MLB winter meetings: Jeurys Familia returns to Mets, Joe Kelly signs with Dodgers as reliever floodgates begin to open
There could be a surge in free-agent reliever signings soon
It appears the free-agent reliever floodgates have finally opened. Late Wednesday night the New York Mets struck a deal with righty Jeurys Familia, their former closer, to be Edwin Diaz's setup man. It is said to be a three-year contract worth $30 million according to multiple reports.
A few minutes later news broke that the Los Angeles Dodgers had cut a deal with right-hander Joe Kelly, who will presumably serve as Kenley Jansen's setup man. Multiple reports indicate it is a three-year contract worth $25 million. Kelly was apparently very impressed with the club's face-to-face pitch last week.
Familia, 29, split last season between the Mets and Athletics, throwing 72 innings with a 3.13 ERA and 83 strikeouts. He spent the first six and a half years of his career in New York and was the team's closer during their run to the 2015 National League pennant. Over the last four seasons Familia ranks 13th among full-time relievers with 6.2 WAR.
The 30-year-old Kelly moved into a full-time relief role with the Red Sox in 2016 and, over the last two years, he's thrown 123 2/3 innings with a 3.64 ERA and 120 strikeouts. Kelly seemed to find another gear this past postseason and emerged as a trusted high-leverage reliever for Red Sox manager Alex Cora, throwing 11 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and one earned run allowed en route to the 2018 World Series championship.
Last offseason the Rockies signed Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee to identical three-year contracts worth $27 million that appear to have set the market for Familia and Kelly. The Shaw and McGee signings didn't really work out -- they combined for a 6.20 ERA in 106 innings in 2018 -- but they did establish the market for very good but not truly elite free agent relievers.
Now that Familia and Kelly have broken the ice, we could soon see a run of free agent reliever signings similar to last offseason. Check out the dates on some of last offseason's notable reliever signings:
- Dec. 12: Cubs sign Brandon Morrow
- Dec. 14: Astros sign Joe Smith
- Dec. 15: Mets sign Anthony Swarzak; Phillies sign Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek; Rockies sign Jake McGee
- Dec. 16: Cardinals sign Luke Gregerson; Cubs sign Steve Cishek; Rockies sign Bryan Shaw
- Dec. 21: Mariners sign Juan Nicasio; Nationals re-sign Brandon Kintzler
Once the Cubs and Morrow put the wheels in motion, a bunch of second tier reliever signings followed. These year there are two All-Star level closers on the market (Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton) plus some excellent high-leverage setup men (Kelvin Herrera, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, etc.), all of whom are poised to cash in nicely this winter.
There are of course no shortage of teams looking for bullpen help -- both contenders and non-contenders are seeking quality relievers -- and the Mets and Dodgers might not be done. They could still add another end-game arm. Other clubs like the Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Nationals, Phillies, Red Sox, and Yankees are all looking for bullpen help as well.
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