The Rockies have signed veteran righty reliever John Curtiss to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training, MLBTR has learned. He’ll compete for a job in manager Bud Black’s bullpen this spring.
Curtiss, 30, has pitched in parts of six big league seasons but didn’t break out until a terrific 2020 showing with the Rays (1.80 ERA, 25.3% strikeout rate, 3% walk rate in 25 innings). Tampa Bay traded him to the Marlins the following offseason, and Miami flipped him to the Brewers after a strong start to his 2021 campaign. Unfortunately for both Curtiss and the Brewers, the right-hander suffered a torn ligament in his elbow just two weeks after being acquired and wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery.
The Mets signed Curtis after the Brewers non-tendered him, knowing he’d miss his first season with the team. That pact included a club option that the Mets exercised, and Curtiss returned to pitch 19 2/3 frames for New York this past season. His 4.58 ERA, 19.8% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate were all down relative to his 2020-21 seasons, however, and Curtiss wound up hitting the injured list with discomfort in his surgically repaired elbow. His ligament remained intact, but the right-hander still required surgery to remove loose bodies from the elbow. The Mets announced at the time of the procedure that he was expected to be ready for spring training.
Despite that favorable timeline, the Mets removed Curtiss from the 40-man roster following the season. He elected free agency, as is his right as a player with more than three years of MLB service.
If Curtiss is back at full strength, he’ll likely have a good chance to break a thin Rockies bullpen. The righty’s track record is fairly limited, but from 2020-23 he pitched 89 innings of 3.24 ERA ball with a combined 23.2% strikeout rate, 6.3% walk rate and 40.8% ground-ball rate. Curtiss’ 94.5 mph average fastball with the Mets in 2023 was right in line with his pre-surgery levels from 2020-21. There’s some unknown now that he’s undergone a second elbow operation, of course, but it’s encouraging that he’d regained his velocity following the Tommy John procedure.
As things stand, the Rockies’ bullpen is practically wide open. Right-hander Justin Lawrence is the favorite to close games after notching 11 saves and logging a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings out of the ’pen last year. Jake Bird should have a spot locked down after recording a team-high 84 1/3 innings with a respectable 4.27 ERA. Beyond that, things are murky. The Rockies let Brent Suter, their top 2023 performer, depart in free agency. He signed a one-year, $3MM deal with the Reds. Veterans Pierce Johnson and Brad Hand were traded at last year’s deadline.
Right-hander Daniel Bard is still under contract for another season, but he followed his All-Star 2022 campaign with a tough 2023 season that saw him return to the injured list owing to a long-running battle with anxiety that has at multiple points led to the yips. Bard eventually pitched 49 1/3 innings with a 4.56 ERA but did so with nearly a walk per inning and with more total walks issued than strikeouts recorded. Tyler Kinley posted a 6.06 ERA in his return from elbow surgery, albeit in a sample of just 16 1/3 innings. The Rox picked up veteran lefty Jalen Beeks in November after the Rays placed him on waivers, and he’ll look to bounce back after a down showing in 2023.
Other options in the Colorado ’pen include Nick Mears, Gavin Hollowell and Rule 5 pickup Anthony Molina. Curtiss will compete with that group as well as a slate of non-roster veterans including Ty Blach, Matt Koch and Chance Adams. If Curtiss makes the club and finds success in that harsh pitching environment, he can be controlled through the 2026 season via arbitration.