3) Robert Stephenson
Robert Stephenson's 2023 season and MLB career is a hard one to explain. He was a first-round pick in the 2011 Draft by the Reds, but never quite stuck in Cincinnati. He didn't work as a starter, so was moved to the bullpen. He'd move on to Colorado in a trade but struggled there for a couple of years before being DFA'd and landing in Pittsburgh.
Stephenson pitched well for the Pirates down the stretch in 2022 but had a rough season before being traded to Tampa Bay. That's when all of a sudden, things clicked.
The 30-year-old right-hander had a 2.35 ERA in 42 appearances and 38.1 innings pitched. He struck out 60 (!) batters in those innings while walking just eight batters. He had an absurd 0.678 WHIP for Tampa Bay and turned into a primary set-up man as the season went on.
The Rays tinkered with Stephenson's pitch usage and had Kyle Snyder, the Rays pitching coach, teach him how to throw a harder slider. A pitch baseball savant deems a cutter. That pitch yielded a .101 batting average against and a .123 xBA. He generated whiffs 59.9% of the time. Absurd.
I have no doubt that with Tampa Bay he can remain dominant. This is what teams like the Rays do. If he were to go to the Angels, I have my doubts. It isn't a Stephenson problem, it's an Angels coaching problem. Matt Wise is the pitching coach for now and he has earned none of my trust. He's likely to get a multi-year deal but it's hard to seeing that age well with the Angels.
We saw Tyler Anderson go to a good team in 2022, the Dodgers, and have a breakout season. He'd then sign a multi-year deal with the Angels and have arguably his worst season yet. Aaron Loup had a career year in New York the season prior only to follow that up with a poor Angels tenure after signing a multi-year deal. I have the same fears with a guy like Stephenson who broke out this past season with Tampa Bay.