Phillies Rumors: Team in play for another hard-throwing reliever after missing out on Hicks

Free agent Robert Stephenson is still available, and a recent report indicates that the Phillies are in play for the right-hander. Here's why he's a good fit.
Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Guardians
Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Guardians / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

The Philadelphia Phillies' search for bullpen arms is starting to stretch into its third month. However, a recent report from a baseball insider points to the Phillies starting to become players in a market that still has some decent options remaining.

In a recent report from the New York Post's Jon Heyman, the Phillies have recently been linked to two power right-handed bullpen arms: Jordan Hicks and Robert Stephenson.

"The Phillies, looking for a hard-throwing right-hander, are thought in on Robert Stephenson as well as Hicks," Heyman reported.

Unfortunately, one of those options, Hicks, agreed with the Giants on Friday on a four-year, $44 million deal, as reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan.

With Hicks off the market, let's dive into Heyman's report of the Phillies being active in the relief pitching market and take a look at Stephenson as an option.

Who is Robert Stephenson and why are the Phillies interested?

Robert Stephenson is a veteran of eight MLB seasons and came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2016. The 30-year-old right-hander has posted a career record of 17-20 in 271 appearances. He has a career 4.64 ERA in addition to three saves and 64 games finished in a career that has mostly come out of the bullpen.

These numbers may seem like nothing to write home about, but considering he has pitched mostly for second-tier teams like the Reds and Pirates, including a dreadful half-season with the Colorado Rockies with a 6.04 ERA in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in MLB, the Phillies could be zeroing in on his 2023 numbers in Tampa Bay.

Following a mid-season trade from the Pirates to the contending Tampa Bay Rays, Stephenson appeared in 42 games and compiled a dominant line of 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. It's possible that this is a guy who can be a bullpen weapon on a team like the Phillies with championship aspirations.

How does Robert Stephenson fit into the Phillies bullpen?

The Phillies need another right-handed arm following Craig Kimbrel's departure. The team currently has the recently re-signed Jeff Hoffman as the most prominent right-handed workhorse out of the bullpen to pair with power lefties José Alvarado and Gregory Soto. Perhaps the Phillies have little faith in Conor Brodgon to be that guy and are being cautious with Orion Kerkering's development.

Stephenson's fastball velocity was in the 90th percentile in 2023, at 96.8 mph. And we know how much the Phillies like their hard-throwing relievers. If he had qualified for Baseball Savant's Statcast rankings, the righty would have been at the top of the league in chase rate (41.3 percent), whiff rate (46.3 percent) and strikeout rate (38.3 percent).

If you want another option for late-inning, high-leverage situations, Stephenson may be your guy. In 2023, he faced 43 batters over 11 1/3 high-leverage innings and came out with a .139 opponent's average and .201 wOBA with 18 strikeouts.

FanGraphs has recently released its 2024 projections on Robert Stephenson, and they are solid. But keep in mind that Stephenson is a free agent and his numbers are likely to reflect on the type of ball club he joins. His Steamer projections for 2023 show a 3-3 record, with a 3.80 ERA, and 72 strikeouts in 61 innings.

If the Phillies are able to sign Stephenson, he would make the bullpen that much deeper and provide Rob Thomson with another right-handed weapon.

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