Philadelphia Phillies: What Does Chad Durbin's Signing Mean for Phils' Bullpen?

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Philadelphia Phillies: What Does Chad Durbin's Signing Mean for Phils' Bullpen?
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Doesn’t this seem familiar?  For the second consecutive offseason, Philadelphia Phillies' general manager, Ruben Amaro, Jr., has added an outfielder and a reliever with just a few weeks to go until the start of spring training.

Kind of like the impulse buying that takes place in the checkout aisle with all those packs of gum staring back at you.

While the addition of Delmon Young on a one-year, $750,000 deal adds another outfielder to the mix, Young still does not give the Phils a definitive starter at either of the corner outfield spots.

The team’s latest addition has seemingly already been given a spot on the 25-man roster.

The Phillies recently signed right-handed reliever Chad Durbin to a one-year, $1.1 million deal that includes an option for 2014. 

Durbin bounced back from a 5.53 ERA in 2011 to go 4-1 with 49 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA in 76 games last season. 

What’s more impressive, however, is how he held right-handed batters to a .206 average.  During the past three seasons combined, Durbin has racked up 171 strikeouts in 198 innings.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Durbin returns to the Phillies after posting a 3.69 ERA from 2008-2010 with the team, while logging 224.6 innings.

Matt Gelb on Philly.com recently wrote that the Phillies’ Opening Day payroll could be at its lowest total since the 2010 season, although the article was published before Durbin’s signing.  Gelb also wrote that the Phils were about $11 million under the luxury tax threshold.  With Durbin and his $1.1 million salary in the fold, the Phillies should still have their lowest payroll since 2010, and should have just under $10 million to go before hitting the tax threshold.

At that price and with plenty of payroll room for a smaller scale signing, such a deal shouldn’t hurt the Phillies financially.  However, Durbin’s signing does take away a spot from a reliever previously expected to have a good shot at being in the team’s Opening Day bullpen.

Todd Zolecki on the Phillies’ website provided a glimpse as to which bullpen spots are all but locked up and how many are up for grabs:

Durbin is expected to join a bullpen that includes closer Jonathan Papelbon, setup man Mike Adams and left-hander Antonio Bastardo.  His arrival means that there likely will be three jobs available in the bullpen, which should make for an interesting competition in Spring Training.

Those three remaining spots will likely be fought for by Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, Michael Stutes and Raul Valdes

But only half of this list will make the Opening Day roster.

Prior to Durbin’s signing, the Phillies seemingly had room in their bullpen for both Stutes and Aumont, with two more left-handers joining Bastardo.  Now, however, at least one of these players will likely be left out when the team breaks camp for the start of the season.

Stutes may have an advantage if he can remain healthy throughout spring training, and if his performances resemble those of 2011.  Prior to pitching in just six games and having rotator cuff surgery last season, Stutes had a 3.63 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 62 innings in 2011.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Aumont looked promising at times last season, but Durbin's addition could push him out of the Opening Day bullpen.

If he can remain healthy, Stutes may also benefit from Aumont missing time from camp to represent Canada in the World Basic Classic.  Despite showing great promise after being called-up last season, Aumont now appears to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the final bullpen spots. 

Aumont struck out 14 batters in 14.2 innings last season after being called-up in late August.

Durbin’s addition could have less of an impact on left-handed relievers fighting to win bullpen spots behind Bastardo

Diekman had 35 strikeouts in 27.1 innings and only gave up one home run, but finished with a 3.95 ERA.  Horst struck out 40 batters in 31.1 innings and had an outstanding 1.15 ERA, but, after coming over last offseason in a trade for Wilson Valdez, he will also have to prove that he can match these numbers in consecutive seasons.  Valdes had 35 strikeouts in 31 innings and had a 2.90 ERA, but has only appeared in 40 major league games in the past two seasons combined.

Behind Bastardo, only two of these relievers will likely make the Opening Day roster, unless the Phillies decide to carry five right-handed relievers.

After filling their need for a right-handed eighth inning reliever by signing Mike Adams earlier in the offseason, the Phillies could have left the bullpen alone and used minor signings to bring more pitchers to camp.

With a veteran right-hander in the mix, adding an experienced left-handed reliever would have made sense, but adding another right-hander seems to be a case of Amaro trying to add value at a low cost.  In Zolecki’s article, as previously mentioned, Amaro is also quoted as saying that Durbin’s experience is something he brings to the team that the other, young relievers, cannot.

The Phillies used 19 different pitchers in relief roles last season, which means that the players serving in the seven bullpen spots can change multiple times this season.

And, after last season, it’s difficult to argue with having more experienced and proven relievers in the mix.

But signing Durbin to a major league deal means that at least one young reliever has even more work cut out for him in order to start the season on the Opening Day roster.   

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