Days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Arizona, the Dodgers’ bullpen situation became a little more clear Monday.
The team and veteran reliever Ryan Brasier reportedly agreed to a two-year, $9 million contract to keep the right-hander in Los Angeles after his resurgent performance last season.
In a related move, the Dodgers also traded left-hander Caleb Ferguson to the New York Yankees.
Brasier, 36, returns to the Dodgers after emerging as the club’s top set-up man over the second half of last season. Originally an Angels draft pick who spent most of his seven-year MLB career with the Boston Red Sox, Brasier was released by Boston last May following early-season struggles and signed with the Dodgers in June.
In Los Angeles, he added a cutter that reinvigorated his pitching arsenal, then quickly established himself as one of the team’s most trusted relievers, giving up just three earned runs in 39 total outings (good for a miniscule 0.70 ERA).
While his re-signing didn’t come until the end of the offseason, the sides expressed mutual interest in a reunion all winter. In addition to the $9 million of guaranteed salary, Brasier’s deal also reportedly includes incentives that could raise its total value to $13 million.
Ferguson, 27, never quite reached the same heights during a five-year tenure with the Dodgers. Though the former 38th-round draft pick managed an unexpected rise to the big leagues and posted a solid 3.43 ERA over his time with the team (which included a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2021), he battled inconsistency in high-leverage situations last year, failing to ever fully separate himself as the club’s top left-handed reliever.
With Brasier back and Ferguson gone, the Dodgers bullpen hierarchy now seems to be falling into place.
Evan Phillips remains the most trusted back-end option, in line to reprise his role as the closer after earning 24 saves last year. Brasier and fellow right-hander Brusdar Graterol figure to highlight the club’s other primary high-leverage options. Joe Kelly was re-signed earlier in the winter, giving the team another hard-throwing weapon on the back end.
Alex Vesia is now the only late-inning lefty remaining from last year’s team — though the Dodgers acquired another MLB-experienced southpaw, Matt Gage, from the Yankees in exchange for Ferguson. Gage has given four earned runs in 19 ⅔ innings with the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros the last two years.
The Dodgers also acquired Christian Zazueta, a 19-year-old pitching prospect in the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League affiliate, in the deal.
Monday’s news was first reported by the New York Post.
Even without a clear top left-hander last year, the Dodgers bullpen held up well against left-handed hitters. According to Fangraphs, the team had the third-lowest batting average against when facing lefty hitters in “high leverage” situations with a .207 mark. Braiser, Graterol and Phillips were particularly effective in such spots, each holding left-handed hitters to a sub-.225 average last year (better marks than either Ferguson or Vesia).
It means, even with a relative lack of left-handed options, the Dodgers might be comfortable trusting their core group of right-handers to handle batters on either side of the plate late in games.
It was a plan that helped the team finish last year with one of the hottest bullpens in the majors — and one they seem to be planning to replicate going into 2024.