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4 veteran relievers for Phillies to consider in free agency

The Phillies will eventually get to work looking for bullpen help once the owner-imposed lockout ends.

If the Phillies are serious about improving a bullpen that has a 5.20 ERA since 2020, they should shop for high-end relievers. Arms like Kenley Jansen, Collin McHugh, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Joe Kelly, among others, should be on the Phillies’ radar.

Even if the Phillies sign or trade for another high-end reliever to pair with Corey Knebel, they could still use more backend arms that have a track record of pitching in big spots late in games. Departing free agents Héctor Neris, Archie Bradley and Ian Kennedy threw a combined 149 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Phillies with roughly 40% of those innings classified as “high leverage.” Replacing these innings is on the Phillies’ to-do list.

The team’s track record in recent years with veteran relievers is not pretty, but it would be unrealistic to expect the Phillies to sign three elite relievers to an expensive contract in one offseason. At the bare minimum, the Phillies need to sign or trade for at least one more reliever, but they could benefit from adding two or more.

All of the options presented belong to a category that lies between the top relievers who will sign lucrative multi-year deals and arms who will battle for a roster spot on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

Here are a few options for the Phillies to consider.

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Hansel Robles

2021 Stats: 72 games, 4.43 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 14 saves, 2.05 SO/W, 100 ERA+

Robles, 31, struggled in the first half of 2021 as a member of the Twins, but put together a nice stretch of games in the last two months of the regular season with the Red Sox. He finished the 2021 regular season with a 15-outing scoreless streak. A native of the Dominican Republic, Robles is a three-pitch pitcher with a fastball that averages 97 mph.

The right hander’s best season came in 2019 with the Angels, where he saved 23 games and posted a 2.48 ERA. His stuff hasn’t been quite the same since then, but even in an up-and-down season like 2021, Robles appeared in 72 games and had 55 scoreless outings. If the Phillies were to sign him when the offseason resumes, he’d be one of only two players on the roster who has pitched in the World Series.

The Red Sox, according to Mass Live, worked with Robles to refine his changeup and improve his balance on the mound. The team believed at the time that Robles was close to being the pitcher he was back in 2019. Maybe Robles could put it all back together with the Phillies and establish himself as a solid backend arm.

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Bryan Shaw

2021 Stats: 81 games, 3.49 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 2 saves, 1.87 SO/W, 126 ERA+

Shaw led MLB in relief outings with 81 after signing a minor league contract with an invite to spring training in 2021. In 2017, the right hander signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Rockies. Colorado learned the hard way that his cutter doesn’t play well at Coors Field and the team released him prior to the 2020 season after posting a 5.61 ERA in two seasons. He quickly signed with Seattle and a few weeks later, he found himself at the alternate site for the remainder of the season.

The 34-year-old got his career back on track by opting to return to Cleveland last season. He’s got a decent track record when it comes to durability as his only injured list stint of his nine-year career came in 2018. Vance Worley was his college roommate, so there is somebody in his network that can vouch for Philadelphia as a destination.

Free agent Adam Ottavino pitched for the Red Sox in 2021. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

Adam Ottavino

2021 Stats: 69 games, 4.21 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 11 saves, 2.03 SO/W, 113 ERA+

To make up for the shenanigans that came with the late 2020 Zack Wheeler trade rumors and John Middleton insisting that they won’t trade him for Babe Ruth, the Phillies should sign the pitcher who said he can strikeout Ruth “every time.”

In all seriousness, the Phillies pitching staff last season lacked guys who had a dangerous slider and Ottavino, 36, could fill that need. Pitching out of the bullpen in Philadelphia shouldn’t be a daunting assignment for the Brooklyn native as Ottavino has spent the last three seasons with Boston and New York. He spent the last four seasons playing in the postseason and said on a recent FanGraphs podcast that he prefers to play for a contender in 2022.

In 2021, the Red Sox trusted him in a lot of big spots and he delivered. He was tied for 10th in MLB in shutdown outings (34) with Milwaukee’s Devin Williams and Seattle’s Paul Sewald.

There’s a key connection between the Phillies and Ottavino that is worth pointing out. Before the lockout, the team announced the hiring of new assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan, who previously served as vice president of Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla. Ottavino works out at Cressey and has a prior working relationship with Kaplan.

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Hunter Strickland

2021 Stats: 35 games, 1.73 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 3.17 SO/W, 247 ERA+

The name should sound familiar to Phillies fans. Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper got into a brawl back in 2017 in San Francisco. Harper, who was a member of the Nationals at the time, threw his helmet and charged the mound after Strickland threw at his waist. The right hander may been a little salty about giving up two home runs to Harper in the NLDS three years ago. Both men have squashed their beef since then.

We’ll never really know, but Strickland could be on Harper’s preferred list of free agents. The 33-year-old was traded from the Rays to the Angels in May 2021, but was designated for assignment after nine games in Anaheim. After being traded a second time, Strickland went a month without allowing an earned run in Milwaukee. He performed well in a middle relief role for the Brewers.

A two-time World Series champion, Strickland is great at limiting hard contact and has a mid 90s fastball. If the Phillies do sign the right hander when the lockout is lifted, it would be nice to see if Harper and Strickland hug it out in front of the cameras.


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