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Taking stock of the reliever market after the Astros sign Josh Hader

With the clear top option finally off the board, things should start moving more quickly.

Robert Stephenson of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates a strikeout against Christian Vazquez of the Minnesota Twins to end the game at Target Field on September 13, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

After months of wondering when the relief market might finally wake up — with Craig Kimbrel standing as the lone signing to land within our free-agent top 50 — the biggest domino of them all finally fell on Friday afternoon. Six-time All-Star Josh Hader is officially a Houston Astro, signing with the reigning AL West champs on a five-year, $95 million deal that stands as the largest present-day value contract for a reliever in MLB history. (The five-year, $102 million deal the Mets handed Edwin Diaz last winter was partially deferred.)

For weeks now, every report indicated that other free-agent relievers were stuck waiting on Hader to make his decision. With the lefty off the market, and other bullpen-needy teams looking to pivot, things should move quickly in the coming days. But that begs the question: For the clubs that weren’t lucky enough to land Hader, what other options are out there? Let’s run down the top remaining relievers and where they mind wind up.

Top remaining relief options after Josh Hader signing

Hector Neris

From the newest Astro to a former Astro. Neris is one of the game’s great workhorses, averaging 70 appearances across his last seven full seasons, and he has plenty of experience working high-leverage innings after stints in Houston and Philadelphia. But he’s also about to turn 35, and it’s possible that all that wear has started to take its toll. Neris pitched to an excellent 1.71 ERA for the Astros in 2023, but that production came with some red flags under the hood: His average fastball dipped from 94.3 mph in 2022 to 93.0 mph, and the whiff rate on his trademark splitter dipped from an otherworldly 52.4% to a merely very good 42.2%.

Given his age (he’ll turn 35 in June) and his workload, it’s fair to wonder whether the team that signs him will be doing so a year too late. But his track record of late-inning success sets him apart, and some contending team — quite possibly the Yankees, who have been sniffing around the righty in recent days — will take the plunge.

Robert Stephenson

The latest product of the Rays’ endless pitching factory, Stephenson came to Tampa from Pittsburgh in a trade last June and almost immediately morphed into one of the game’s deadliest relievers. The righty posted a 2.35 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 38.1 innings with his new club, in large part thanks to a devastating cutter: He threw the pitch some 41.4% of the time, and it produced a .101 BA against and an eye-popping 59.9% whiff rate. It’s unclear whether Stephenson will be able to sustain that sort of production away from Tampa’s pitching gurus, but those numbers are awfully enticing.

Aroldis Chapman

Chapman was last seen pitching himself out of the closer’s role with the Rangers during the team’s run to a World Series title. But it’s worth noting that, command meltdowns notwithstanding, the 35-year-old put together another very solid season in 2023, with a 3.09 ERA and 103 Ks in 58.1 innings across stints with Texas and Kansas City. He also regained some of the fastball velocity that had evaporated in recent years, and as long as that holds true, someone will trust him with a high-leverage role.

Matt Moore

Just about everything went wrong for the Angels in 2023, but Moore was a pleasant surprise, as the former No. 1 overall prospect continued to refashion himself as an above-average reliever. The lefty posted a 2.77 ERA and 57 Ks in 48.2 innings across time with the Angels, Guardians and Marlins, producing some elite contact metrics along the way. Even better? His best pitch is a changeup, and he was actually better against righties than lefties last year — meaning that whichever team signs him will be able to use him freely.

Wandy Peralta

Peralta has been Aaron Boone’s fireman for the last two-plus years, posting a 2.82 ERA over 153 innings with the Yankees while wiggling out of a seemingly infinite number of jams. Like Moore, the lefty’s go-to changeup makes him a weapon against righties as well as lefties. If there’s some risk here, however, it’s that his walk and home run rates spiked in 2023, which could be a sign of future struggles. Plus, he hasn’t been nearly as successful in any of his other Major League stops, so there remains a chance that the Yankees managed to unlock something that won’t be repeated elsewhere.