The stress of the unknown was already expected by David Robertson when he ended last season without knowing where he would play in 2019. But then Robertson - one of baseball’s most consistent relievers - chose to compound that stress by entering the offseason without representation as he became his own agent for his own free agency.
The first-time agent guaranteed himself $23 million with the Phillies on Thursday as Robertson signed a two-year deal with a club option for 2021. The Phillies landed the high-leverage arm they sought all offseason for their bullpen. And Robertson made his client happy.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” said Robertson, who had a 3.23 ERA in 69 games last season with the Yankees. “I would say that I enjoyed it. I had some great conversations with some great people who really know baseball.
"It was nice to see the other side of baseball for once. It’s something I’ve always thought about and wondered about if I’d be able to go through that process myself. It was definitely a good experience. I don’t know if I would do it again. But I enjoyed the process.”
Robertson’s self-negotiations will earn him $10 million this season and $11 million in 2020. His club option for 2021 is worth $12 million with a $2 million buyout.
Ever consistent, Robertson is one of just 13 pitchers to appear in 60 games in nine straight seasons and is the only pitcher to begin his career with a rate of at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings over his first 11 seasons. Robertson turns 34 in April and was an All-Star in 2011 and has spent his entire 11-year career in the American League.
The Phillies will not use Robertson as a traditional closer but instead in a variety of late-inning roles.
“It was unique,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said of negotiating without an agent. “He’s smart. He’s prepared. He’s interesting. He’s very easy to talk to. So that part wasn’t really an issue.
"Candidly, I find that when you’re talking directly to a player about contracts, sometimes I found myself actually being a little more guarded with what I would say than I might be with an agent. So that was unique. But he was very well prepared, knew the market extremely well, and knew what he was looking for. He knew what was important to him and he was able to articulate that well. That helped us get to a deal. I was very impressed with the professionalism and the way he handled everything.”
Adding Robertson appears to give the Phillies a surplus of right-handed relievers, which could motivate them to part with Tommy Hunter or Pat Neshek. Both relievers are in their final year of affordable contracts, which could make a trade possible. Klentak said the Phillies “are open to that.”
“I don’t know how aggressive we’re going to be in shopping our players because we like the group we have right now,” Klentak said.
The Phillies aimed to add a left-handed reliever this offseason but stressed that they would not add one just for the sake of it. They have four left-handed relievers on their 40-man roster after last month’s additions of James Pazos from the Mariners and Jose Alvarez from the Angels.
Their need for a left-hander was eased by Robertson’s success against left-handed batters. Robertson handled himself just fine against lefties as he held them to a .176 batting average and .240 on-base percentage over 132 plate appearances last season. Both those marks ranked in the top eight among pitchers who faced at least 130 left-handers.
The Phillies shifted their focus to the bullpen after the price of starting pitching skyrocketed when Patrick Corbin signed with Washington. They tried last month to land Andrew Miller before he signed with St. Louis and had discussions with high-end relievers Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton.
It took a bit, but the Phillies seem to have found their bullpen piece. And now, with the negotiations complete, that piece can return to focusing solely on pitching.
“Whatever I'm doing in the offseason, working out, hanging out with my family, and whenever my phone would ring, I would just step aside and make time to be on those phone calls,” Robertson said. “A lot of people I spoke with would text ahead of time or kind of give me a time they wanted to speak so I would be prepared and have a place where I could take to them. Not exactly like it ate up entire days for me, though. But definitely there were some days when I had to wait for phone calls.”