The Phillies could have been a playoff team last year.
Even with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard missing half a year, even with Roy Halladay a shell of his former self, and even with the whole “Cliff Lee hasn’t won a game since the Nixon administration” thing, the Phils could have been a playoff team in 2012.
Even with an offense that was inconsistent, even after jettisoning Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and even after playing Ty Wigginton on a regular basis, the Phillies could have been playing October baseball.
If only their bullpen hadn’t been a collection of human gas cans.
Last year, the Phillies lost 12 games in which they carried a lead into the eighth inning. They finished seven games behind St. Louis for the second Wild Card spot in the NL.
Compare that to 2011, when they lost only five games in which they carried a lead into the eighth inning.
Had the Phillies not completely self-destructed in the 8th inning of so many games last year, it’s reasonable to assume they would have made their sixth straight postseason appearance.
Unfortunately, injuries to Mike Stutes, Jose Contreras, and David Herndon, a ridiculously poor season by set-up man Chad Qualls, a mix of bad luck and poor execution by Antonio Bastardo, and inexperience by many of the younger arms brought in to replace the underperforming veterans, led to numerous late-inning defeats, especially in the first half of the season.
Phils’ pitchers posted an 8th inning ERA of 4.67, their worst number in any inning last year. Compare that to the days when Ryan Madson was owning the eighth inning, locking down games for Brad Lidge and whatever other closer the Phillies brought in not named Brad Lidge.
The good news is the team has a ton of young, talented, hard-throwing arms just now ready to contribute. Many of them got valuable experience last year and should be ready to contribute in 2013. Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Schwimer, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, and Stutes, along with Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon, should provide the Phils with enough depth in the ‘pen next year without having to go hog wild in free agency.
It’s clear, though, that adding another bullpen piece is a priority for Amaro. The Phillies attempted to trade for Houston’s Wilton Lopez, but the proposed deal fell through, presumably because of concerns over Wilton’s elbow (Lopez has since been traded to Colorado).
Understanding that young, cheap bullpen arms is often the smartest way to go, and understanding that the Phils already have a ton of money already invested in their closer, it’s clear the team still needs to add an experienced arm to help lock down that troublesome 8th inning.
Mike Adams looks to be the best arm available, although it could take a substantial amount of money to land him. Adams has been linked to the Phils in the past, and the team is known to love his sinker-ball repertoire. However, Adams was also hurt towards the end of last year with a mild cervical strain and symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome (whatever the heck that is), and has said he’d like to re-sign with the Rangers. However, he’s the best set-up guy on the market, posting a 3.27 ERA in 61 games last year with Texas.
Another reliever coming off an injury-marred 2012 season is Twins’ reliever Matt Capps. He missed most of the final three months with rotator cuff irritation, and his lack of strikeout stuff makes him less than ideal. But if the Phils are looking for an experienced arm on the good side of 30 (he’s 29 years old), Capps could fit the bill.
After a phenomenal 2011, Tampa right-hander Kyle Farnsworth had a typical reliever-like whiplash 2012, going 1-6 with a 4.00 ERA. His 8.3 Ks/9 were about the same as the year before, however, his control completely abandoned him, walking an average of 4.7 batters per nine innings (compared to 1.9 in 2011). Farnsworth has said he wants to close, but that seems unlikely after a down 2012. It’s possible the Phils could target him as a candidate for a bounce-back season.
Toronto’s Brandon Lyon was a player the Phillies targeted a couple offseasons ago when he was coming off a terrific season with the Houston Astros. After a brutal and injury-filled 2011, Lyon responded last year with a solid season for Houston and the Blue Jays, posting a 3.10 ERA while averaging 9.3 K/9 in 67 games. He’s unlikely to land a closers job anywhere else, and could probably be had for a two-year deal at around $5-7 million annually. He might be the most logical choice for the Phils.
The possibility exists the Phils could still pull off a trade for a set-up man, but with the recent deals for Ben Revere and Michael Young, Amaro may not have a lot of pieces left with which to deal. A free agent seems the more prudent route.
And while the team definitely needs a power-hitting corner outfielder and another back-of-the-rotation starter, finding a solution to their eighth inning woes is also a top priority.