As teams scan the market for bullpen help, Carlos Estevez is emerging as a popular target. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this week that some teams consider the right-hander a potential closer and suggested he found a fair amount of interest. The Athletic’s Will Sammon reported yesterday that seven teams had been in contact with his camp.
Estévez, a career long member of the Rockies, hit the open market for the first time this winter. He’s coming off a 3.47 ERA over 57 innings, a solid number for a pitcher who spent half his games at Coors Field. The resident of the Dominican Republic defeated a league average of 23% of the opponents against a slightly higher running percentage of 9.8%. Those are decent peripherals, though he only generated swinging strikes at a career low 9% of his supply.
While Estévez has been a good option in the middle innings in 2022, the appeal for teams lies more in the belief that he can take his game to the next level outside of the sport’s most batter-friendly environment. He is one of the hardest pitchers in the league, averaging 97.5 MPH on a four-seam fastball that runs in triple digits at best. He turned to that heater more than 70% of the time last season, mixing the occasional slider against same-handed batters and a substitution against southpaws. Each of his secondary offerings had success in their limited use, and teams could certainly look to scale up how often he throws either throw to pair with his high-speed heating.
That kind of arsenal makes Estévez an intriguing target for teams, but his six-year tenure in Denver has been mixed. He posted an ERA above 5.00 in three of his first four seasons. A 4.38 score after 64 appearances in 2021 was an improvement on much of his previous work, but Estévez took home a career 4.85 ERA this year. He posted a 5.17 ERA during the first half of last season, but was outstanding all the way, limiting opponents to a .146/.206/.281 line while allowing less than two earned runs per nine innings after the All Star Break.
Estévez has a bit of closing experience, with 11 saves in 2021. Colorado has continued to use him in set-ups, earning him a decent number of high-leverage assignments dating back to 2020. He had decent results against hitters from both sides of the plate in 2022, but his 26.5% batting rate against right-handed batters was much better than 19.7% against left-handers. Clubs eyeing him as leverage in the middle innings would prefer to pit him against even-handed batters whenever possible.
MLBTR is forecasting a three-year, $21 million deal for Estévez, who turns 30 next month. Free agency has been slow to develop so far, but there were a few early deals for relievers that may portend a strong market. Made the Mets Edwin Diaz the first nine-figure reliever in league history, closing a five-year, $102 million pact shortly before free agency opened. The Padres followed suit with their own five-year warranty, conservatively Robert Suarez for $46 million in a deal that will allow him to retire after 2025. Not long after that Raphael Montero returned to the Astros on a three-year, $34.5 million contract that exceeded general expectations.
That series of early deals removed three of the best options from the market. Kelly Jansen and David Robertson are veterans with extensive slot experience, while Set Lugo, Chris Martin, Adam Ottavino and Trevor May are among the productive setup types available on the right.