The Phillies need some help at the back end of the bullpen.
Ian Kennedy, Archie Bradley and Héctor Neris are all set to become free agents after the postseason. Players who are likely to return include Connor Brogdon, Sam Coonrod, José Alvarado (arbitration eligible) and Bailey Falter. The team expects Seranthony Domínguez, who is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, to contribute at the big league level next year. Domínguez (Tommy John surgery) made his season debut on the final day of the 2021 regular season.
Of the Phillies’ 34 blown saves this season, 22 have come in the eighth inning or later. Acquiring a reliable closer — and perhaps a set-up man — is among the Phillies’ priorities heading into the offseason.
“I don’t think we have anybody right now on our staff that we would anoint as our closer next year,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. “So you’d have to, in that case, make a move or make a trade or free agent signing, but we need to be better there.”
The Phillies rebuilt their bullpen prior to the 2021 season after posting a historically bad 7.06 ERA in the 60-game season. Bradley, who signed a one-year, $6 million contract in January 2021, was the only reliever acquired last season who put up an ERA below four. The bullpen finished with the fifth highest ERA in the majors (4.60) in 2021. It marks an improvement from 2020, but that isn’t saying much.
If the Phillies want to get to the postseason in 2022, they’ll need to construct a bullpen that isn’t destined to finish in the bottom ten in ERA. The good thing about major league bullpens is that a unit’s success can fluctuate year-to-year. The Seattle Mariners, for example, had the worst bullpen ERA in the American League in 2020 (5.92). With the emergence of key high leverage arms such as Drew Steckenrider, Paul Sewald and Casey Sadler, Seattle posted the eighth-best bullpen ERA in MLB in 2021 (3.88).
On the other hand, having a bad bullpen is seemingly etched in the Phillies identity. Phillies relievers have finished with an ERA above four 10 times over the last 21 seasons. Since 2018, the Phillies have a 4.65 ERA out of the bullpen.
The free agent market is thin on true closers. Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ star closer who has 350 career saves in the regular season, could re-sign with Los Angeles or get a pricey deal elsewhere. It’s unclear if the Phillies are willing to spend big bucks on a closer. Raisel Iglesias, who has a 2.57 ERA and 34 saves this season, is the second-best option on the market. Craig Kimbrel could hit the market if the White Sox don’t pick up his $16 million club option, but that seems unlikely. Mark Melancon has a $5 million mutual option with the Padres for 2022. The Padres will surely opt-in, but Melancon could prefer to test the market as he posted a 2.23 ERA and 39 saves.
Neris has led the Phillies in saves in four of the last five seasons, but since the 32-year-old had success in a more flexible high-leverage role for the Phillies this season, the team will likely avoid labeling him the closer if he is re-signed.
The Phillies’ recent track record of acquiring veteran closers isn’t great. Ian Kennedy and Brandon Workman, the two closers added at the deadline in each of the past two seasons, combined for a 5.11 ERA. David Robertson threw only 6 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2019.
No matter who the closer is, the Phillies will need more homegrown pitchers to step up and contribute. Brogdon taking a step forward and becoming a full-time late inning reliever would be huge for Philadelphia. Late in the season, the Phillies took a look at Adonis Medina, Cristopher Sánchez and Hans Crouse, three starters in the minors who could probably work out of the bullpen in the majors. Top pitching prospect Francisco Morales could debut for the Phillies out of the ‘pen in 2022.
- Third baseman Alec Bohm won’t play winter ball this offseason, per Dombrowski. He’ll workout in Clearwater instead.
- The Arizona Fall League rosters were released Wednesday. Hans Crouse, Damon Jones, James McArthur, Erik Miller, Logan O’Hoppe, Bryson Stott and Simon Muzziotti will play for the Peoria Javelinas. Mickey Moniak was scheduled to play in Arizona, but he came down with a minor injury.
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