Update: The deal has not been finalized yet, despite reports.
Lopez was one of those mentioned in my “Guys Hardly Anyone Talks About” column from September. The right-hander turns 29 in April and is arbitration-eligible through 2015, meaning that the Phillies will have a quality reliever for at least three seasons. He earned just over $515,000 last season.
In 66.1 innings last year Lopez struck out 54 and walked only eight, good for a (K-BB)/PA of 18 percent. Among free agent relievers, only two have a better mark than Lopez in that regard: Jason Grilli at 28 percent and Sean Burnett at 19 percent. Aside from his incredible control, Lopez induces a lot of ground balls. His 55 percent ground ball rate ranked 16th-highest out of 88 relievers who threw at least 60 innings in 2012. The league average for relievers is 45 percent.
In three full seasons, Lopez has shown durability and reliability, accruing at least 66 innings and a sub-3.00 ERA in each year. His SIERA ranged from 2.53 (last year) to 3.03 (2011) indicating that Lopez’s success has not been fluky and that he certainly belongs in the conversation among baseball’s elite relievers.
Lopez will set up for Jonathan Papelbon and could easily slot in the closer’s role in the event of an injury or just the odd day off. Having been previously linked to Texas Rangers reliever Koji Uehara, the Phillies address their desire for a quality set-up arm and can now focus on getting a center fielder. Behind Papelbon and Lopez, the Phillies will likely rely on many of the young arms that we saw so often last season.