The Phillies bullpen in 2013 could be described in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, not a single one of those descriptions is “good.” The pitching staff as a whole was dead last in the NL in saves, and 14th/15 in ERA, IP, H, R, and ER.
They were also 10th in SOs, in the bottom half of BBs and HRs, and 13th in the somewhat important category of “Team Wins” (only important in this case because it’s cumulative; SOMEONE has to account for every win and loss, I’m not evaluating on a per pitcher basis).
In addition, the Phillies used 21 pitchers in relief, and only one of them (the most popular man in town, Jonathan Papelbon) pitched at least 60 innings out of the ‘pen. That’s a hell of a lot of volatility.
There is good news, however. The main issues related to this club were not top of the line talent – on paper, a bullpen headlined by Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams, and Papelbon should get you through a lot of games. In fact, Ruben Amaro was not inherently wrong in signing a rehabbing Adams – there’s a lot of upside there.
The problem is that the 15 guys on the 40-man roster, but not on the 25-man, aren’t very good. There was no backup plan in the case of injury. The young, in-house options that should be at AAA were instead forced to the majors from opening day. Also – Chad Durbin. That is all.
Given this opportunity, however, many of them worked out some kinks, and had pretty good seasons. Between Papelbon, Bastardo, Adams, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, and Ethan Martin‘s relief appearances, there was a combined 3.09 ERA, with 8.99 SO/9 and a 1.297 WHIP.
And actually, guys like Zach Miner and Luis Garcia, while probably used a little much, are totally acceptable in the injury fill-in role they were given (~25 IP, low leverage situations, etc.). A couple of those guys waiting in AAA is a huge plus for a team.
The problem is, there were around a dozen of those guys for the Phillies. That level of a) mediocrity b) frailty and c) lack of depth is an insurmountable obstacle for a pitching staff.
So, let’s take a peek at who should be locks for the bullpen in 2014, and what holes remain to be filled.
Locks: Papelbon, Adams, Bastardo, Diekman
Maybes: Martin (should be a lock, but some people won’t forfeit him as a starter yet), De Fratus (Good 6th/7th guy, or great AAA depth)
Let’s say we want to aim for 13 relievers on the 40-man, with 7 of them on the active roster. Let’s also assume Ethan Martin is kept in the major league bullpen on opening day, and De Fratus is in AAA.
At this point, I would also think hard about designating Savery – he’ll be 28 next year, and hasn’t lived anywhere up to his first round pick billing.
Let’s look at the revised depth chart:
Active Roster: Papelbon, Adams, Bastardo, Diekman, Martin
40-man depth: De Fratus, Garcia, Rosenberg, Stutes, Horst
There are two holes in the major league pen, and one in AAA. In order to fill these, the Phillies will have to get creative.
With $122.5 million guaranteed to 8 players, plus a projected $11.4 million in four arbitration-eligible players, and around 7-8 making the major league minimum (we’ll say ~$0.5 million), that leaves ~$40 million to spend on a catcher, one or two OFs, a starting pitcher or two, and all of these bullpen pieces before ownership refuses to open their pocketbooks anymore.
A cheap solution to the bullpen becomes a must. The below three moves will cost next to nothing, and provide important depth to a thin bullpen.
Sign Kyle Farnsworth to a minor league deal
This is the “aging reliever signed to AAA, ready to come up with his craftiness and veteran savvy” roster spot. Raul Valdes and Zach Miner occupied this spot last year, to varying degrees of mediocrity. Farnsworth is 38, and coming off a year in which he was released by the Rays mid-season, and picked up by the Pirates, where he looked much more effective in a (very) brief sample at the end of the year.
He’d probably be the second guy on the AAA call-up depth chart, after De Fratus, in the event of an injury/the implosion of one of the young guys. He’s not a sexy pick, but his control is good (2.3 BB/9 in 2013), and he’s still durable.
Sign Boone Logan to a 3-year/$10 million contract
Boone Logan will enter the 2014 season at only 29-years old, after spending the last 4 seasons with the Yankees. In those years, he amassed a 3.38 ERA, with 3.8 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 (a figure that climbed every season) his high(-ish) ERA can be partially attributed to Yankees Stadium, which is actually much more of a hitters’ park than Citizen’s Bank Park.
In fact, in 2013 his xFIP of 2.71 indicates he’s performed better than a 3.23 ERA would lead one to belief (which still is better than most of the Phillies’ relievers).
An improvement over last year’s horrid figure for the Phillies, Logan has only allowed 25% of inherited runners to score since 2010. This year he had an unreal 31.5 SO% (MLB average is 18.3%), and for his career he has a higher than average HR/FB rate (8.9% v. 7.6%), which again can be attributable to Yankees Stadium.
In the last two seasons, batters have only made contact on his pitches 65% and 69% of the time – significantly lower than the 79% MLB average. In addition, since 2010, the all-important Strikeout Swinging % (also known as the Liriano Indicator. By me.) has been at 22% – league average is 15%.
His major knock is that he is coming off of bone spur surgery from early in October, and is supposed to begin throwing in December (and be ready for Spring Training). Again, this is a risk that makes sense when you have depth – he’s young and got the surgery early enough that it shouldn’t be a problem.
If there were a problem, however, the improved depth over last season should overcome this. In addition, he’s a lesser known name in a pretty strong free agent reliever class (he’s not in the top 10 of that list), so he’ll be affordable. Every team has injuries. The good ones prepare for them.
Trade: C Tommy Joseph, OF John Mayberry Jr to White Sox; RP Nate Jones to Phillies
The White Sox had a black hole at catcher this season, and seem to be prioritizing signing someone like a Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the offseason. Everyone knows that Tommy Joseph’s prospect stock took a huge hit this year with lingering concussion symptoms, but apparently he’s recovered to a point of playing in Winter ball this year and has been medically cleared by multiple doctors. Also remember: he’s only 22 and in AAA.
He is still a major risk regardless. Were he at full prospect potential, I wouldn’t consider trading him for a reliever, but given the injury and the White Sox -0.8 bWAR collectively from the catcher position last year, they may be willing to roll the dice.
Given that they may want some reassurance in the case he doesn’t return to form, Mayberry has run his course in Philly, and the White Sox have a desperate need for OF outside of Avisail Garcia.
Nate Jones, however, is a stellar young arm. He is a 27-year old RHP, under team control for four more years. During his dominant rookie season in 2012, he pitched 71.2 innings to a 2.39 ERA, but with only 8.2 SO/9 and a 4.0 BB/9.
In 2013, his ERA ballooned to 4.15 in his 78 IP, but don’t let that fool you – his SO/9 rose to 10.3, his walks went down to 3.0 BB/9, and his WHIP dipped from 1.381 to 1.218. FIP and xFIP tell this story more accurately, at 2.64 and 2.77, respectively.
Jones is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal White Sox club (and farm system), but with so many holes to address, if they can find a potential outfielder (have you guys seen Mayberry’s 2011 numbers?!!? look at them!!! nothing else!!!) and a high-risk, high-reward backup plan at catcher, in return for a reliever, they might have to go for it.
The new 40-man bullpen
Active Roster: Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Boone Logan, Nate Jones, Jake Diekman, Ethan Martin
40-Man Roster: Justin De Fratus, Kyle Farnsworth, Luis Garcia, B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Stutes, Jeremy Horst
Looking at this new roster construction, you can see that even everyone in AAA had significant Major League experience last season – the level of depth available has dramatically increased. And if Phillippe Aumont can reattach his arm to his body and out-pitch Stutes or Rosenberg for a spot? Give it to him! His upside is enormous.
In addition, these three acquisitions cost the Phillies next to nothing out of their ~$40 million. Its around $3.5 million AAV to fix the bullpen that was dead-last or next to it in almost all major categories.