Deconstructing The Phillies: Relief Pitching

October 16th, 2014 by Mike H. | Filed under Baseball, Phillies.

In part two of our ongoing series on how to potentially fix the Phillies, we’ll address the bullpen. The bullpen was actually one of the bright spots in 2014. Where Papelbon lacked off the field, he did his best to make up for it on the field, converting 39 of 43 save opportunities. Only rookie Ken Giles was able to convert a save out of the remaining pieces of the bullpen. In my opinion, when people say pitching wins championships, they most likely are referring to relief pitching. Starters, elite or mediocre, have a day in and day out ability to keep teams in games thru six innings. If you have enough quality arms in your bullpen, you shorten that game. Don’t believe me? Just look back to the 2008 squad, they were as good a pen as you could hope for and we all know how that ended. So what should the Phillies do moving forward? Click past the jump for my recommendation(s).

While the relievers did do a quality job overall in 2014, Phillipe Aumont excluded, I do believe it could use some fine tuning. While I am in favor of having a strong bullpen, I see no need to have an “elite” closer at the back of it. Jonathan Papelbon, like Cole Hamels, is an unnecessary luxury for this team. The team with or without Hamels and/or Papelbon, will probably finish no better, if not worse, in 2015 than it did this past season. Why keep those pieces in place, when they can possibly land you a decent piece or two for the near future and be a part of the next “core”.Even though Papelbon is a head case, and not what a lot of people would call a “good clubhouse guy”, he is still putting up results. While he may not be the fireballer that burst on to the scene in Boston many years ago, he’s still around nine strikeouts per nine and just over two walks per nine. He SHOULD be an ideal candidate for a team that is struggling with bullpen help, like the Tigers have done for the past couple of seasons.

Recently, TIgers GM Dave Dombrowski sat down with the media, including Jason Beck of MLB.com, to address offseason priorities. Improving the bullpen was one of the top three priorities despite having faith in Joe Nathan and Bruce Rondon being expected back from Tommy John surgery this spring. I think if the right deal presented itself, the Tigers could very much be interested in acquiring Papelbon to try to put them over the hump. If I’m GM, not only do I offer up Papelbon and $8M to the Tigers, I try to sweeten the pot by adding Ben Revere to the deal. In return, I’d ask for right-handed starting pitcher Austin Kubitza, right-handed reliever Angel Nesbitt, and a player to be named later or cash considerations. The player to be named later wouldn’t be decided until it is certain whether or not Papelbon’s vesting option becomes guaranteed. If the option vests, the Phillies receive a low-level prospect in exchange for an additional $7M towards Papelbon’s salary. If the option does not vest, the Phillies don’t receive anything additional. In total the Tigers not only have a short-term answer at closer that only potentially costs them $11M at worst, but they also have a center fielder under team control thru 2018.

Once Papelbon is moved, the Phillies basically can insert Ken Giles into the closer role. Giles was absolutely dominant in 2014, posting a strikeout per nine of 12.6 and a walk per nine of 2.2. You can read more about Giles’ 2014 season from the minors thru to the majors here. The remainder of the back-end of the bullpen would be rounded off by left-hander Jake Diekman in the 8th and Justin De Fratus in the 7th. While there would be an open competition for the remaining bullpen spots, left-handers Mario Hollands and Cesar Jimenez, and right-handers Luis Garcia and Ethan Martin would have the inside track.

If you notice, I’ve left out left-hander Antonio Bastardo and right-hander, and international man of mystery, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. I honestly think that Bastardo is a trade candidate this fall and could be sent off mainly as salary relief. If there are no takers, he’d be in the mix to pitch in the 7th or 8th depending on the situation and how he is performing. Was 2014 an off-year for Bastardo? He was horrible in April, solid in May and June, horrendous in July and August, and stellar in September. So who knows, teams will need left-handed relievers, and Bastardo could be a throw in just as easily as he could be a mainstay at the back-end of the bullpen.

As for MAGs, Jim Salisbury reported a few weeks back that Gonzalez could be stretched out and inserted into the rotation. He’ll definitely be a player to watch once the Grapefruit League action starts, and he’s another one that could end up in one of a couple of different roles. As he rehabbed his way back to Philadelphia, MAGs’ stats were as backwards as could be. Usually pitchers dominate younger opponents and level out against hitters at a higher level, but Gonzalez managed to improve as he rose thru the system, shaving a run and a half off his ERA at each stop. Under contract for just two more seasons, I’d like to see what MAGs has as a starter as opposed to a relief role.

Let’s say Bastardo stays. No reason to just give the guy away when he may keep his stock up enough to get something at the trade deadline if need be. Under the premise that Papelbon is moved, that gives us a bullpen of Giles, Bastardo, Diekman, De Fratus, and most likely two of Hollands, Jimenez, Garcia, and Martin. I think the Phillies would, as would I, look into signing a reliever with late inning experience as a free agent. Could Jim Johnson or Jason Grilli sign one-year deals at negotiable money to rebuild value? Joakim Soria would probably have many suitors if the Tigers decline his option. While I do think it is a strong possibility that the Phillies do sign a free agent pitcher or two, I don’t expect any to exceed $4-5M in cost and hope that they can come to terms with low risk, high reward types on minor league deals.

Rotation:

  • Cliff Lee
  • A.J. Burnett
  • David Buchanan
  • Anthony Ranaudo/Allen Webster/Brandon Workman
  • Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

Bullpen:

  • Ken Giles
  • Justin De Fratus
  • Jake Diekman
  • Antonio Bastardo
  • 2 of Mario Hollands, Cesar Jimenez, Luis Garcia, and Ethan Martin
  • Free Agent

Subtractions:

  • Cole Hamels
  • Kyle Kendrick
  • Jerome Williams
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Ben Revere

Additions:

  • Henry Owens
  • Mookie Betts
  • Brock Holt
  • Bryce Brentz
  • Anthony Ranaudo/Allen Webster/Brandon Workman
  • Angel Nesbitt
  • Austin Kubitza

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