Phillies: What’s With All the Low-Risk Signings?

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18: Drew Storen #31 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 9-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18: Drew Storen #31 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 9-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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After two big splashes, the Phillies have continued to buy older rentals in free agency.

The Phillies have bought low in the free agency market in recent times, acquiring aging pitchers such as Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, once-promising closer Drew Storen, as well as utility infielders Neil Walker and Josh Harrison.

These are all low-risk pieces to the puzzle, and it may be part of a larger Phillies plan for 2020.

By signing Liriano, Norris, and Storen, the Phillies have likely tried to buy low on potential bullpen upgrades. Liriano, a staple in an MLB starting rotation since 2006, is coming into his age 36 season and has transitioned into a bullpen arm. Storen, on the other hand, was once a stellar back-end arm in the Nationals bullpen from 2010-2015 before getting injured and bouncing around among a few teams.

Both arms have lost some velocity, but Liriano knows how to pitch and could be an innings eater for the Phils in the middle of the bullpen. The Phillies bet is that Storen can regain arm strength and maintain a healthy first half, and at only 31 years old Storen’s career could be far from over.

Norris didn’t pitch in the big leagues last year but saved 47 games between the Angels and Cardinals in his last two seasons.

The same sort of Philosophy goes for the likes of Harrison and Walker, both of whom had their best years in Pittsburgh. Harrison struggled mightily at the plate with a horrible Tigers team in 2019, but he’ll get a chance to battle it out with Phil Gosselin for the rights to the utility infielder role. Harrison could be a steal if his stick comes back.

Walker is coming off a pedestrian campaign with the Miami Marlins, but he could be an excellent pinch-hitting option and backup first basemen.

Another low risk signing was Mikie Mahtook, a long shot to make the Phillies 40-man. But the question is why bring in all these veterans when the farm system is finally shaping into something better than mediocre?

The answer is likely to generate more talent than their current talent pool. If one or more of these low-cost options has a successful first half, the Phillies will have trade options to pair with prospects and other pieces to acquire needs for a playoff run. This plan is implemented by a lot of teams near the cap limit, but in the case of the Phillies it serves a dual purpose: to save money and improve the roster.

Harrison and Walker could both serve as productive members of the roster, but the bullpen needs work, and trade chips are valuable come July when pitching staffs begin to wain and new life is needed for the second half.

The other option, and the less likely one, is that the Phillies want to challenge their current roster to be better in spring training. There are a lot of veterans making a lot of money on this roster, and potential incentives may be required to nudge them to start strong.  A stretch to be sure, but nonetheless a potential scenario.

Whatever the case may be, the Phillies are at least attempting to improve past the additions of Zach Wheeler and Didi Gregorious, although their refusal to go over the competitive balance threshold should be of some concern.

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