New Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in his opening press conference that he’s sure the Phillies will be “very aggressive” in adding bullpen arms this offseason.
“The good part of it is that usually if there’s an area that you can fix that somebody comes through in the short term, it’s the bullpen,” Dombrowski said. “We need multiple people out there to try and help us. We have some young arms that are developing that may fit out there but we’re going to try.”
His comment is probably a good indication of how he’ll approach rebuilding one of the worst bullpens in MLB history. There are plenty of good relievers on the market and Dombrowski will probably prefer to build depth over pursuing a high-end option or two. Could that mean the Phillies forgo signing a closer this offseason?
Sportsradio 94 WIP’s Angelo Cataldi asked Dombrowski about his chances of landing a dominant closer on a budget earlier this week. It’s something he can “potentially” do but it’s far from a guarantee.
“Our bullpen needs a lot of fixes,” Dombrowski said. “We don’t have that person on board right now. The one thing about that and when you take yourself away from some of the big dollar closers is that sometimes closers come from unexpected places.
“You have good arms, they have good stuff and all of a sudden they put it together and of course there’s that mentality to close the game in the ninth inning and want the ball. So is there potential to find that person out there? For sure, I’ve been with good clubs that you would think ‘Well where did that guy come from’ that was really unexpected. Is it a challenge for us? Sure it is. It’s something that we’ll work hard and we’ll try to find.
“I don’t anticipate spending big dollars on a closer this particular year. You never can tell what ends up taking place but yes, I think we can find that type of person.”
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Dombrowski’s response to that question. For one, it’s evident that the organization doesn’t think that Héctor Neris fits the mold of a dominant closer.
Neris, the longest-tenured Phillie, posted a 2.93 ERA and a 4.57 ERA in 2019 and 2020 respectively. His FIP in 2020 was actually much lower than it was in 2019 (2.50 vs. 3.83). Neris gave up more hits and walks in 2020 but kept the ball inside the park for the duration of the 2020 season. The Phillies’ poor defense definitely hurt Neris in 2020.Embed from Getty Images
In an ideal world, the Phillies would love to have Neris in an eighth inning role but they also wouldn’t be in a terrible position if the 31-year-old was called upon to take the ball in the ninth inning on a frequent basis.
When it comes to internal options that could emerge for the Phillies, the only name that comes to mind is Connor Brogdon. Seranthony Dominguez could have been that guy but he will miss parts of three seasons after suffering an injury that eventually led him to undergo Tommy John surgery in July.
Brogdon looked absolutely dominant down the stretch. He returned from a stint at the alternate site with a cutter to attack right-handers with and a fastball that averages well above 95-mph. In 8 2/3 innings from Sept. 13 through the end of the regular season, Brogdon allowed 0 earned runs and struck out 14 batters.
He should be in the Phillies bullpen next year but despite looking awfully impressive in September, throwing Brogdon into a high-leverage role on a full-time basis at the start of the 2021 season would probably be a mistake. The sample size just isn’t significant enough to justify putting him in that role. Perhaps he can work his way into the closer’s role come 2022 and become exactly what Dombrowski envisions: A closer who came from an unexpected place. Brogdon was a 10th round pick out of Lewis-Clark State College in 2017.
The biggest takeaway from Dombrowski’s answer is that the team is not expected to spend big money on a closer this offseason. The entire organization is well aware that the team isn’t a player or two away from contending for a championship.
Dombrowski’s philosophy on the matter could be that a team only signs a closer to a big contract when they are ready to compete for a World Series. Or Middleton’s budget might not allow for it. Dombrowski could also believe that the best way to attack the situation is to sign multiple free-agent relievers. All three of those explanations are probably true to a certain extent.
Former A’s closer Liam Hendriks is the consensus top choice on the market and according to Jeff Passan of ESPN, he could carry a hefty price tag. Hendriks is looking for a four-year deal with a “strong annual value.” Passan mentioned the Phillies as a team to watch but so far, Hendriks and the Phillies have not been heavily connected to one another in trade rumors.
They could go the cheaper route and sign Brad Hand, who went unclaimed earlier this offseason at the price of $10 million for one year. Maybe the Phillies could make a run at either Blake Treinen, Alex Colome, Mark Melancon or Shane Greene.
There are plenty of relievers left on the top and low-end of the free-agent market. With the Phillies front office situation settled, the team’s activity on the market should pick up in the next few weeks, and perhaps Dombrowski’s first big move is for a reliever.
Just don’t expect them to sign a closer to a lucrative deal.
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