Phillies reliever Archie Bradley was placed on the injured list with a strained oblique muscle on April 11. Prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Miami Marlins, the team reinstated him, among other moves.
Bradley has pitched in just four games in red pinstripes so far, after signing a one-year, $6 million free-agent contract in the offseason — shortly following the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations.
As the right-hander makes his long-awaited return, the organization is banking on a successful return to form for the 28-year-old right-hander in order to disrupt a continuing trend of failed acquisitions of veteran relief pitchers in recent years.
Reversing this trend during Dombrowski’s tenure is necessary if the Phillies hope to avoid wasting the prime years of stars players Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, and J.T. Realmuto.
The Phillies have struggled to get their bullpen right.
Failing to evaluating bullpen talent has been a persistent Phillies problem throughout the past nine seasons of their postseason drought. Former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a splash in free agency by bringing notorious loudmouth closer Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia in 2012. Although he was statistically successful, Papelbon’s attitude and lucrative contract did not benefit the organization as a whole.
Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Amaro signed relievers Chad Qualls and Mike Adams, respectively. Qualls was a disaster for half a season before his eventual release, and Adams was significantly limited by injuries in two seasons in Philadelphia.
After limited spending toward the beginning of Matt Klentak‘s GM tenure, the Phillies signed reliever Pat Neshek to a one-year deal before the 2017 season. Neshek blossomed and was traded leading up to the July deadline after the Phillies fell out of contention.
Before the 2018 season, the Phillies re-signed Neshek, as well as signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, to two-year contracts worth $34 million combined. Neshek was a bust in his second stint, and his limited availability hindered the team’s bullpen strategy. Hunter struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 94 games over three seasons.
Klentak’s use of “stupid money” before the 2019 season included a two-year, $23 million contract with reliever David Robertson— a 34-year-old with a long-term track record for the New York Yankees. Robertson pitched in just seven games before an elbow injury sidelined him for the remainder of his Phillies contract.
The 2020 season was marred by a bullpen disaster. The Phillies panicked after a poor start from their young relievers and acquired veterans Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, David Hale, and David Phelps midseason. All four were brutal failures, and only Hale remains on the roster. Workman and Hembree were acquired for right-hander Nick Pivetta, who has been sensational early in the 2021 season for the Boston Red Sox.
Will Archie Bradley finally break the trend?
The Phillies hoped for a veteran with a solid MLB track record when they signed Bradley. He is unlikely to be used as a closer in the foreseeable future, but he will figure heavily into high-leverage situations for manager Joe Girardi.
Given the erratic nature of recent performances from closer Hector Neris (among others), Bradley and 36-year-old Brandon Kintzler have potential to provide stability and poise for a bullpen that hasn’t had either for a long time.
Despite some shaky early performances, the 2021 bullpen features more talented arms than the Phillies have had in recent seasons. The organization has often hoped for a “bargain steal” from young relievers with the potential to develop, and it just hasn’t worked. Left-handed fireballer Jose Alvarado might finally be the “diamond in the rough,” and former San Francisco Giant Sam Coonrod has shown flashes of excellence as well.
Bradley’s return from the injured list might be the factor that can synergize this bullpen and help them collectively mesh in more appropriate and effective roles. Doing so would help solve early-season inconsistency and reverse repetitive Phillies bullpen failures of recent history.