This will serve as the Christmas edition of our newsletter because we hope that next week at this time you’ll be enjoying the gifts you received on Christmas Day rather than worrying about how the Phillies can improve their pitching staff before pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 11.
We do not believe that the Phillies have done enough in the pitching department to compete with the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves or even the New York Mets, but time will tell. In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies offseason, but we will be on a two-week hiatus because of the coming holidays. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.
— Bob Brookover (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Look at the list of Phillies relievers and one thought immediately comes to mind: They are short in the bullpen.
The only members of the group with proven track records are Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and David Robertson, and Robertson does not figure to step onto a big-league mound until at least August, if at all. It’s OK if the Phillies also plan to count on Seranthony Dominguez as well as lefty Ranger Suarez. Dominguez, 25, was terrific two seasons ago, and Suarez, along with Alvarez, gave the Phillies a strong lefty presence out of the pen a year ago.
Still, this team needs more depth and experience, and help remains on the free-agent market.
The Phillies have been linked for some time to 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances for obvious reasons. He’s a former Yankee who pitched six seasons for new Phillies manager Joe Girardi, and of course, he has one of the biggest arms in the game. Betances, who will be 32 in March, has a 2.36 ERA in 358 career appearances and, even more impressively, has struck out 621 batters in 381 2/3 innings. That’s 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings. According to yankeesnumbers.com, Betances has four of the top six strikeouts-per-nine-innings seasons in franchise history.
Who wouldn’t love to have that guy?
The only apprehension comes from Betances’ price tag and the fact that he missed almost all of last season with shoulder and lat injuries, then suffered a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon upon his September return. Betances reportedly is looking for a one-year deal worth $10 million, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, and that would carry the Phillies over the $208 million payroll tax threshold, a place they do not want to go right now.
Houston veteran reliever Will Harris is another free agent with an outstanding track record, but he would also take the Phillies over the tax threshold and the team could be a little leery about being burned by veteran relievers after paying $26.75 million for a combined 30 innings last season from Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek.
If the Phillies are looking for a quality veteran at a reasonable price, they should consider David Phelps, another former Yankee who pitched for Girardi.
“I think he’s one of those guys that has the ability to be a multiple-inning reliever who gets left-handers and right-handers out,” Girardi said at the winter meetings in San Diego. “He’s also a guy who is extremely prepared. He studies the game. And we used to use him as a spot starter. He’s a multiple-inning guy who can perform multiple roles. Those are guys you look for.”
They are likely to be even more valuable in 2020 with the introduction of the three-batter rule, which commissioner Rob Manfred is intent on implementing. The rule would force managers to use relievers for a minimum of three batters or until the end of an inning.
“I think guys like him become more valuable if that rule passes,” Girardi said. “Now you can’t bring in a lefty to save you."
Phelps, for the record, has held lefties to a .249 batting average during his career, and right-handers have hit .245 against him. After working as both a starter and reliever earlier in his career, he has mostly been a bullpen guy in recent years and he has a 3.35 ERA in 204 career bullpen innings.
The price could also be right for Phelps because he pitched just a little more than a half-season last year after missing all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery. Toronto signed him before last season and traded him to the Chicago Cubs in July. Phelps had a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs, who declined to pick up his $3 million option after the season.
Didi Gregorius comes to the Phillies with a reputation for having fun and winning. He was beloved in New York even though he replaced the legendary Derek Jeter. Here’s my column on the Phillies’ new shortstop.
Zack Wheeler became more reliant on his four-seam fastball a couple years ago, and the results were so positive that they led to his $118 million contract with the Phillies. Scott Lauber wonders if Wheeler will throw even more four-seamers under the guidance of Phillies manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price.
Matt Breen’s take from the introductory press conference for Didi Gregorius and pitcher Zack Wheeler was that the Phillies are still short in starting pitching because they are relying on the trio of Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez again.
Some intriguing free-agent starting pitchers such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran remain unsigned, but the Phillies finished addressing their rotation when they signed Zack Wheeler. I think that’s a mistake.
Here’s a look at Lauber’s takeaways from the winter meetings, which wrapped up last week in San Diego.
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Feb. 17: First full-squad workout in Clearwater, Fla.
Feb. 22: Phillies open Grapefruit League schedule vs. Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
March 26: Opening Day in Miami, 4:10 p.m.
The Phillies improved their starting rotation by adding free agent Wheeler, but it’s still clear they have not caught up to three of the four teams in their own division.
Washington’s projected rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez and Joe Ross has a combined career record of 481-335 with a 3.55 ERA. Atlanta’s rotation of Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, Cole Hamels and Sean Newcomb has a combined career record of 263-199 with a 3.59 ERA. The Mets’ rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha has a combined record of 372-319 with a 3.72 ERA.
The Phillies’ rotation of Aaron Nola, Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Eflin and Pivetta has a combined record of 247-209 with a 3.96 ERA. You can substitute Velasquez for Pivetta if you’d like, and that changes the numbers to 255-213 and a 3.92 ERA.
For the record, the Phillies had the worst rotation ERA in the NL East last season at 4.64, finishing behind even a 105-loss Miami team that got a 4.59 ERA from its starters.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Odubel Herrera's situation is about as bad as possible, but I wonder what he's been doing for the past 7 months or so. Is it possible that he's been preparing, both physically and mentally, for a comeback? If so, doesn't it make sense for the Phillies to give him a real shot this year?
If he were the player that we all thought he was a couple of years ago he'd be a major asset. Of course, he'd have to make peace with the fans and management, a tough chore. But, I'd bet that he's had a lot of solid advice and hopefully a lot of introspection. So, it's not impossible.
Do you think that the door is closed on his Phillies future, or is there a chance for redemption?
— Dave from Arkansas, via email
Answer: Thanks for a great question, Dave. The Phillies are going to have to pay Herrera $20.2 million over the next two seasons and he is counting $6.1 million against their payroll, so that’s a huge chunk of money that they could have used in free agency.
General manager Matt Klentak noted that the landscape of the Phillies’ outfield has changed since Herrera’s suspension last season and the team seems committed to playing Adam Haseley in center field with Bryce Harper in right and Andrew McCutchen in left. Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn are the leading candidates for the two extra outfield spots, but both spent extensive time on the injured list last season and McCutchen, of course, is coming off ACL surgery.
If Herrera can still play and he has gone through the steps necessary to improve as a human being, it would be worthwhile for the Phillies to see if he can recapture the form that made him an All-Star in 2016 and the team’s best player in 2017.