The Braves introduced Monday morning that they’ve signed right-hander Reynaldo Lopez to a three-year contract that can assure him $30MM. The CAA consumer will likely be paid $4MM in 2024 and $11MM in each 2025 and 2026. There’s an $8MM membership possibility for the 2027 season with a $4MM buyout.
Lopez turns into the fifth title added to the Braves’ bullpen combine since their season ended, becoming a member of re-signed righties Joe Jimenez (three years, $26MM) and Pierce Johnson (two years, $14.25MM) and commerce acquisitions Aaron Bummer and Jackson Kowar. Curiously, nevertheless, Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Structure tweets that the Braves can have Lopez put together as a beginning pitcher this winter.
Whereas the membership isn’t essentially penciling Lopez into the 2024 rotation, the Braves consider he can have success in both position and ramping him down from beginning to relieving is in fact simpler than the inverse. Lopez’s particular position might not be decided till the spring, but it surely’s actually notable that there’s at the least an opportunity he’ll get one other look as a starter together with his new membership.
Lopez, 30 in January, has loads of expertise in each roles however hasn’t had a lot success as a beginning pitcher. As soon as one of many sport’s high pitching prospects, he went from the Nationals to the White Sox alongside Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning within the 2016 commerce sending Adam Eaton again to Washington. Whereas he gave the White Sox 32 begins and 188 innings of three.91 ERA ball in 2018, he did so with shaky peripherals. On the entire, Lopez carries a lifetime 3.01 ERA out of the bullpen however a a lot rockier 4.73 mark as a starter.
Lopez’s profession took off, in earnest, with a full-time transfer to the bullpen — a job through which he’s excelled for the previous two seasons, albeit in several methods. The flamethrowing righty had a tough begin in ’22 however was one of many sport’s most dominant bullpen arms over that season’s remaining 4 months, logging a 1.54 ERA, 28.8% strikeout fee and three.1% stroll fee from early June by means of season’s finish. Total, his 2022 marketing campaign ended with a sterling 2.76 ERA, a barely above-average strikeout fee (24.8%) and an elite stroll fee (4.3%).
In 2023, Lopez’s run prevention was once more robust (3.27 ERA), however he took a special path to get there. Brandishing a fastball that was now averaging a blistering 98.4 mph — a 1.3mph enhance over the prior season’s already-strong 97.1 mph — Lopez punched out an enormous 29.9% of his opponents. Nevertheless, his 12.2% stroll fee was practically triple that of the prior season. He all however deserted his curveball, throwing it at only a 1.2% clip (after 7.2% in 2022).
The 2023 model of Lopez was successfully a two-pitch pitcher: blazing fastball and laborious slider (with a seldom-used changeup and curveball). He has, nevertheless, had seasons the place he’s thrown each his change and his hook at a 20% clip or larger, so there’s actually a various sufficient assortment of pitches in his arsenal to succeed as a starter — if the Braves can coax higher and extra constant outcomes from his secondary choices. If Lopez had been to work as a starter, it’s solely pure to assume his fastball velocity would drop a tick, however he’s nonetheless have effectively above-average warmth regardless.
To an extent, it’s attainable that Lopez’s final utilization in 2024 relies on the rest of Atlanta’s offseason. As issues stand, the Braves’ rotation contains Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder. There’ll be competitors for that fifth spot, doubtless together with Lopez but in addition that includes high prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, veteran Ian Anderson (who’ll be getting back from Tommy John surgical procedure), southpaw Dylan Dodd and righty Huascar Ynoa. The Braves have been linked to some free brokers of observe so far, and in the event that they achieve signing Sonny Gray or buying one other veteran starter, that’d doubtless push Lopez extra firmly into the bullpen.
If Lopez leads to his extra acquainted bullpen position, he’ll be a part of a comically deep group. Along with the aforementioned Jimenez, Johnson and Bummer, the Braves will deploy Raisel Iglesias, A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek in what’s shaping as much as be one of the vital skilled and most proficient assortment of aid arms within the Majors.
Lopez’s $4MM wage for the 2024 season pushes the Braves’ payroll as much as round $207MM, per Roster Resource’s projections. Nevertheless, whereas its backloaded nature spares Atlanta some bottom-line payroll within the upcoming season, the contract nonetheless comes with a a lot heftier $10MM luxury-tax hit, as all luxurious calculations are primarily based on a deal’s common annual worth.
The $10MM AAV on Lopez’s contract pushes the Braves squarely into luxury-tax territory, as they’re now at about $241.6MM of luxurious issues — comfortably north of this 12 months’s $237MM luxurious barrier. Additionally they paid the posh tax final season, that means their penalty ranges will rise. Reasonably than a 20% dollar-for-dollar tax, they’ll now pay a 30% tax (with rising penalties in the event that they surpass the brink by greater than $20MM whole). They’re additionally in line for even harsher penalties come 2025, as third-time payors face even steeper charges of taxation.