While the offseason may have started with the thought that the Philadelphia Phillies would acquire one of Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen or Josh Hader to be their closer in 2022, it appears that the team will enter next season with Corey Knebel as their last line of defense.
As is, the group of arms that Joe Girardi will have at his disposal to assure that the ball gets from the starting pitcher to Knebel with the lead intact has a potentially high ceiling, but is thin on proven results.
José Alvarado has All-Star stuff, but control issues have haunted him early in his career. Connor Brodgon and Sam Coonrod both had trials and tribulations during the 2021 season. Seranthony Dominguez flashed All-Star potential in 2018, but Tommy John surgery has cost him the better part of the last three seasons.
While the Phillies hope that under-the-radar pickups they’ve already made this offseason like Ryan Sherriff and Nick Nelson will pay dividends, they could probably stand to add another veteran into the arm barn mix before the start of the regular season. Here are nine potential middle relief and/or set-up options still available on the free-agent market:
A Bill Hader look-a-like, Kelly has always had a nasty repertoire of pitches at his disposal. However, he drastically reduced the use of his fourseam fastball in 2021, while leaning heavily on his sinker. The results were that Kelly had an excellent season, posting a 2.86 ERA and 3.08 FIP across 48 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers declined the 33-year-old’s $12 million club option for 2022, instead opting to pay him a $4 million buyout. Kelly has had mixed results in 40 career postseason outings, but was dominant for the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, posting a 0.79 ERA in nine outings. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was leading Boston’s front office at that time.
Tepera was excellent in his age-33 season, posting a 2.79 ERA and 2.73 FIP across 65 games in a season split between both Chicago franchises, the Cubs and White Sox. At the outset of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Tepera would land a two-year/$12 million deal. It’s unclear how the Phillies would feel about giving out a multi-year pact to Tepera, if that is indeed what it ultimately takes to land him.
After opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, McHugh put together a tremendous season for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2021. Across 37 games — with seven turns as the “opener” — McHugh posted a 1.55 ERA and 2.12 FIP. He’s a guy that’s pitched in just about every role at the major league level. He would also add someone to the Phillies bullpen that has won a World Series, as he was part of the 2017 Houston Astros team.
While he perhaps didn’t turn in All-Star-caliber production in 2021, Boxberger was a workhorse for the Milwaukee Brewers, posting a 3.34 ERA in 71 outings, which spanned 64 2/3 innings. Boxberger, 33, actually led the American League with 41 saves in 2015 while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Chafin was excellent in a season split between the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics, posting a 1.83 ERA and 1.4 fWAR in 71 appearances. What’s most encouraging is that the lefty was dominant against hitters from sides of the plate, with both left-handed and right-handed hitters hitting under .200 against him in 2021.
After signing a one-year/$6 million deal with the Phillies in free agency last winter, Bradley posted a 3.71 ERA and 4.35 FIP in 53 games in 2021. An oblique injury really hampered the first couple months of Bradley’s time with the Phillies. To his credit, the 29-year-old was very effective between June and July, posting a 2.01 ERA in 22 games. However, sandwiched around a solid mid-season run for Bradley were an injury-riddled start and an underwhelming finish. It’s unclear if the Phillies have interest in bringing Bradley back. If they do, it would have to be for less than what he made in 2021.
After once saying he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time,” Ottavino has ironically split the last three seasons between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But following a really impressive run between 2013 and 2019, Ottavino has posted a 4.59 ERA and 3.86 FIP in 93 games since the start of the 2020 season. At age 36, it’s fair to question how much he has left in the tank.
In November, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies were in “substantive” talks with Givens regarding a free-agent deal. It’s unclear if there’s still interest between the two sides. Givens, 31, posted a 3.35 ERA and 4.54 FIP in 54 games in 2021, a campaign that he split between the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds.
A two-time All-Star, Clippard has pitched for 10 different teams in his big league career — including two stints with the New York Yankees, the second of which came when Joe Girardi was the team’s skipper. Set to turn 37 in February, Clippard posted a 3.20 ERA and 4.71 FIP in 26 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2021.
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