Phillies' whiff on coveted free agent reliever looks like a blessing in disguise

The Phillies may have dodged a huge bullet by missing out on a key free agent in the offseason.
The Philadelphia Phillies missed out on signing Los Angeles Angels reliever Robert Stephenson in the offseason
The Philadelphia Phillies missed out on signing Los Angeles Angels reliever Robert Stephenson in the offseason / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages
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Following the departure of former closer Craig Kimbrel to free agency this past offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies were in search of some bullpen help for the 2024 season. One of their prime targets included right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson. A report from the New York Post's Jon Heyman in January had indicated that the Phillies were in play for the 31-year-old flamethrower.

After all, the former first-round pick from the 2011 MLB Draft had the best season of his career in 2023. He pitched to a 3-4 record with 15 holds, along with a 3.10 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a whopping 77 strikeouts in just 52 1/3 innings of work over 60 appearances split between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays. With those numbers, Stephenson appeared to be an ideal replacement for Kimbrel and would have potentially been a prime candidate to challenge for the Phillies’ closer role.

However, the Los Angeles Angels won the Stephenson sweepstakes and signed him to a three-year, $33 million deal. At the time, it felt like the Phillies had missed out on a top-tier arm they could have added to their already dominant relief corps. 

Phillies missing out on Stephenson looks like a blessing in disguise now

But looking back now, perhaps the Phillies' failure to recruit the eight-year veteran is a blessing in disguise.

It was recently revealed that Stephenson will miss the rest of the 2024 season with an elbow injury, as reported by Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register. He had missed all of spring training with a sore shoulder before experiencing a problem with his elbow during his first rehab outing.

The Angels haven't announced the nature of his injury yet, but Stephenson is set to undergo season-ending surgery later this month, per MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. It's an unfortunate blow to the Angels' pitching staff but also a huge bullet dodged by the Phillies.

With the way the bulk of the Phillies bullpen is beginning to round into form after a disappointing start to the season, the front office's decision to stand pat with the current relief corps may turn out to be a wise move after all. Hopefully, that decision will continue to prove successful as the season progresses.

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