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Phillies may have struck gold with José Alvarado


The Phillies are hoping Jose Alvarado can be a major piece in their bullpen in 2021. (Cheryl Pursell).

Usually if the Tampa Bay Rays want to make a trade with you, it’s not a good sign. However, if early returns are any indication, the three-team trade that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski swung to acquire José Alvarado in late December may prove to be one of the best deals of the offseason.

Alvarado made his fourth scoreless appearance in the Grapefruit League Monday against the New York Yankees, and he’s allowed just one hit so far this spring. While he’s flashed his high 90s two-seam fastball, perhaps the most impressive pitch he’s made to this point came on a full-count to Gleyber Torres, a curveball for a called third strike.

“You gotta gear up to hit him – if you don’t gear up to hit him, you’re not gonna catch up,” Joe Girardi said Monday. “If you can throw a 3-2 curveball like that, that’s not really fair. How hard was he throwing today, 99? …That’s really tough on a hitter. The key is you have to be able to throw it for a strike, but he showed that he can do that.”

Just 25, Alvarado has tasted success at the major league level. He posted a 2.39 ERA, 2.27 FIP and 2.1 fWAR in 2018. Over the past two seasons, though, Alvarado has dealt with oblique, elbow and shoulder injuries. When he’s pitched in the last two campaigns, he’s struggled mightily, posting a 5.08 ERA and 7.6 BB/9.

Still, it’s hard not to be tantalized by what Alvarado has shown this spring, especially given that in 2018 FanGraphs graded him as the seventh-best reliever in baseball.

In fact, The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark says that there have been some scouts this spring who have told him they believe Alvarado will “end up closing at some point.” Another opined to him that “if he throws strikes, game over.”

The widespread expectation has been that either Archie Bradley or Héctor Neris would open the season as the closer, though Joe Girardi has yet to name anyone to that role. At the outset of spring training, Girardi did say that the Phillies are hopeful to have more specific roles out of the bullpen in 2021 than they did in 2020.

That, of course, is contingent on players like Bradley, Neris and Alvarado staying healthy and performing as expected. The Phillies would have loved to have specific roles last year, but Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson didn’t make a single appearance with the team and the in-season pickups of David Phelps, Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman all turned in disastrous results.

Eventually, though, the Phillies are bound to hit on some external additions in the bullpen. Perhaps 2021 is that year, and Alvarado will be at the forefront of a bullpen that helps the Phillies reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.

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