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It sounds like Corey Knebel is the Phillies’ next closer


Corey Knebel is betting on himself.

Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies were reportedly willing to go to two years for the former Tigers, Brewers and Dodgers pitcher, but Knebel opted to sign a prove-it deal with hopes of possibly landing a three to four-year contract next offseason, per Robert Murray of FanSided.

The Phillies think they have found their next closer in Corey Knebel. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Only closers at the top of their game are capable of landing a deal of that length. Most recently, Raisel Iglesias signed a four-year, $58 million contract to stay with the Angels just before the lockout. Liam Hendriks and Will Smith have also landed a three-year deal in recent history.

“We think he can close games,” Dombrowski told Phillies beat writers, including Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think that’s why he signed here. We did not promise him that. We just told him that he’d be a back end person for us. But we think he has the stuff and he’s healthy, and when he has been that, he has the stuff to do that and he has the makeup to do that, so that’s how we would envision him being for us.”

Dombrowski added that they’re not exactly looking for another closer to acquire. Iglesias and Mark Melancon, two options on the free agent market, are off the board. Kenley Jansen remains unsigned and Craig Kimbrel is still available via trade. Perhaps the front office will monitor their markets when the lockout ends, but for now, Knebel is the guy.

It’s a high risk move for the Phillies.

Knebel does have the strikeout stuff needed to succeed as a closer. Since the 2017 season, Knebel has struck out 259 batters in 170 innings. After missing more than three months of last season with a lat strain, Knebel’s fastball was back up to the high 90s. Opponents slugged .233 on his curveball, which ranks near the top of the league in spin rate.

Health is the biggest question mark with Knebel. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the beginning of the 2019 season. A hamstring injury and the aforementioned lat strain forced him to miss time in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The Phillies cannot afford to go months at a time without their appointed closer.

The Phillies do believe that Knebel is healthy and capable of producing the way he did before going under the knife.

“It’s like a lot of guys coming off Tommy John, sometimes it takes you time to regain your stuff, but his stuff was definitely there,” Dombrowski said. “Our scouts saw him and all of his stuff really matches up to what it was in the past.”

The Phillies now have five locks for the 2022 bullpen: Knebel, José Alvarado, Connor Brogdon, Sam Coonrod and Sernathony Domínguez. Lefty Nick Nelson was acquired in a trade with the Yankees and could compete for a spot alongside recent waiver claims Ryan Sherriff, Yoán López and Kent Emmanuel. Bailey Falter and Hans Crouse could be in the mix for a long relief role if neither of them are the No. 5 starter.

It does feel like the Phillies are far from done when it comes to adding to their bullpen. If Knebel is the closer, they’ll still need to replace Héctor Neris and find an all-purpose high leverage arm and set-up man. Dombrowski, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, suggested that the Phillies weren’t comfortable with matching the Astros’ two-year, $17 million deal for Neris.

“We like Héctor,” Dombrowski said. “We like him a great deal. We just reached a point with where the dollars were going and the contractual status, we felt that we were better turning to other options at this time.”

If the Phillies were unwilling to match that offer, then it is possible to assume that they are uninterested in giving someone like former Rays reliever Collin McHugh and other high end relievers a slightly move expensive two-year deal. The team was reportedly in contact with Mychal Givens before the lockout, so it’s possible that the Phillies sign him to fill that void.

For Knebel, he is challenged with succeeding in a role that others have failed to seize in recent years. If he can shine as the Phillies closer, the market will reward him in the future.

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