Dodgers annoyingly lose top bullpen target to little brother in MLB free agency

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles / Rob Carr/GettyImages

Relief pitchers are some of the most easily overlooked and under-appreciated members of a major league roster. Only seven relievers grace the halls of Cooperstown; only a few this offseason have been the subject of real competition from clubs. Relievers pitch fewer innings, so they make less money and make fewer headlines. Unless the pitcher is, say, Josh Hader or Edwin Diaz, who are making record-breaking sums of money for their services, many dominant bullpen pitchers go overlooked.

Reliever Robert Stephenson is not Hader or Diaz, but Dodgers fans shouldn't look past his signing with the crosstown rivals in Anaheim.

In an offseason so clearly dominated by the Dodgers, losing Stephenson to the Angels is one of their very first instances of coming up short. Just a few days after the Dodgers were reported to be in interested in Stephenson's services, he signed a three-year, $33 million deal with the Angels.

Dodgers lose bullpen target Robert Stephenson to the Angels

Stephenson has been one of the offseason's biggest sleeper (free) agents, appearing at No. 27 on MLB Trade Rumors' list of top 50 free agents and No. 29 on The Athletic's (subscription required) at the beginning of the offseason. He stood out in 2023 for the Rays after being traded from the Pirates in June, pitching 38 1/3 innings for a 2.35 ERA and striking out almost 43% of batters faced, mostly on a killer cutter, bouncing back after struggling through 14 innings in Pittsburgh.

His three years and $33 million represent more money per year than MLB Trade Rumors predicted, and his signing came on the heels of Hader's five-year, $95 million agreement with the Astros, which represents the largest present-day sum given to a reliever.

Dodgers fans haven't had to deal with much losing this offseason, and while losing out on a bullpen arm might not seem like a huge deal, not signing Stephenson is disappointing. The Dodgers have a couple ringers in Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol in their bullpen, but adding Stephenson would've given them even more staying power in late innings. Losing him to the Angels, of all teams, has a bit of a sting as well, but it's a win for one of the most desperate teams of the offseason, so we'll let them have this one.