As last week’s baseball Winter Meetings drew to a close, Philadephia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak gave a few hints into his thinking for further additions this off-season.
As Klentak was quoted by Phillies MLB insider Todd Zolecki:
“It’s important that we maintain balance to our payroll, have money rolling off every year so that we do have the opportunity to add every off-season, whether it’s in the form of free agency or trades. We are constantly looking at both the present and the future and making decisions accordingly.”
The Phillies have made two relatively big free agent signings this off-season, bringing in Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius. Wheeler slots into the club’s pitching rotation as a co-ace with Aaron Nola, while Gregorius takes over as the starting shortstop, sliding Jean Segura to either second or third base…if not the trade block.
The biggest free agent names were rushed off the market at a much quicker pace than many anticipated. Starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Madison Bumgarner and third baseman Anthony Rendon all have their homes set for years to come. Fan favorite Cole Hamels signed on for a year with the division rival Atlanta Braves.
The Phillies starting rotation could still ideally use a proven veteran winner, preferably a left-hander. A couple remain on the market in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. However, it just doesn’t look as if Klentak wants to lay out the money or years that it would take to add that caliber of arm. Zolecki opined that the club could consider bringing back lefty Drew Smyly at some point.
More likely is that Klentak will keep an eye on possible additions to bolster the Phillies bullpen and bench groups. Both of those areas could use at least one more proven impact player added to the mix.
“We could look in the area of adding some bullpen depth. Is that one player? Is that two players? Is that through a free agent signing or a waiver claim or a trade? I don’t know,” said Klentak per Zolecki.
The Phillies have already added veteran Josh Harrison and brought back Phil Gosselin as bench possibilities. Each will come to spring training and will compete for a depth role on the Opening Day roster. They will keep an eye on the market for bats such as Corey Dickerson, Kevin Pillar, Todd Frazier, Starlin Castro, Melky Cabrera, Kole Calhoun, Ben Zobrist, and Lonnie Chisenhall.
There remain a number of potentially impactful available free agent relief pitchers who the Phillies general manager could still be considering to fit into the 2020 bullpen mix. Let’s examine some of the names.
Will Harris: The 35-year-old right-hander just might be the most valuable reliever remaining on the free agent market this off-season. That fact might up his cost in salary and years, pushing him past what the Phillies are willing to spend at this stage. Over parts of eight seasons he has allowed 325 hits over 396.1 innings with 422 strikeouts. A 2016 NL All-Star, Harris has also proven durable, making 60+ appearances in four of the last five and five of the last seven seasons.
Dellin Betances: The right-hander will turn 32 years of age towards the end of spring training in March. Over parts of eight big-league seasons with the Yankees, Betances allowed just 228 hits over 381.2 innings with 621 strikeouts and 36 saves. His talent when healthy is undeniable. But that health is the question mark. Returning last September after missing the entire season with lat and shoulder injuries, Betances suffered a torn left Achilles tendon after just one appearance. He is likely to ink a one-year deal to prove his health and re-set his value for another run at free agency following the 2020 season.
Arodys Vizcaino: Another talented injury risk pitcher, Vizcaino underwent surgery to clean up his labrum and remove scar tissue in his right pitching shoulder last April. He just turned 27-years-old in November, so has age on his side. Over parts of seven big-league seasons mostly with the Braves, Vizcaino allowed 160 hits over 194.1 innings with 218 strikeouts and 50 saves. As with Betances, he would most likely be seeking a one-year deal to prove his health and re-set for post-2020 free agency.
Sergio Romo: The bad? He turns 37 years of age early in spring training 2020. The good? His record, experience, and health. Romo has allowed 488 hits over 623 big-league innings across parts of a dozen seasons with five different clubs while striking out 692 opposing batters. The right-hander has made at least 64 appearances in eight of the last 10 seasons and has 129 career saves.
Steve Cishek: The 33-year-old right-hander has a track record of both success, including recent success, and health. In parts of 10 big-league seasons, Cishek has allowed 429 hits over 556 innings with 584 strikeouts. He has enjoyed success against both righties (.199 career BAA) and lefties (.229 BAA), and made 150 appearances with the Cubs over the last two seasons combined: 93 hits in 134.1 IP with 135 K’s, a 2.55 ERA, and a 1.117 WHIP. He has 132 career saves and has made at least 60 appearances in six of last eight years (59 in 2015).
Daniel Hudson: Who was on the mound, striking out Michael Brantley for the final out to clinch the first-ever World Series championship in Washington Nationals franchise history this past fall? Hudson, that’s who. And the right-hander who turns 33-years-old in March 2020 has been solid over the last three years while pitching with four different teams: 151 hits allowed over 180.2 innings with 181 strikeouts.
Collin McHugh: A big question mark with the 32-year-old righty may be whether he is willing to remain in the bullpen, and if not, whether someone will give him more than one year on a deal to join their starting rotation. After four years of starting for the Houston Astros, McHugh mostly pitched out of their bullpen the last two seasons. He was fantastic during the 2018 run to Houston’s first-ever World Series championship. This past season he made eight starts after the club lost Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock to injuries. He has allowed 86 hits over 114 innings with a 139/39 K:BB and a 2.76 ERA as a reliever.
Tyler Clippard: The right-hander will turn 35 in February and has parts of 13 seasons of big-league experience. He has allowed just 578 hits over 816 innings with 905 strikeouts and 68 saves. A two-time All-Star, Clippard has been solid over the last two seasons as well, with a 10.3/2.6 combined K/BB ratio pitching with Toronto and Cleveland. He is actually more successful against lefties (.187 career BAA) than righties (.207 BAA).
Trevor Hildenberger: A side-arm, submarine-style right-hander, the 29-year-old Hildenberger was strong over parts of five minor league seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization, allowing 149 hits over 194.2 innings with 219 strikeouts, a 1.90 ERA, 0.914 WHIP, and 54 saves. Given a shot in parts of the last three seasons at the big-league level, Hildenberg was mostly hit hard and was unable to duplicate that success on a consistent basis. However, his 8.8/2.7 K/BB rate in MLB and his minor league record could make him an inexpensive addition to the mix in spring training and someone who could help at Triple-A Lehigh Valley until needed in Philly.
Addison Reed: The right-hander will turn 31 just two days after Christmas. Over parts of eight seasons in MLB with five different clubs and across both leagues, Reed has allowed 428 hits over 458.2 innings with 469 strikeouts. He also has 13 games of postseason experience, most of those with the 2015 NL pennant-winning New York Mets. He pitched with the Mets for parts of three seasons, so has that NL East experience going for him. Reed had a poor season last year with Minnesota, though he started late due to a sprained thumb which may have contributed to that down performance.
Jeremy Jeffress: An NL All-Star during a dominant campaign just two years ago with Milwaukee, Jeffress had an untimely poor 2019 season just as he was ready to hit free agency. When he is right, as he was in 2015, 2016, and 2018, Jeffress can help any bullpen. One problem? Jeffress is an epileptic. He has battled the disease since his first seizure at age 15. He also experienced trouble with drugs, rehabs, and suspensions while in the minor leagues. The talent will get someone to give him at least a minor league deal and spring training invitation.
Shawn Kelley: The righty will turn 36 at the end of April 2020 and has pitched in parts of 11 big-league seasons. He has allowed 412 hits over 464.2 innings with 521 strikeouts. Kelley pitched for two seasons in Yankee Stadium and has postseason experience with both the Nationals and Athletics. However, his best years were 2013-16, and two of his last three seasons were relatively poor. Again, someone will roll the dice on what should be yet another inexpensive, short-term deal for an experienced arm who has enjoyed MLB success.
Those are just 12 of a list that includes a few dozen relief pitchers currently available as free agents, all with varying degrees of big-league experience and success, all with a variety of health histories. The vast majority of them would come cheap. The Phillies are certain to add at least one of the currently available arms before spring training gets underway in two months.
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