5 Ways Philadelphia Phillies Can Fix Their Bullpen This Offseason
In hindsight it probably wasn’t a smart decision for the Philadelphia Phillies to head into this season with a bullpen featuring primarily young and inexperienced pitchers.
Injuries to Michael Stutes and David Herndon weren’t expected to cause them to miss nearly the entire season, and players such as Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls were supposed to provide a seamless late-inning transition to closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Instead, the Phils’ bullpen in the second-half features players such as Michael Schwimer, Jeremy Horst and B.J. Rosenberg.
Not quite what was expected for a team whose top major league ready prospects primarily consist of relief pitchers.
As David Murphy wrote on Philly.com in June, the Phillies spent approximately 11.68 percent of their entire Opening Day payroll on the bullpen for this season. From 2008-2010, the percentage was above 19 percent. Murphy also points out that approximately $17 million of the nearly $20 million paid to the bullpen goes to Papelbon, Jose Contreras and Kyle Kendrick. The team’s plan to use young and inexpensive relievers this season has not worked out the way it might have hoped.
However, because these players are still young and considered to be some of the team’s best prospects, there’s a chance that having a year of experience under their belts will be all they need in order to have improved performances next season.
But with only two relievers who currently have an ERA under 3.50, the Phils must still look at ways to address their bullpen, in addition to the other tasks on their to-do list after this season.
Here are five different ways the Phillies can fix their bullpen this offseason.
Sign Mike Adams
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The Phillies have likely lowered their payroll to below the $178 million luxury tax threshold for this season, which means the team is no longer in danger of having to pay a 20 and 30 percent tax this year and next.
So if they are willing to push their payroll closer to $189 million, the tax threshold in 2014, they could do so next year and only pay a 17.5 percent tax.
Why not spend a little more on a veteran arm to put in the bullpen alongside Papelbon then?
If the Phils are willing to do so, right-hander Mike Adams should be a free-agent target during the offseason.
In 45 games with the Texas Rangers this season, Adams has gone 3-3 with 32 strikeouts and a 2.92 ERA.
This is actually higher than his career ERA of 2.20.
If Adams keeps his ERA below 3.00 this season, it could be the third consecutive season in which he has done so while appearing in at least 50 games.
This season has seen Adams post solid numbers, although the two seasons prior had seen him pitch even better. In 2010, Adams had 73 strikeouts in 66.2 innings and a 1.76 ERA, and in 2011 had 74 strikeouts to go with a 1.47 ERA. He also has 20 holds this season.
Adams is making $4.4 million this year, and could see a similar yearly salary in a two- or three-year free-agent deal. But if he’s earned such a contract, and the Phils can afford to spend such an amount, the match would greatly improve the team’s bullpen.
The Phils have lacked a veteran right-handed presence besides Papelbon in their bullpen all season. With Adams, they would have two proven pitchers to close out the eighth and ninth innings.
Find an Eighth Inning Set-Up Guy
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The Phillies’ recent 1-0 win against the Miami Marlins was a glimpse of what the team’s ideal pitching performances should look like next season.
The starter turns in seven solid innings, and a reliever pitches a scoreless eighth inning to set up Papelbon to close out the ninth.
Unfortunately, these types of performances have been rare this season.
The days of seeing Ryan Madson set up for Brad Lidge were replaced by Bastardo (in his lone great season) setting up for Madson.
Now this needs to be replaced.
Despite using 16 different pitchers in relief roles this season, the Phillies have still not found a pitcher who has turned into an eighth inning set-up guy.
This uncertainty in the late innings is something that, if corrected, could greatly improve the Phils’ bullpen for next season.
Players such as Adams, Grant Balfour, Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon are all potential free agents who could serve as eighth inning set-up guys to maintain leads for Papelbon next season. Each player’s contract demands may vary, but paying $4 million annually to give the team consistency in both the eighth and ninth innings would be well worth it.
Asking young and unproven relievers to pitch in tense, late-inning situations hasn’t worked out well for most of the Phils’ relievers this season.
However, having a year’s worth of experience combined with pitching in more sixth- and seventh-inning situations could lead to improved performances, which would mean improved all around bullpen performances with a proven eighth inning set-up guy in the fold.
Call Up Justin De Fratus And/or Phillippe Aumont
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Two pitchers remain in Triple-A who are seemingly on the brink of pitching in the major leagues.
De Fratus pitched in five games for the Phils last September, but has pitched in only 11 games at Triple-A this season after missing time due to injury.
In those 11 games, De Fratus has nine strikeouts to just two walks in 11.1 innings, and a 3.97 ERA. He has yet to give up a hit to a left-handed batter at Triple-A this season.
Last season, a 2.99 ERA combined between Double-A and Triple-A helped him earn his major league debut.
Meanwhile, Aumont remains as one of the few Phillies’ Triple-A prospects that has yet to make his major league debut.
In 38 games at the level this season, Aumont has gone 2-1 with 56 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA. The 6’7” right-hander has held opponents to a .204 batting average. However, he’s also walked 33 batters in 41.2 innings.
Aumont may still be called up in September and have an opportunity to gain a leg up on winning a roster spot next season.
The additions of De Fratus and/or Aumont, along with the healthy returns of Stutes and David Herndon would give the Phillies four options for their bullpen without adding to their payroll.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But what if it’s only broke for one season?
The Phillies’ young bullpen has struggled this season. But one year could be all the unit needs to find their footing in the major leagues and turn in much improved performances.
Adding De Fratus and/or Aumont, welcoming Stutes and/or Herndon back and sticking with the young former top prospects would be one way to fix the Phillies’ bullpen.
Cut Ties with Antonio Bastardo
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Bastardo has picked a bad time to have an ERA over 5.00.
After having the best season of his career last year, when he went 6-1 with 70 strikeouts in 58.0 innings and had a 2.64 ERA, Bastardo has gone on to post his highest ERA as a reliever in his career.
Bastardo has already allowed more earned runs this season then he did all of last year.
Bastardo has picked a bad time to allow 29 hits and 21 walks in 36.1 innings, and have a 5.45 ERA.
For one, besides last season, Bastardo has never had an ERA in the major leagues under 4.34. Rather than viewing last season as a sign of things to come, Bastardo’s 2011 season can now be viewed as a fluke that could be difficult for him to match.
Furthermore, Bastardo is one of the few Phillies’ relievers who had over 60 games of major league experience prior to this season. While inexperienced relievers struggled in their first extended trip to the major leagues, Bastardo had a chance to become a veteran who provided consistency in an eighth inning role.
Instead, Bastardo has nearly matched his walk total from last season in almost 20 fewer innings pitched this season.
Bastardo’s 2011 season could mean that he’ll have some trade value during the offseason, although a deal may only result in the Phils acquiring a player to be named later or cash.
If this season is a more accurate example of what his performances will resemble going forward, cutting ties with Bastardo and adding a different left-handed pitcher could help fix the team’s bullpen.
Add a Veteran Left-Hander
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Speaking of adding a left-handed pitcher to help fix the team’s bullpen, the addition of a veteran left-hander to a bullpen with Jake Diekman could go a long way in helping to find consistency.
With Diekman, Joe Savery, Horst and potentially Bastardo, the Phillies’ bullpen next season could feature left-handers who have either yet to find success consistently, or who simply don’t have a lot of major league experience.
Adding a veteran left-hander could solve both problems.
If the Phillies were to add a veteran left- and right-hander to a bullpen that already features Papelbon, they could then fill out their relief corps with two young lefties and two young righties, and would still have veterans to rely on in tense situations. The team could also decide to go with right-handers Kendrick and Stutes to provide experience to a young bullpen.
A pitcher such as Randy Choate could be a target during the offseason, as he is set to become a free agent after making $1.5 million this season.
In 54 games between the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, Choate has 32 strikeouts in 30.1 innings and a 2.97 ERA. He’s also held left-handed batters to a .151 batting average this season.
This is the second consecutive season in which Choate has had an ERA under 3.00. Last year saw him rack up 31 strikeouts in 24.2 innings and have a 1.82 ERA.
Choate is just one potential left-handed free-agent reliever, and the Phillies could still acquire someone via trade.
But having a left-handed veteran in the bullpen to guide younger players could help a pitcher such as Diekman improve into one of the Phillies’ best young relievers, while the bullpen improves as a whole.