Even before Seranthony Dominguez went down with ligament damage in his right elbow that might wind up requiring season-ending surgery, the Phillies’ bullpen had been overwhelmed by an extreme injury epidemic that claimed a half-dozen relievers.
Yet adding closer Craig Kimbrel was never much of a consideration.
Kimbrel finally ended his seven-month free agency this week by signing a three-year, $43 million contract with the Cubs. It wasn’t the money -- $10 million for the rest of this year, $16 million next year and in 2021, and a $16 million club option for 2022 -- that caused the Phillies to stay away. It was the multiyear commitment, not just for Kimbrel but for any relief pitcher.
“The last couple years, we’ve signed several veteran relievers to two-year deals. Each of them has spent time on the [injured list],” general manager Matt Klentak said. “There have been reasons why we signed those guys to try to bolster the bullpen. and I’m not saying we’d never do it again. But I do think we need to be mindful of the realities of relief-pitcher health, especially multiyear commitments to veteran guys. The track record is not great.”
Indeed, the Phillies signed Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek to two-year deals worth $18 million and $16.25 million, respectively, last year, then added David Robertson on a two-year, $23 million contract before this season. They have combined to pitch 24 innings so far this season.
Hunter (right forearm strain), Robertson (right elbow soreness), Victor Arano (right elbow surgery), Edubray Ramos (right biceps tendinitis), Pat Neshek (right shoulder strain), Adam Morgan (left forearm strain) and Dominguez (right UCL injury) are all on the injured list, forcing the Phillies to dig deep into their minor league depth for the likes of Edgar Garcia, Austin Davis, J.D. Hammer, and now lefty Ranger Suarez, who was called up Friday from triple-A Lehigh Valley. They also moved Vince Velasquez to the bullpen from the starting rotation.
Klentak said the Phillies are on the lookout to add relievers from outside the organization. But the cavalry could return soon. Ramos is expected to be back by next week, with Morgan and Neshek to follow shortly thereafter. Hunter is nearly ready to make a minor-league rehab assignment. Robertson could return in July, according to Klentak.
“This is an opportunity in the bullpen to see what Vince Velasquez can do. Can he lock down the eighth inning with a one-run lead?” Klentak said. “Can J.D. Hammer step up? Can [Jose] Alvarez and [Juan] Nicasio continue to do what they’ve done? We’ve got a lot of guys that I think are going to grasp the opportunity and hopefully give us some big innings while we wait to get some of these other guys back.”