News Now: Several teams are showing interest in Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson, a free agent right-hander, is still attracting a lot of interest. According to Jon Morosi of, the Mets, Dodgers, and Phillies are among the teams that are considering signing him. The Rangers, Yankees, Astros, Angels, Cubs, Red Sox, Orioles, and Dodgers have all been linked to the right-hander in the past; however, a few of those teams have since switched to different bullpen options.

Despite not being a household name, Stephenson’s fame makes sense because in the second half of 2023, he was among the top relievers in the league. He was acquired by the Rays from the Pirates in the first part of June, and he went on to play for Tampa Bay in 42 games, averaging 2.35 earned runs. In that period, he struck out 42.9% of the batters he faced while only walking 5.7% of them.

Among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, only Pete Fairbanks, Aroldis Chapman, and Félix Bautista had greater strikeout rates from the beginning of June to the end of the season. Nevertheless, Stephenson’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was higher than those three since each of them had a higher walk rate. Stephenson was projected by MLBTR to sign a four-year, $36 million contract at the #27 spot on their annual Top 50 Free Agents report at the beginning of the offseason.

Given their dissimilar track records, that is a far cry from the six years and $110M Josh Hader is expected to receive. While Stephenson would be depending on a few strong months if he signed with a team, Hader has years of impressive relieving work under his belt. However, he had previously displayed signs of promise. As he advanced through the minor league ranks, he was ranked as a top-100 prospect and selected by the Reds in the first round in 2011.

Robert Stephenson receiving interest from multiple teams | Yardbarker

He struggled as a starter in the major leagues at first, but switching to the bullpen proved to help him. With the Reds in 2019, he posted a 3.76 ERA; in the abbreviated 2020 season, he struggled; then in 2021, he bounced back with a 3.13 ERA for the Rockies. He had a difficult start to 2022 but ended the year strong with a Pirates claim. He struggled right out of the gate in 2023 and had some arm trouble, but he was traded to the Rays and had the previously described breakout.

Though that seeming inconsistency makes him seem riskier than Hader, it will also make him more accessible and potentially offer more upside to whoever manages to convince him to sign a contract. It would be an obvious deal if he signed for a guarantee of about one-third of what Hader receives and can continue to maintain his domination. However, if he were to swoon again, things would undoubtedly go the opposite way.

It would come as a bit of a surprise if the Mets were the team to make the move. Owner Steve Cohen has demonstrated that he isn’t reluctant to spend big money to close deals, and president of baseball operations David Stearns did just mention last week that he anticipated more work to be done on the bullpen. However, as part of a sort of retooling, the club has been changing direction this winter, choosing to make depth and short-term additions.

This winter, they have only offered one multi-year contract, which was a two-year agreement for Sean Manaea that included a halfway opt-out clause. Additionally, Michael Tonkin, Joey Wendle, Austin Adams, Jorge López, Luis Severino, Harrison Bader, and Joey Wendle all received one-year contracts from the Mets. It appears that the strategy is to avoid long-term obligations while they evaluate some internal players and determine how to move forward more aggressively come wintertime.

This offseason, there’s more to think about than just their personal habits—the competitive balance tax. The club’s current CBT number, according to Roster Resource, is $318 million, far more than the $297 million top tier of the tax. They would have to pay out more than twice as much as Stephenson would make since they would be obligated to pay 110% tax on all further spending as a third-time payor at that level. They might not wind up with Stephenson on the roster, but if they really wanted to, they could make it happen by combining that with their low-key operating philosophy in recent months.

Aside from re-signing Aaron Nola, the Phillies’ winter has been comparatively quiet. The 2023 and 2024 bullpens appear to be very similar, however Craig Kimbrel signed with the Orioles after becoming a free agent in 2023. The relief corps had the seventh-best ERA in the league last season, with a combined 3.58 ERA. The bullpen is a clear target area for the rest of the offseason, but relievers are known to be a fungible bunch, and the team already has a solid lineup and rotation.

To differing degrees, José Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Seranthony Domínguez, Gregory Soto, and Matt Strahm all had successful seasons last year and will return this year. After soaring through four minor league levels and making an alluring MLB debut, Orion Kerkering had an amazing season. In a low-strikeout, high-grounder fashion, Dylan Covey produced some intriguing results, while Andrew Bellatti retreated after a stellar 2022 campaign.

Although this group is solid overall, any team would gain from moving everyone down the chart and adding a top reliever. According to Roster Resource, the Phillies presently have a CBT figure of $252 million, which puts them over the $237 million base and close to the $257 million second line. They might feel at ease finishing in that range again after finishing between the second and third line the previous year. The club’s top pick in the 2025 draft would be shifted back ten spots in addition to a higher tax rate if the $277 million third line is crossed. Even though the team doesn’t want to cross that line, they have plenty of room to add a reliever on a big contract. Perhaps they would see that as a barrier of sorts.

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