Analysis

Offseason Preview: Let’s fix the bullpen



gomezThis week we’re looking at what the Phillies biggest holes in anticipation of the offseason. How will they fill the holes? That’s what we’re after in the offseason preview.

Fixing the bullpen

As a whole, Phillies relievers put up a poor 5.05 ERA and were generally ineffective. But bullpens change quickly, so the memories of a bad 2016 bullpen can be erased if a couple standouts make their presence felt in the near future.

The Phils have a few promising young arms in the system, but fewer are relievers. We may see one or two of them in 2017, along with a few of the folks who pitched late in games in 2016. But the fact remains: The Phillies need better relievers, and they’ll have to look outside to find them.

First, here’s what the Phils already have:

Locks

Hector Neris
Edubray Ramos
Joely Rodriguez

The trio here outperformed all relievers in 2016, and in a perfect world, they make the bullpen out of spring training. Neris (2.58 ERA, 102 K, 30 BB) was overworked but dominated much of the season. He’s 27. Despite the higher ERA, Ramos (3.83 ERA, 40 K, 11 BB) was effective enough and should earn a middle-relief spot. Rodriguez (2.79 ERA, 7 K, 4 BB) pitched well against lefties and should be a LOOGY to open 2017.

Bubble

Elvis Araujo
Luis Garcia
Jeanmar Gomez
Severino Gonzalez
Michael Mariot

These five are still on the 40-man roster and could see spring training invites. Of the five, Gomez (4.85 ERA, 47 K, 22 BB, 37 SV) had the most notable season, finishing among National League leaders in saves though he stumbled in September. He’s not yet a shoo-in for a spot in 2017. Gonzalez, 24, has the most potential of the group, though he struggled to keep runs off the board in 2016 (5.60 ERA).

Next Level

Victor Arano
Jimmy Cordero
Miguel Nunez
Tom Windle

Of these four, Cordero is the closest to the big leagues, as he’s on the Phils’ 40-man roster. The 25-year-old put up a 5.00 ERA after returning from a shoulder injury, but he has definite strikeout stuff. Nunez, 23, saved 17 games for Reading in 2016. Windle is a prospect but adjusted poorly to Reading. Arano, however, put up solid numbers for Clearwater and Reading, and could move quickly up the system in 2017.

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The Need

If we put Neris, Ramos and Rodriguez in the 2017 bullpen, add one of the bubble arms (say, Gomez) and figure a starter takes a long-man spot (Alec Asher or Adam Morgan, maybe), that leaves two open spots.

Imagine one of those spots is result of an in-house free-for-all with guys like Cordero, Arano, the other bubble arms and some retreads battling in spring training.

The final spot is likely to go to a veteran presence – a la David Hernandez – but slightly more of a sure thing, someone they can plug in with confidence in the eighth or ninth inning. Since the Phils are still rebuilding, we should expect nothing more than a two-year deal for that arm. A one-year deal is more likely, and for this exercise we’re sticking with righties, as the Phils aren’t quite in the market for a lefty specialist.

Let’s look at what’s out there:

Elder Statesmen

Older than 40, these pitchers are big question marks.

23. Fernando Rodney

Rodney will be 40 in 2017. He has a $3.5 million option with Miami, but it may not be picked up. He could also retire. He struggled for some of 2016 (though he was great with San Diego). Probably too much of a question mark to entertain.

22. Koji Uehara

Uehara will be 42 in 2017, so age is a real issue. He still has fantastic command and gets guys out, but chances are if he’s returning next year, it’ll be with the Red Sox. Like Rodney, probably too much of a question mark to double down on.

The Undesirables

There are flaws here. These aren’t the best choices.

21. Matt Belisle

The 36-year-old was good for Washington in 2016, but his strikeout numbers have declined considerably in recent years. Would cost about $2 million for two years.

20. Peter Moylan

Like many others, Moylan doesn’t have superior strikeout stuff. I’d pass on the 36-year-old.

19. Bryan Morris

Effective for the Marlins, this 30-year-old righty isn’t a big strikeout arm. I wouldn’t bet on him as my big signing.

The Commitments

As much as we’d love these guys to anchor the bullpen, the Phils just aren’t ready to pay big money to relievers.

18. Mark Melancon

It’s likely Melancon gets around $10 million in free agency, and for at least two years. The Phillies probably aren’t in that market yet.

17. Wade Davis

Davis is superb, putting up a 1.87 ERA in 2016 and a 0.94 mark in 2015. The 31-year-old has a $10 million club option for 2016, which the Royals plan to pick up. He could then become a trade candidate, but he’d likely cost too much for the Phils to want to take part.

16. Sergio Romo

The once-heralded closer of the Giants with superior command (he’s walked 89 batters his entire career) could make about $10-$12 million for a couple years in a free agent contract. Probably not the best idea for the Phillies.

15. Kenley Jansen

The outstanding 29-year-old closer for the Dodgers is hitting the market and should get about $12-$15 million per year, at least. The Phillies aren’t yet in this league, and they probably shouldn’t try to be.

The Average Arms

Like Hernandez, these guys would help out in the middle innings. Considering how bad the bullpen was in 2016, the Phils should look for someone slightly better. Still, this is a good baseline.

14. David Hernandez

Let’s start with Hernandez. He was slightly better than a league-average reliever (3.84 ERA, 80 K, 32 BB), but I’d venture the Phils would want something more. Not a terrible fallback, though.

13. Scott Feldman

The 34-year-old had a bad end to 2016 with Toronto, but he’s generally effective with decent strikeout numbers. He’d probably cost around $3-$4 million. There may be something better out there.

12. Fernando Salas

Salas is about as good as Hernandez. He had a 3.91 ERA last year with 64 strikeouts and 19 walks. He’ll probably get about the same contract as Hernandez, as well – two years, $4-$5 million per. I think the Phils want something a little better.

11. Junichi Tazawa

The long-time Red Sox reliever has good command and a career 3.58 ERA. He’s close to what the Phils are looking for, though his numbers in the last two years have declined. Would be a small risk.

The High Risks

Coming back from injury or poor seasons, these guys could be worth the gamble, but they’re not the preferred choice for a team needing some established quality.

10. Matt Albers

Albers has a club option that the White Sox probably won’t pick up. His 6.31 ERA shows why. Kind of a bounceback candidate, though.

9. Drew Storen

Jonathan Papelbon basically ruined Storen’s career, right? The potential great closer was removed from his role after the Phils traded Papelbon to Washington in 2015. Since, he hasn’t quite found what made him so unbeatable in the past. He’s a true risk-reward candidate, but do the Phils want to go in on someone like that? Not sure. Intriguing, though, and Storen would cost something around $7 million for a season, which would be in the Phils’ range.

8. Jordan Walden

Missing all of 2016 with a lat strain injury, Walden is quite good (3.00 career ERA) but an obvious question mark. A little less of a gamble than Storen, for a little less cost. But the upside probably isn’t as strong.

7. Neftali Feliz

Once among the best closers in baseball, Feliz endured some real struggles but rebounded in 2016 with a 3.52 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 21 walks. Only 28, he’d probably command a two-year deal at $4-$6 million per season. He’s interesting because he’s younger and, if at his best, pretty outstanding, but he may be too much a risk for such a bad bullpen.

6. Greg Holland

Holland had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2016. That’s the downside. The upside is tremendous: a strikeout reliever with great command and a career 2.42 ERA. The 30-year-old would probably ask for a one- or two-year deal to reset his career, something around $7-$10 million per year with incentives (definitely on the higher end of what the Phils would pay). He’d be a very interesting band-aid option and could slide right into the late innings if effective.

The Wild Cards

These aren’t traditional choices, but they could work in a pinch, especially in a one-year setting.

5. Brad Ziegler

The 37-year-old Ziegler is a nice ground ball arm and could be a sneaky option for the Phils (at about $6 million for a year or two), but I’d suspect they prefer strikeout pitchers. Probably a pass, but don’t rule him out completely.

4. Santiago Casilla

At 36, Casilla is striking out more batters than ever. Is that smoke and mirrors? Casilla’s market value is around $9 million, so he could see closer to that in a free agent contract. That’s too much for two years for an older arm … but as a one-year option? Would he take that?

3. Joe Blanton

Yup. How about Kentucky Joe? He reinvented himself as a reliever, but he may have a costly price tag for a veteran with plenty of wear. Also, he fell apart in the NLCS against Chicago (though that’s such a small sample size). Could be interesting on a one-year deal at $6 million, but that’s as high as I’d go.

The Best Bets

2. Carlos Torres

Torres found his groove in 2016 with a 2.73 ERA and 78 strikeouts. The 33-year-old righty is cheap (looking at a $3 million deal for two years), too. The only flaw is his command (30 walks last year), but it’s not terrible. A good option.

1. Pat Neshek

The reliable reliever has a $6.5 million option with Houston, and it’s likely to be picked up. If not, you’re looking at a one- or two-year deal at about $6M-$9M per season, which is on the high side but in the zone. If Neshek becomes available, the Phils should definitely inquire about a two-year deal.

With a market lacking that superior seventh- or eighth-inning arm younger than 36, the Phillies are looking at a host of interesting options that don’t fit perfectly. Of everyone, Neshek is the best fit, but he’s likely to go back to Houston. Otherwise Torres works with a little reservation, or the Phils can sift through either a wild card like Casilla or Blanton, or a risk like Holland.

My heart says go deep for Holland and hope to reap the benefits. My head says pay slightly higher to nab Casilla on a one-year pact, and hope his performance late in 2016 was merely a blip. Either way, a veteran reliever is a necessity.

Trade Targets

To be honest, the Phillies shouldn’t trade for a veteran reliever. Any trade like that will cost the Phils at least one relatively decent prospect (if you want actual value), and that’s not part of a rebuild. It’s not out of the question that Matt Klentak can slyly unearth a good reliever in some sort of a trade, but to dig into possibilities would be fruitless. A combination of the internal pipeline and the free agent market is the best way to solidify a bullpen at this stage.

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