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Cincinnati Reds sign reliever Emilio Pagan to two-year contract

Finally, a free agent splash!

Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Three Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

On the back of a heater that averaged 95.8 mph and a tiny HR/FB rate of just 5.3%, Emilio Pagan limited opponents to just a .553 OPS across 69.1 brilliant innings for the Minnesota Twins in 2023. His 2.99 ERA and 3.27 FIP backed that up, too, if that’s more your thing when it comes to evaluating relief arms.

It was good enough to earn him a contract valued at two-years and $16 million with the chance for bonuses to add on to that, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal - with the Cincinnati Reds the ones who’ll be cutting the checks.

The Reds bullpen struggles were well documented last year. Despite a respectable-enough 4.11 ERA (16th overall among relief units), their underlying numbers were quite concerning. Their 4.21 BB/9 was 6th worst, 4.48 ERA 8th worst, and 4.87 xFIP was tied for 2nd worst with only Oakland higher. Their 8.51 collective K/9 was also the 4th lowest in the game, all things that were seemingly masked by a .280 BABIP that was 4th lowest. They were a cobbled together unit of players who’d been DFA’d before (by the Reds, even!) and who came in on minor league deals in search of roster spots, with Lucas Sims and Alexis Diaz just about the lone pair who really looked like they ‘should’ have been there from the start of the season.

In Pagan, they’ll get a guy who has had a somewhat up and down career but has at least a track record of producing the way he did in 2023 at other times. During the 2019 season with Tampa, he pitched to a stellar 190 ERA+ in an even 70.0 IP, his 2.31 ERA and 0.829 WHIP career bests, to date. That led to the third trade of his career as he was sent to San Diego as part of the swap that landed Manuel Margo in Tampa, one year after he’d been part of a massive three-team deal between Texas, Oakland, and the Rays. Prior to the start of the 2022 season he landed in Minnesota as part of the deal that sent Chris Paddack to the Twins in exchange for reliever Taylor Rogers.

While primarily a fastball/slider pitcher for most of his career, he developed a splitter once he landed with the Twins, and it will be interesting to see what the Reds brass attempts to do with his offerings now that he’s already on the 6th team of his career. Perhaps the splitter was partly implemented to counter his rather extreme fly-ball tendencies - his 51.1% fly-ball rate in 2023 ranked as the 10th highest among the 273 big leaguers who logged at least 60 IP (Lucas Sims, at a crazy 61.2%, ranked 1st).

If he can simply channel what he channeled during the 2023 season, however, the Reds will have a very valuable back-end piece for their bullpen again, finally.