The Phillies have been absolutely fantastic this season, and if having the best record in the majors at 57-34 doesn't show how good they've been this season, let's look at what has: their starting pitching.
While the Phillies' offensive numbers have been lower than expected at the start of the season, the pitching rotation has been nothing but exceptional. Their 2.93 team-ERA is the best in the majors, as is their BB/9 rate (1.82), their starters' combined WAR (15.4), and their FIP (2.87). Their K/9 rate and IP are also good for third in the majors (7.75 and 598.1, respectively).
Their relievers' stats, on the other hand, aren't so good.
In fact, the Phillies have the NL's worst bullpen K/9 rate at 7.38. While that's among their worst stats, none of the others previously mentioned are even close to matching up to their counterpart starters': the Phils' team bullpen ERA is sixth in the NL at 3.24, their bullpen FIP is 12th in the NL at 3.88, their bullpen WAR is 11th in the NL at 1.1, and their BB/9 rate is 14th in the NL at 4.06.
Based upon these stats, it's evident that the Phillies need some bullpen help. And while they have some deep bullpen talent in the minor leagues (Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, for example), many of those guys won't be able to help until the end of the season, if they're even available this season at all.
This means only one thing: the Phillies must look for outside help for their bullpen.
And that means they must trade for a relieving arm or two.
Let's face it: between injury-prone closers (Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, and Jose Contreras) and guys who just can't seem to get the job done (Danys Baez, David Herndon), there are a quite few holes to fill in the Phillies' bullpen.
While a few guys have been bright sparks in a dim bullpen (Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and Juan Perez as of late) this season, a contending team like the Phillies will need to add some bullpen arms if they plan on remaining in first place in the NL East, what with the Braves' great rotation and their fantastic bullpen.
While it might be difficult for the Phillies to add a 'pen arm to their relief corps this year due to the Phils' close proximity to the luxury tax threshold, we've seen in the past that Ruben Amaro, Jr. isn't afraid to make a move, and he'll get it done in most any way possible.
Here are five guys whom the Phillies could go after should he acquire another bullpen arm for the Phillies.
Chad Qualls is the kind of player who's an interesting case.
In 44 appearances this season (43.1 IP), he's 4-3 with a 2.70 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts to compliment 12 walks, meaning that his K/BB rate is 2.00. His K/9 rate is 5.0 this season, and his BB/9 rate is 2.5. His BAA is also at .247, and it's especially dominant against right-handed hitters (.213 compared to .288 against lefties).
These kinds of stats wouldn't necessarily help the Phillies' bullpen stats, but they sure wouldn't kill them either.
It's also worth noting that Qualls is much better at home than he is on the road this year: at home, he's 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 21 appearances (20.2 IP). On the road, he's 3-2, but don't let that fool you: his ERA is 3.18 and his WHIP is 1.28 in 23 appearances (22.2 IP).
However, this could be a questionable move if the Phillies were to go after Qualls, since he wouldn't be playing at Petco Park anymore. And considering that lifetime at Citizens Bank Park, Qualls is 2-1 with a 8.10 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP, he might not be what the Phillies are looking for.
Something that Ruben might consider in Qualls is his salary. He's making only $1.5 million this entire season, which would be very attractive to a cash-strapped team like the Phillies. What's even better, though, is that although he's got a $6 million option for next season, it is a club option, and his buyout is relatively cheap at $1.05 million should the Phillies choose not to keep him, given that he's going to be 33 at the end of this season.
With stats like Qualls' at CBP, he might not be a fit in Philly, but for a price like his, he could be an unexpected bargain.
Remember this guy?
Back on July 2nd against the Phillies, Blue Jays 6' 10", 290 pound reliever Jon Rauch was ejected after arguing a few calls that home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez made regarding balls and strikes in the top of the ninth inning.
As a result of Marquez's said "blown calls," Ryan Howard was walked on a pitch that should have been a strike, which allowed Shane Victorino to drive in Chase Utley right afterwards. Had Howard struck out—the count was full, by the way—the inning would have ended and Rauch would have returned to the dugout perfectly satisfied.
Ironically enough, while he might not have been so happy with the Phillies' win that day, he could be a good target for the team to pursue.
Rauch, who this season is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP, a .250 BAA and 25 strikeouts (compared to 11 walks) in 38 appearances this season (37.1 IP), could be one of the easier relievers to acquire. On a Blue Jays team that is fourth in the AL East with a 46-47 record and is loaded with bullpen depth (Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jason Frasor, among others), unloading a guy like Rauch could be a good scenario for both teams.
Rauch, like Qualls, is much better against righties than left-handed batters this season (.236 compared to .263), but the difference between them, unlike Qualls, isn't as drastic. Although Rauch's overall stats—his BAA in particular—are a little bit worse than Qualls', Rauch shows that he keeps batters at a consistent range this season, and consistency is better than allowing left-handed batters to hit .288 off you.
Another plus for Rauch is that he's pretty good at Citizens Bank Park: in his career, he's 2-0 there with a 2.12 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and 10 strikeouts (compared to five walks) in 12 appearances (17.0 innings pitched). Although that's in a small amount of time (and the walk count is a bit high), it shows that he's been consistent at CBP as well.
Granted, Rauch comes at a bit of a higher price than Qualls: he's due a total of $3.5 million this season, but, like Qualls, he has a club option—in his case, worth $3.75 million—that's got a very nice $250,000 buyout.
Even if he did do well for the Phillies, they could let him walk for an extremely low price, and due to that he could be one of the best available rental relievers the Phillies could pursue.
Koji Uehara has been a pleasant surprise for the last-place Baltimore Orioles this season.
The 36-year-old reliever has only been in the MLB for three seasons now, but prior to this year he wasn't anything special. From 2009 to 2010, Uehara was lifetime 3-6 with a 3.58 ERA and had a decent 1.13 WHIP. His BB/9 and K/9 rates were pretty good though (1.4 and 8.4 respectively), but it hasn't been until this year that Uehara has made a name for himself.
This season, Uehara has been fantastic: he's 1-1 with a very good 2.03 ERA, he's fanned 52 batters (to go along with just eight walks), and he has a microscopic WHIP of 0.75. His BB/9 rate is 1.8 and his K/9 rate is 11.7. Lastly, in the 37 games he's pitched in (40.0 IP), he's held the offense to hitting just .157 off him, but get this: lefties are hitting worse off him than righties, although only slightly (.155 for lefties to .159 for righties). Regardless, that's extremely impressive, and he's just the kind of guy the Phillies could use.
There are a few questions about Uehara that would have to be addressed, though. One is his age. While he is only in his third MLB season, he's 36 years old, and one has to wonder whether he'll be durable through the next few years until he's eligible to become a free agent in 2015.
He's also got an extremely interesting contract situation: while he's due a simple $3 million this season, he gets an extra $100,000 for appearing in 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 games. He's already appeared in 37 games (which has netted him an extra $200,000 to date) and it's just past the All-Star Break.
Like K-Rod, the Phillies would have to manage how often Uehara would pitch in order to avoid overpaying him. In addition, he gets somewhere between $150,000 to $250,000 for games finished this season (depending on how many games finished he has, between 10-55; he's finished 17 games this season so far).
Another issue is that Uehara has a $4 million option that vests if he appears in 55 games this season or finishes 25. With his numbers more than halfway there in both categories, there's a pretty good chance that option will vest unless Uehara's limited in the second half.
However, there is also the chance the Phillies don't even get Uehara: he's got a limited no-trade clause that blocks trade to six teams. Those six teams have not been publicly released.
If the Phillies can acquire Uehara for a small price and see if they can prevent the option from vesting, then he would be a fantastic addition. It wouldn't be the end of the world if the option vested, just as long as it fits into the Phillies' budget.
And to think that the Florida Marlins would sink to last place in the NL East!
After a strong showing through the first two months of the season—even being just two games back of the first-place Phillies on May 31—the Marlins slumped big time in June. They had a period of time where they lost 17 of 18, and this plummeted them to the bottom of the NL East standings, a position which they can't seem to emerge out of.
While it didn't seem like it would turn out this way, the Marlins might be headed for a fire sale at the deadline this season. As a team with some decent bullpen depth in Leo Nunez, Mike Dunn, and Edward Mujica, the Marlins could shop some of their bullpen players within the next few weeks, now that they've declared that closer Nunez is on the trading block.
One relief pitcher that's outperformed the rest of his bullpen counterparts is southpaw and lefty-specialist Randy Choate.
Choate, who's pitched in 42 games this season (19.1 IP) has gone 0-1 with a 0.93 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP, and 25 Ks compared to seven walks. The reason he's got so few innings in the books this year: as a lefty specialist, he comes into an inning where one or two left-handed batters are hitting, and once he gets them out, he's removed from the game. And it shows: the veteran southpaw is allowing opposing left-handed hitters to bat just .096 against him. In comparison, right-handed batters are hitting .214 off Choate. While that's not bat at all either, it's nowhere close to his .096 against lefties.
As for the Phillies, although the Marlins are in the same division, if the Phillies make a good offer for Choate, there's no reason to see why the Marlins would reject it.
Since the Phillies cut ties with their former lefty specialist J.C. Romero, they've had a hole at that bullpen position. Behind Antonio Bastardo (and Juan Perez as of late), there really isn't a consistent left-handed reliever in the Phillies bullpen. Choate could be that guy, especially since he's one of, if not the best southpaw reliever available by a long shot on a trade market that's relatively weak in the left-handed reliever department.
Choate is also extremely underpriced. While he's in the midst of a two-year deal he signed this past offseason, he's due just $1 million this season and $1.5 million the next, with $150,000 performance bonuses based upon the amount of games in which he pitches.
Either way, he'd be one of the biggest bargains available for the Phillies, both price-wise and since he's a lefty. The Phillies would win here and win big.
Heath Bell is the king of the available relievers this July.
Bell, who's saved 115 games in the last three seasons—all as an All-Star—has been one of the best closers in baseball in that timeframe. He was in the top two in 2009 and 2010 in saves recorded and he's currently tied with three other players for second in saves this year with 26.
As for his stats, Bell is 2-3 this year with a 2.43 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts (alongside 13 walks) in 38 games pitched this year with an equal amount of innings. His BAA this season is very good, at .229, although he allows left-handed hitters to bat .300 off him. He is lights-out, however, against right-handed hitters, who bat just .157 against Bell this year.
And yet, despite those mediocre stats, Bell still has a BB/9 rate of 3.2 and a K/9 rate of 6.6. While these aren't his best stats in his career—his K/9 rate in each of the last two seasons has been over 10.0—he's still one of the best closers in the league and will be the best available closer on the free agent market this season.
Something that could be very appealing to many teams is the fact that Bell has stated that he'd be willing to set up for the remainder of the season if necessary. It's not like it's a foreign role to him, either—he set up for two seasons for legendary closer Trevor Hoffman until Hoffman signed with the Brewers before the 2009 season. However, Bell also said that he'll only be signing as a closer in the offseason, but that's not the main focus here.
Bell would be an added boost to a bullpen whose closers are very injury-prone this year. While Madson's was due to a line drive hit on his hand, both Lidge and Contreras have had some injury issues before. With Contreras' return date uncertain and how Lidge will fare upon returning to the bigs is yet to be seen, the only reliable closer is Madson, but with his hand injury, who knows how much he'll be affected upon his return?
There is a bit of a problem with Bell, though, and that is his salary: he makes a total of $7.5 million this year, and unless the Padres chip in some of the money he's due, tacking on Bell's remaining salary would push the Phillies close to, if not over the $178 million luxury tax threshold. Of course, if the Phillies were to ask for such a favor, the Padres would want a top prospect in return, in addition to a top prospect they would most likely already want in return for Bell.
Bell is rightfully the biggest name available of all relief pitchers, and he's even stated in an interview that the Phillies are a team he would potentially see himself with this season. The Phillies should go after him, but if they can't afford him or don't want to give up any top prospects, then a Heath Bell deal to the Phillies won't happen.