Until the beginning of the Winter Meetings (Dec. 7-10 in Nashville, Tenn.), I’ll be doing a deep dive on the Phillies with particular focus on their offseason plans. What may happen? What’s the future hold? Seriously, how excited should you be?
We’ll try to answer all the questions here.
Today: Relief pitcher.
Past – Let’s start with the fact that it’s pretty impossible to plan relief pitching corps. Relievers are more fungible than anyone else on a roster, and they emerge from any number of cracks in the structure. A starter yesterday could be tomorrow’s lights-out closer. A long man in the Colorado system could come aboard next week on a waiver claim, then suddenly become the most important man in the Phillies bullpen next year. Heck, a 21-year-old kid who ended last season in Lakewood could be throwing the eighth inning on opening day.
So it’s not a great idea to go so deep into relief pitching. These guys can be anything and go anywhere, and everything can change in two months, let alone two seasons.
We’ll do our best, but here’s the final word: At this time last year, the Phillies likely bullpen was: Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles, Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Cesar Jimenez and Mario Hollands. Today only Giles and Hollands remain, and the latter spent 2015 out after Tommy John surgery.
That Gomez, Araujo, Neris, Garcia and Hinojosa emerged – almost simultaneously – in the last season is a testament to the Phillies’ ability to scout and find good and inexpensive relief pitching. Of the group, Gomez looked particularly outstanding (74 IP, 50 K, 17 BB, 3.01 ERA), and he looks primed to start 2016 as the team’s lead setup man.
Araujo – the lefty – is the youngest of the bunch and pitched even better than his numbers suggest. He surrendered just 29 hits in 34 innings. Pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, he has a 4.50 ERA with eight strikeouts and 10 walks in 14 innings.
The hard-throwing Neris also pitched well (41 K, 10 BB in 40 IP), but his eight surrendered home runs is a bit of an issue.
Hinojosa, claimed from Boston in 2015, was another standout whose only blemish seemed to be a few more walks than necessary. Garcia is similar – not great command, but a very passable middle reliever capable of missing bats.
The point here is that this established group will be given the opportunity to start 2016 in the bullpen. Some may not make it, but General Manager Matt Klentak has assembled some depth now, which will also be well in the mix. Imagine there are probably three secure relief spots right now (Giles, Gomez, Araujo) and four honest openings. Anything can happen.
Of course, a fifth opening could emerge, if the Phillies deal Giles at any point this offseason (we don’t need to go deep into Giles; bottom line: he’s one of the sport’s best relief pitchers). That would only rattle the bullpen as much as anything has over the last few years. So expect some movement, but pencil the names of the above at the top of your scorecard. Those are the leaders in the clubhouse.
There are plenty of live arms here, and they’ll all be competing with the likes of Neris, Garcia and Hinojosa for, at least, four bullpen spots in 2016.
Achter will be a top competitor. After becoming a reliever in full-season A Beloit, he thrived with solid K/BB ratios and opponent batting averages under .200. He reached the Twins in 2014 and pitched reasonably well, but went back to AAA Rochester in 2015. He wasn’t effective in two 2015 callups. He’ll get a fair shot at a spot in Philly.
Murray, a right-hander, is an aggressive strikeout pitcher. He sits at about one strikeout per inning in the minor leagues, and in seven innings with the Phillies in 2015, struck out nine and walked two. He also has legitimately good command, though his walk rates increased as he moved up the system. He’ll get a good shot to stick in the pen, and could quickly become a trusted arm in 2016.
Ogando has potential with a mid-to-high-90s fastball, but it comes with command issues (166 walks in 340 minor league innings) and pedestrian strikeout rates (279 in the minors). He’s a dark horse to make the major league bullpen, but can easily give Lehigh Valley some innings in 2016.
Otero will get a decent shot at making the bullpen. He pitched 46 innings with the Athletics in 2015, registering a bad 6.75 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks. So, not good. But he has previous success (a 2.28 ERA in 86 innings with a playoff-making Oakland in 2014). He’s mostly fastball and slider.
Hollands, you may remember, was a mainstay in the 2014 bullpen (47 IP, 4.40 ERA, 35 K, 21 BB) as the second left-hander behind Diekman. He has a deceptively funky delivery and could be used in a number of situations. An elbow injury and Tommy John surgery sidelined him, but Klentak said Hollands may be good to go for opening day. That puts him in competition for a lefty bullpen spot, though it’ll be tough for him to top Araujo.
Also in competition: Rodriguez, acquired for Bastardo last season. Yet to reach the majors, Rodriguez struggled for both Lehigh Valley and Reading in 2015. Collectively he registered a 6.12 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 57 walks in 129 innings, both as a starter and reliever. He did improve as the season progressed, as his velocity increased and he began generating ground balls. He’s listed here as a reliever because, frankly, it may be easier for him to make the team as a reliever right now. The lefty is doing well in the Dominican Winter League (18 IP, 2.95 ERA, 20 K, 8 BB), both starting and relieving, which is great news.
Hermann, Roibal and Russell were invited to spring training without roster guarantees; they could be offered contracts for either the Phils or a minor league affiliate. Between 2010 and ‘12, Hermann threw 120 innings in the majors (4.26 ERA, 72 K, 29 BB). Since, however, he’s failed to reach the show with both Anaheim and Pittsburgh. He’s a righty who has good command but is pretty hittable.
Roibal, a Cuban in the Phillies system already, put up great numbers in Clearwater and Reading in 2015 (60 IP, 58 K, 12 BB, 1.64 ERA), actually improving after jumping to AA. He’ll be in the same boat with Cordero and Ramos below him; even if he doesn’t make the Phillies out of camp, it’s likely he’ll get to the big leagues in 2016.
Russell, meanwhile, is a lefty with much more experience in the majors (330 IP, 3.90 ERA, 239 K, 95 BB). Most recently he threw in 49 games for the Cubs in 2015, but was mostly ineffective, as hitters went .307 against him with an .836 OPS. His .339 BABIP, however, was much higher than normal, so the Phillies hope his 2015 was more of an anomaly. He’ll compete against Araujo, Hollands and Rodriguez for at least one, but maybe two, lefty spots in the pen.
Cordero and Ramos were placed onto the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft; the Phillies see something in these pitchers, and they each may be able to contribute this year.
Cordero, acquired from Toronto in the Ben Revere trade, has a fastball that regularly reaches 100 mph. And he showed it in 2015, striking out 64 in 67 innings between two levels and three teams. His command was good, too (24 walks). He’ll have a legitimate chance to make the Phillies out of spring training, with a worst-case scenario being a spot in the back of the Lehigh Valley bullpen.
Ramos is basically in the same place. He pitched well in Clearwater and Reading in 2015, striking out 65 and walking 16 in 69 innings. He put up a 7.45 ERA in the Arizona Fall League (nine innings) but struck out 12 and walked none.
So what’s this all mean?
Again, Giles, Gomez and Araujo are locks or close to locks for the bullpen out of opening day. Neris, Garcia and Hinojosa will compete with Achter, Murray, Ogando and Otero, plus Hermann and Russell, for open spots. Cordero, Ramos and Roibal could inch their way into the conversation. Hollands may be back to compete for a second lefty spot, and it could be against Rodriguez, but that remains to be seen.
In all, there will be plenty of competition. Those who lose out will simply head to Lehigh Valley and, possibly, Reading.
Windle, acquired in the Jimmy Rollins trade, moved to the bullpen in 2015 and showed promise between Reading and the Arizona Fall League. He could find his way to Philly in 2016. A lefty, Milner (3.52 ERA, 41 K, 17 BB, 64 IP) may ascend quickly to Philly in case of injury. O’Sullivan, who came over in the Joe Blanton trade, is a converted starter who put up a 2.39 ERA in Reading in 2014. He could head to the IronPigs.
Last year’s Clearwater team included Rios and Tirado. The former put up superb numbers as a starter and reliever (88 IP, 71 K, 23 BB, 2.75 ERA) and will start 2016 in Reading. The latter was acquired in the Revere trade and, in a full season of the Florida State League, had a 2.68 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 53 walks (77 innings). He has wild but effective stuff.
Present Need – Really, the only thing the Phillies should be doing here is accumulate depth they feel is appropriate for the future. There’s plenty of depth that can potentially pitch in the majors in 2016; beyond that, there are some good projectable arms, but more is always better.
But again, this is not a Papelbon situation. It’s not even a Mike Adams situation. There is no need to bring in any high- or mid-priced relievers.
Future – It’s hard to predict the future of an area so volatile. If the Phillies wanted to hold onto Giles, he’s probably the closest thing to a sure thing in the future. Otherwise, anything can happen. For now, Cordero looks like a potential boon in the late innings, and Rios could become a solid back-end arm in the next few years.
Still, the future of the Phillies’ bullpen is nowhere near written.