It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies will be in the market for relief pitchers leading up to this year’s trade deadline. Through the first 88 games, the bullpen has posted a 4.75 ERA (23rd in MLB) and 22 blown saves (30th).
In the three most recent series before the All-Star break, there were signs of improvement. In that span, the bullpen FIP is 3.69. For context, their FIP for the season was 4.61 prior to that and it has improved to 4.49 since.
Archie Bradley finished the first half strong and Ranger Suárez has also become a reliable late-inning arm, but there are still more questions than answers. Sitting just 3 1/2 games back from the New York Mets, the Phillies could use more help in the late innings to jump into first place.
Assuming Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies ultimately choose to buy before the July 30 trade deadline, Pittsburgh Pirates closer Richard Rodríguez would be an intriguing target.
Rodríguez, 31, is having the finest season of his career. The righty owns a 2.29 ERA, and opponents are hitting just .189 against him. In 35 1/3 innings, Rodríguez has walked just three batters, while striking out 27. He’s allowed the Pirates to breathe easy in the ninth inning, converting on 12 of 14 save opportunities, while posting a 1.4 fWAR, the seventh-best mark among qualified relievers.
Pittsburgh’s closer is a two-pitch pitcher with a 92-94 mph fastball and an 81-83 mph curveball. While he might not be a power pitcher, he is able to create sharp movement on both pitches and induce outs off of it. Rodríguez has allowed just a 13.3 line drive percentage.
Rodríguez tends to keep his curveball down in the zone and locates his fastball pretty effectively. That’s why his HR/9 is down from 1.7 in 2019 and 2020 combined to just 0.3 in 2021. According to Brooks Baseball, 42.2% of his fastballs that are put in play result in fly balls, while 62.5% of his curveballs that are put in play result in ground balls.
Pittsburgh is in a rebuilding year – they own the third-worst record in baseball. That makes the veteran reliever more expendable. From the Phillies’ perspective, such an addition wouldn’t just be a rental. Rodríguez can’t become a free agent until after the 2023 season, as he has two remaining years of arbitration eligibility.
If the price is right, the Phillies could receive a huge boost by adding Rodríguez to the bullpen. He will likely demand a decent return as one of the top bullpen arms potentially on the block at the deadline, but probably not nearly as much as what it would take to land eight-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel. The Phillies would be smart to at least check in on the asking price. A combination of Suarez-Bradley-Rodríguez would make the late-innings much less stressful for this ballclub.
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