is belied by a more-than-fine 80 FIP-/82 xFIP-. The Braves are banking on some better luck for him this time around, though the 30-year-old has also gotten worse year-over-year three straight seasons now. Bummer has a pair of club options for the 2025 and 2026 seasons, so he could figure into a bigger role as a potential replacement for Minter next season.
2021 World Series hero Tyler Matzek missed all of the 2023 season while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training and could give Atlanta another dynamic power arm from the left side again in 2024.
The final two spots could go in multiple directions. Atlanta signed hard-throwing righty Reynaldo Lopez to a three-year deal and announced that they were going to stretch him out and give him an opportunity to start. Lopez worked as a starter early in his career, but has transitioned into an effective reliever over the last three seasons. The addition of Chris Sale could put Lopez into a competition with Bryce Elder for the final rotation spot in Spring Training. If the Braves get through the Grapefruit League slate healthy, it seems that putting Elder in the rotation and Lopez in the bullpen would be the best option. This situation is something that we will be watching throughout March.
I penciled in Lee for the eighth spot, but things could go in a few different directions depending on what happens with Lopez. Lee was a big piece of Atlanta’s bullpen through the early part of the 2023 season, before a shoulder injury put him on the shelf for three and a half months. He briefly returned in September, but wasn’t right and was eventually shut down, undergoing a shoulder procedure during the offseason. Lee is expected to be ready to go for the spring.
Depth: Daysbel Hernandez, Ray Kerr, Jackson Stephens, Huascar Ynoa
Daysbel Hernandez made his major league debut in 2023 but a strained forearm coast him the final two months of the regular season. Hernandez went on a rehab assignment at the end of the season and impressed enough during the lead up to the Division Series that Atlanta included him on the playoff roster.
Another option could be lefty Ray Kerr, who is another hard thrower that the Braves acquired, this time from San Diego in December. Kerr appeared in 22 games with the Padres while posting a 105 ERA-, 98 FIP-, and 75 xFIP- in 27 innings last season. (In case you are sensing a pattern, yes, let’s spell it out — the Braves continually target pitchers, as well as batters, whose outputs were worse than their peripherals.) Lefties are hitting just .139/.238/.250 against Kerr during his brief career-to-date in the majors.
Jackson Stephens did a little bit of everything for the Braves out of the bullpen in 2022, but was limited to just 12 innings at the major league level due to injuries last season. He signed a split contract this offseason and will go into the spring hoping to land one of the final spots in the bullpen.
We covered Huascar Ynoa previously with regard to the rotation, but assuming he doesn’t grab a starting role, he’ll probably figure in the bullpen mix in one way or another, even if it isn’t for the whole season. Ynoa who missed all of 2023 while recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training. While he has primarily worked as a starter in his career, he could profile as a hard-throwing bullpen option. The Braves currently appear to have plenty of rotation depth so we could see Ynoa move into a relief role at some point in 2024.
Of this group, Lee, Hernandez, Ynoa, and Kerr all have options which will give the Braves some added flexibility if they need a fresh arm or want to give someone a spot start at various times throughout the regular season.
Injured: Penn Murfee, Angel Perdomo
Atlanta claimed Penn Murfee off of waivers in November, non-tendered him and then re-signed him to a non-guaranteed contract. Murfee appeared in 80 games and had a 72 ERA- and 84 FIP- over the last two seasons with the Mariners, but underwent Tommy John Surgery last August. He will start the season on the 60-day Injured List and could be an option at some point down the stretch. Murfee also has options remaining, which is an added bonus.
Angel Perdomo followed a similar path as Murfee in that he was claimed off waivers by the Braves in November, non-tendered and then re-signed with the club. He underwent Tommy John Surgery at the end of last season though and won’t be an option for the 2024 campaign. Atlanta will, however, retain him via team control and he could be another left-handed option for the 2025 season.
Others: Darius Vines, Dylan Dodd, Allan Winans, AJ Smith-Shawver, Hurston Waldrep, Ian Anderson, Grant Holmes
Of course, Atlanta’s myriad back-of-the rotation options could find themselves pressed into bullpen duty if needed, or as a way of working them into major-league work. Grant Holmes is a minor league journeyman that did pretty well in Triple-A last year and could be a fill-in as well.
Regardless of the ultimate personnel, if the Braves can avoid the injury bug, they’ll likely have a more purposeful bullpen in 2024 than they did in 2023. Aside from the lack of options, one of the things that sometimes limited the unit last year was that they had a lot of softer-throwing middle-to-long relief types, and often had to rely on those guys to throw in meaningful leverage. Of the team’s 588 overall relief innings last year, 183 (31 percent) were thrown by a combination of Michael Tonkin, Collin McHugh, Jesse Chavez, and Lucas Luetge, of whom only Chavez had a successful relief season. The same percentage of medium-to-high leverage innings was thrown by that quartet, as well as 27 percent of high-leverage innings. Going into 2024, it appears that the Braves have largely gotten rid of guys that they “might be forced” to use in higher leverage just due to availability reasons. While that’s not a safeguard against any particular reliever pitching poorly this coming season, it shows a pivot towards giving manager Brian Snitker and pitching coach Rick Kranitz shorter-stint, higher-quality options up and down the bullpen, without necessarily reserving a bunch of innings for rubber-armed long men.