The Los Angeles Angels have dipped into free agency to strengthen their bullpen. The Halos and right-hander Robert Stephenson have agreed to a three-year contract with a fourth-year option, reports the New York Post. Financial terms are unknown, though the going rate for a top setup man is $10 million or so a year these days. The Angels have not yet confirmed the move.
Stephenson, 31 in April, had a 5.14 ERA in 14 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin last season. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a minor deal in June, then threw 38 1/3 innings with a 2.35 ERA the rest of the way. Stephenson struck out 60 batters in those 38 1/3 innings and was one of the most dominant relievers in the game.
Our R.J. Anderson ranked Stephenson the 32nd-best prospect available this offseason. Here’s his write-up:
Stephenson introduced a cutter to replace his slider two weeks into his Rays tenure. He threw it 316 times over the remainder of the season, generating 60% whiffs and holding opponents to a .101 batting average. Stephenson’s cutter resembles his four-seamer’s movement profile, except it features more drop and comes in eight ticks slower. Batters couldn’t solve it. We suspect that will remain mostly true heading forward, making him a legitimate candidate to work high-leverage situations.
The Angels, despite losing Shohei Ohtani, have been fairly active this offseason. They’ve added relievers Adam Cimber, Luis García, and Adam Kolarek on short-term deals, as well as starter Zach Plesac, in recent weeks. Stephenson is their biggest and most impactful addition to date. He’ll join Carlos Estévez in new manager Ron Washington’s circle of trust.
Stephenson was the second high-end free-agent reliever to sign on Friday. All-Star closer Josh Hader joined the Houston Astros on a five-year, $85 million contract. Ryan Brasier, Hector Neris and David Robertson stand out as the best available free-agent relievers now that Hader, Stephenson and Jordan Hicks have signed.
Several contenders, including the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees, were said to have interest in Stephenson this offseason. The Angels went 73-89 with Ohtani in 2023 and are considered unlikely to contend in 2024.