Man, does the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen need help.
Over the last two seasons, the Phillies have seen their once-stellar relief corps turn into a nightmare of a situation. As older veterans like Ryan Madson and Brett Myers left the team, the Phillies relied internally on replacements. While that strategy worked in the past, it has predominantly failed since.
In 2013, the Phillies' bullpen ERA was 4.23. That figure was good for second-worst in the National League only to the Colorado Rockies, and fourth-worst in all of baseball. That's not exactly the kind of news you like to hear, but is it really news anymore?
That's where things have to change this offseason, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will have his hands full in determining who to sign to fill that role. Mike Adams was supposed to be that guy almost a year ago, but as his performance rapidly declined, so did the health of his shoulder.
The Phillies bullpen needs someone, almost anyone...good, that is. Here are five relievers the Phillies should pursue this year on the open market.
*All player statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and/or FanGraphs.com.
Matt Albers isn't an imposing name on the relief market, but he quietly had a solid year for the Cleveland Indians.
Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in last offseason's blockbuster between the Indians, D'Backs and Cincinnati Reds, Albers wasn't much more than a throw-in from Arizona. However, his performance was much appreciated in an Indians bullpen that drastically improved from 2012 to 2013.
Albers couldn't be hitting free agency at a better time. He'll be just 31 years old by Opening Day, and his ERA in 2013 was 3.14 over a 56-game span. He pitched 63 innings, meaning that he was often used as a multi-inning and multi-out guy. Albers' FIP and xFIP, as shown by FanGraphs, were only 3.49 and 3.82, respectively, but those numbers aren't awful at all.
His WHIP in 2013 wasn't terrific at 1.27 and his strikeout-to-walk rate of 1.52 is far from outstanding, but his 63.8 percent ground-ball rate was a career high despite an only-average .274 BABIP. That means that the fact that his ground balls were outs was no coincidence, and in a place like Citizens Bank Park, that would bode extremely well for the Phillies.
What kind of contract would Albers command? It's tough to say. But he could end up being a bargain sign if his monetary value falls below the performance he's provided.
A free agent this time a year ago, J.P. Howell was coming off a fantastic season with the Tampa Bay Rays and was expected to be able to land a multi-year deal. While that didn't come to fruition, Howell settled for a one-year contract worth $2.85 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and what a steal that turned out to be.
In 2013, Howell pitched to a 2.03 ERA in 67 games, over a run better than his 3.04 ERA in 55 games in 2012. His 2013 WHIP was 1.05, way down from 1.21 the year before. And all of his strikeout, walk and strikeout-to-walk rates decreased as well.
Maybe the protection of Dodgers Stadium's pitcher-friendly walls helped Howell, but FanGraphs shows that his FIP of 2.89 and xFIP of 3.48 mean that his ERA, to an extent, was no fluke. Compare those two figures to 2012 numbers well over 4.00, and you've got a guy who's only getting better.
Howell won't be as inexpensive in 2013 as he was in 2012, but if the Phillies want a left-handed power arm in the bullpen, the 30-year-old Howell should be their guy.
Although the reigning World Series Champion San Francisco Giants failed to make a positive statement in 2013, reliever Javier Lopez was one of a few players who did.
This past year, Lopez pitched to an astounding 1.83 ERA in 69 appearances with a 1.07 WHIP. While his 39.1 innings tally suggests that the side-armer might only be suited for a lefty specialist role, he's pitched more innings to go with his appearances in prior seasons.
Lopez also had outstanding advanced statistics, as FanGraphs pins his FIP and xFIP at 2.41 and 2.92, respectively. That's nothing short of sheer dominance, and when you take into account that all of his K/9, BB/9 and K/BB rates decreased as well, you've got someone who's naturally improving. His hits per nine innings rate also dropped from over nine to below seven.
The good and bad news about Lopez is that he's 36 years old, but it means that he could be signed to a potentially shorter, cheaper contract. And since his recent injury history is almost immaculate over his career, the Phillies would be getting durability in addition to dominance. Lopez is exactly what the Phillies need.
While Francisco Rodriguez had a hard time finding work in the 2012-13 offseason, his lights-out pitching with the Milwaukee Brewers and decent relief work with the Baltimore Orioles means that K-Rod should have no trouble securing a contract this time around.
The downside to Rodriguez is that he could try to market himself as a closer, and with Scott Boras as his agent, no contract signing would come easy. This is especially true for the Phillies, who haven't had the greatest of relations with Boras in the past, to say the least.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez pitched to a 2.70 ERA with both the Brewers and O's in 2013 along with a 1.20 WHIP. He was far better with the Brew Crew than the Orioles, but his 3.65 FIP and 3.04 xFIP indicate that he still had an excellent year all around (per FanGraphs).
What was also encouraging was that K-Rod's K/9 rate at 11.5 was his highest since 2007, besting even his record-setting 62-save season in 2008. Although the sample size was smaller in 2013 at just 48 games, it's a stat worth noting.
Rodriguez's other downside is that he's not always a great clubhouse presence, but for what he'd be doing, chances are that Jonathan Papelbon would find a way to overshadow him anyhow. If the Phillies can look past the cons, Rodriguez's pros should be enough to make him an attractive option this offseason.
The final reliever on this list is another Cleveland Indian by the name of Joe Smith. Also a side-armer, Smith has been exceptional with the Tribe for each of the last three years, and practically gets better each season.
In 2013, Smith compiled a 2.29 ERA in 70 appearances while racking up 63 innings. His WHIP was 1.22, and FanGraphs calculates his FIP and xFIP to be 3.60 and 3.70, respectively.
While his groundball rate decreased and his flyball rate increased, Smith only allowed one more home run in 2013 than he did last year. Smith's BABIP was also only moderate at .282, meaning that while his numbers have reason to be suspect, he still kept the runs down given his low ERA.
Smith is also the youngest of all the names listed in this slideshow, turning 30 this March. He could be the sleeper candidate the Phillies need in their bullpen, and his relative youth could mean that he can relate to the other young relievers the Phillies have, though that's just my speculation. Regardless, Smith is a name the Phillies would be wise to pursue, and his price shouldn't be terribly high either.