2010-11 Free Agency

PN Writer's Roundtable: Which Reliever to Sign

Question: Of the currently available free agent relief pitchers, who should the Phillies attempt to sign ?

Paul Boye: Scott Downs.

He holds righties down as well as lefties, he’s arguably the best reliever in a relatively weak free agent market, and he’s an upgrade at a position of sore need for the Phillies. Of course, all of that won’t come cheap; Downs (right) will likely cost around $7M or so per year over two or three years and is a Type A free agent. If the deal is three guaranteed years, I balk. But two years – Type A and all – at that price should be well worth it. It’s also worth remembering that, because Jayson Werth is likely to depart, the Phils would be trading their first round pick with a team further up in the first round (unless the Angels grab him).

It’s a risk, but a risk the Phils should probably take to shore up a bullpen whose lefties consist of Antonio Bastardo and…no one else. He can’t do it all himself, and Downs would be a big addition worth his price tag.

Jay Floyd: NONE OF THEM. Free agent relievers are too hit or miss, as the Phillies and their phans saw last season when Jose Contreras and his statistics were a pleasant surprise, while Danys Baez and his weak production proved to be money virtually wasted. With the Phillies’ current crop of solid pitching prospects, I don’t feel it is necessary to sign a potentially costly free agent.

Sure, there seems to be a need for an additional lefty reliever, but is Scott Downs and the draft pick he could cost the Phillies, as a type A free agent acquisition, absolutely worth the big money he is poised to draw from a potential suitor? Maybe…maybe not. Relievers’ numbers go up and down from year to year and while Downs has posted great stats in recent years, his career ERA is 3.79, which means his output prior to his recent 1.78 and 2.64 ERA seasons was considerably far off.

And what sort of contribution would Chad Durbin offer, if the Phillies re-signed the righty veteran? It’s hard to tell, as he has posted ERA’s of 4.72, 2.87, 4.39 and 3.80 in his most recent four seasons.

The Phillies have several up and coming prospects as well as some familiar big league types that could make a considerable impact out of the bullpen in 2011. Among those pitchers are Scott Mathieson, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Stutes, Eddie Bonine, Justin De Fratus, Sergio Escalona, Ryan Feierabend and Mike Zagurski. In addition to those guys are a few more young hurlers who might be just a step behind, like Michael Schwimer, JC Ramirez and Austin Hyatt.

With such a full crop of relief talent waiting to step up and contribute behind the core of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras, as well as the other members of the big league pitching staff (Baez, David Herndon and the “loser” of the proposed 5th starter duel between Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley) already in place, I don’t think the Phillies need to spend money on more risky bullpen arms.

Jeff Nelson: The Phillies definitely need a lefty. They can’t afford to have Bastardo as the lone LHP in the pen all by himself, especially when the manager doesn’t fully trust him yet. Although the price tag on Downs is very high – he’d come at the expense of the Phils 2011 first rounder plus a multi-year deal – there aren’t many other good options on the market. And let’s be honest, good left handed pitching doesn’t exactly fall off trees these days.

If this team was looking to get by for a season and plug someone in to complement Bastardo, then I could see them plucking someone from the farm. But this organization needs to win now and Downs or to a lesser extent, Hisanori Takahashi, are probably the best options out there. I’m not sure if Takahashi is looking to start in 2011 though, but I’m assuming he’s still a BP option as of right now. Basically I agree with Paul, but to a certain extent.

Kieran Carobine: Antonio Bastardo has been cutting up the Winter League thus far. Bastardo looks to be a lock as one of the lefty pieces coming out of the bullpen for Charlie Manuel next season. But who will the other pieces be?

Now while I agree with Paul, Scott Downs would be a good addition to the pen but I am not sure if it is worth spending that type of money and losing the draft picks. In the past two seasons Ruben Amaro Jr has sent a handful of prospects packing in acquiring Cliff Lee and then Roy Halladay. It would be nice to save as many picks as possible.

Now, the market for reliable relievers may not be as small as some people think. I think there are still a couple good options out there.

I feel Pedro Feliciano should be tops on the Phillies radar. He is a guy who was very dependable for the Mets last season despite his 3-6 record. In 62.2 innings pitched he had a 3.30 ERA and only allowed one home run. Also, he had almost a 2:1 strikeouts to walks ratio in 92 appearances. The only thing with Feliciano is whether or not he will accept arbitration from the Mets. He is in line for a raise this season and may want to test the waters after earning $2.9 million last season.

A right hander on the market coming off a very good year is 34 year-old Kyle Farnsworth. The Phillies got to see him first hand towards the end of the season last year when the Braves acquired him from Kansas City. He did struggle a bit pitching in the NL posting a 5.40 ERA in just 20 innings but overall boasted an ERA of 3.34 and a WHIP of 1.14 in 64.2 total innings with the Royals and Braves.

Pat Gallen: While I’m not a fan of signing free agent relievers to extended contracts, there are a few intriguing names available this year. Scott Downs has been mentioned and as great as he’s been, he might be a little too expensive. Rafael Soriano is out of the Phillies’ league contractually and Jason Frasor and Grant Balfour are solid options, but maybe not solid enough to suck a top draft pick from the Phils due to their type-A status.

I’m a fan of Jesse Crain (left) on the right side. The ex-Twins relief pitcher has a fine resume and is only 28-years old (he’ll be 29 in July). His career WHIP is 1.26 over parts of seven seasons and he does a great job of keeping people off the basepaths via the walk. Crain would be a solid choice and is a type-B free agent. He’s declined his free-agent arbitration today and is getting a hard look from the Blue Jays. J.J. Putz would be a fine choice as well, provided it’s to a one-or-two year contract.

As for the crop of lefties, Downs certainly stands out. Other than Downs, I think taking a flier on a guy like Will Ohman or Dennys Reyes is more beneficial. Of all the lefties available (with the exception of Downs and Pedro Feliciano) their stat sheets are littered with up and down seasons. It’s too hard to tell which will sink and which will swim and that to me says buy low with relievers.

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