The disassembly of the Phillies' bullpen is underway.
Two veteran relievers (Adam Morgan and Heath Hembree) were placed on waivers and removed from the 40-man roster this week, and two others (David Robertson and David Phelps) are facing the likelihood of not having their options picked up for 2021. It’s possible that all four will become free agents after a 2020 season that was marred by injuries, poor performance, or both.
Hembree and Morgan were eligible for arbitration and due modest raises from their $1.6125 million and $1.575 million salaries, respectively. If they clear waivers, they could accept triple-A assignments but are more likely to elect free agency.
Robertson’s club option is worth $12 million with a $2 million buyout; Phelps' is worth $4.5 million with a $250,000 buyout. A decision on both players will come within the next few days.
Morgan, 30, had elbow surgery three weeks ago and faces a six- to nine-month rehabilitation. A homegrown fixture of the Phillies' bullpen since 2017, the elbow problem caused the lefty’s average fastball velocity to decrease from 94.1 mph in 2018 to 92.7 mph last year and 91.7 this season and his ERA to rise from 3.83 to 3.94 and 5.54.
The Phillies have better knowledge of Morgan’s health – and chances of making a recovery – than any other team. Although he undoubtedly will seek a major-league contract, it’s conceivable that they could re-sign him to a minor-league deal later in the offseason.
Ditto for Robertson, who signed a two-year, $23 million contract as a free agent two winters ago but made only seven appearances before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The 35-year-old had Tommy John surgery last year and had a setback in his attempt to return before the end of this season.
The Phillies acquired Hembree and Phelps in separate midseason trades to help bolster the worst bullpen in baseball. Both right-handers only exacerbated the problem.
Hembree, who came over from the Boston Red Sox, allowed 17 hits, including seven home runs, in 9⅓ innings and posted a 9.00 ERA; Phelps, imported from the Milwaukee Brewers, gave up 12 hits, including five homers, in 7⅔ innings and posted a 12.91 ERA.
Overhauling the bullpen is among the Phillies' most pressing offseason needs. Hector Neris is the most likely candidate to return from a group that posted a 7.06 ERA in the 60-game season. But even Neris represents a decision for the Phillies, who will either exercise his $7 million option or attempt to bring him back at a lower salary via arbitration.
In a surprising move Thursday that nevertheless reflects the cost-cutting that will take place throughout baseball this winter, the Cleveland Indians placed closer Brad Hand on outright waivers rather than exercising his $10 million option, according to The Athletic. The Phillies rank 13th in waiver priority based on having the 13th-worst record in the majors in 2020.
If Morgan, Hembree, Robertson and Phelps become free agents, they will join seven other 2020 Phillies – catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Didi Gregorius, outfielder Jay Bruce, starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, and relievers Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter and Brandon Workman – on the open market.