Hot Stove

Three former starters, now free agents, could help the Phillies as lefty bullpen options



Holland is one of three available former starting pitchers who found success after transitioning to the bullpen (Photo: EricEnfermero)

The Philadelphia Phillies brain trust is certainly focused more at the moment on anything other than further improvements to their bullpen.

General Manager Matt Klentak has already inked David Robertson to a free agent contract, and traded for Jose Alvarez, Juan Nicasio, and James Pazos.

That’s two new right-handers and two left-handers who will be added to the mix when spring training opens next month in Clearwater.

Earlier this week here at Phillies Nation, I wrote that these new additions added to the returning relief pitching core would give the Phillies a vastly improved bullpen.

However, I ended that piece with an opinion that the team “could still use that one more piece of a dominant late-innings left-hander” to really elevate to the elite level.

The free agent pickings are getting a bit slim. The top remaining relief pitcher option is Craig Kimbrel, but he is right-handed, and the Robertson signing as well as other team needs likely put the Phillies out on the fire-baller.

The Phillies could go after a southpaw via the trade route. Depending on the outcome of any further free addition additions among the position players, there would be a number of pieces available from the current roster for Klentak to deal.

However, if the Phillies want to dip back into the free agent market to further strengthen the bullpen options for manager Gabe Kapler, a trio of interesting options are available. All three were longtime starting pitchers who were transitioned to the bullpen last season, where each found success.

JAIME GARCIA

Jon Morosi somewhat stole my thunder as I began to write this piece when he Tweeted out the following early on Wednesday evening:

 

I’m still going to talk about Jaime Garcia as a possible option, because unless there are some physical or familial circumstances that we are not aware of, I don’t understand why he would walk away from the game, especially if the financial incentives were right.

Garcia is rumored to be considering retirement, but might be lured back by the right offer. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Garcia is a 32-years-old native of Mexico who was selected by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 22nd round of the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft. He reached the big-leagues for a 10-game cup of coffee with the Cardinals in 2008, and then reached Saint Louis for good as a starting pitcher in 2010.

In that first full 2010 season, Garcia went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Injury robbed him of most of the 2013 and 2014 campaigns. But from 2010-17 he made 175 appearances, all but two of those as a starting pitcher.

Garcia began last season in the rotation of the Toronto Blue Jays before transitioning to the bullpen following the MLB All-Star Game break. Released at the end of August, he was picked up by the Chicago Cubs and continued in a relief role.

In 19 games as a relief pitcher, Garcia allowed hitters just a .181 batting average against over 83 plate appearances. He surrendered just one home run and allowed yielded just 13 hits across 20.1 innings.

Garcia has earned nearly $61 million over the course of a 10-year career in Major League Baseball. He probably doesn’t need the money. But a few million more dollars and a role as a key late-inning lefty might be enough to lure him back for another year.

HECTOR SANTIAGO

Santiago may want another shot at starting, but he was far more effective as a reliever. (Photo: Joe Bielawa)

31-year old Hector Santiago is a New Jersey native who was the 30th round choice of the Chicago White Sox in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft out of Okaloosa-Walton College in Florida.

Santiago received his cup of coffee for two games in 2011 before joining the Chisox pitching staff full-time in the 2012 season. That year he pitched in 42 games, including making four starts for Chicago.

Bouncing to the Los Angeles Angels and then the Minnesota Twins, Santiago would make 189 appearances over his first seven big-league seasons, with 130 of those as a starting pitcher.

Last season, Santiago returned to the South Side of Chicago. He would make 49 more appearances with the White Sox, with just seven of those as a starter.

As a relief pitcher, Santiago doubled his K/BB ratio while lowering his BAA against by more than 40 points. He also saw his slugging percentage against drop from an unsightly .571 as a starter to the .380 mark in relief.

Santiago has earned nearly $20 million over the course of an eight-year career. You might be able to get him for close to the same one-year, $2 million deal that he earned a year ago in Chicago. That’s not bad for a veteran lefty, and he might just flourish if allowed to mentally adjust to only a bullpen role.

UPDATE: SANTIAGO HAS SIGNED A MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACT WITH THE NEW YORK METS

DEREK HOLLAND

The most intriguing of these options could very well be 32-year-old Ohio native Derek Holland. He was the Texas Rangers selection in the 25th round of the same 2006 Draft that produced Santiago.

Holland began his big-league career in the Rangers bullpen in early 2009 but was quickly moved into the starting rotation that season. For most of eight years with Texas he remained a starting pitcher, though he lost most of both the 2014 and 2015 campaigns to injury.

He pitched each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, first with the White Sox and then last year with the San Francisco Giants. For the latter, Holland came out of the bullpen a half-dozen times, including his final two appearances of the season.

Holland allowed just a .194 batting average against over 40 plate appearances against him in a relief role with San Francisco. And he showed potential dominance as well, with a 16:3 K/BB ratio over 9.2 innings.

Having earned more than $37 million over the course of his 10-year career in Major League Baseball, he commanded less than $2 million in each of those one-year deals. The Phillies could potentially get him as a pure late-innings lefty reliever at a very similar price.

The Phillies may well be done with their bullpen. But with newcomer Alvarez as the lone current left-handed reliever on the roster with proven success against lefty bats, they might find that one more would help. One of the above might prove an inexpensive solution, should they remain on the market for much longer.

 

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