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Héctor Neris signs with Astros as Phillies lose their longest-tenured player and franchise record holder

The Phillies need a new closer for 2022 and that could lead them to make a trade for Craig Kimbrel.

Phillies pitcher Hector Neris signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros on Saturday.
Phillies pitcher Hector Neris signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros on Saturday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Phillies’ offseason quest to rebuild their bullpen will not include Héctor Neris, because the franchise’s all-time strikeout leader among relief pitchers signed Saturday with Houston.

The deal, which was first reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia, is worth $17 million over two years.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said earlier this month that he would like to retain Neris, but not as his closer. Finding a closer, Dombrowski said, is his No. 1 priority and indicated that the team would also add a couple of high-leverage relievers to supplement their bullpen.

Neris, who pitched eight seasons for the Phillies after signing for $17,000 as a teenager in the Dominican Republic, will go elsewhere.

The Phillies have yet to make a major transaction this offseason and may not do much before the league’s pending lockout, which is set to begin on Dec. 2 and freeze player movement when the collective bargaining agreement expires.

But they still have plenty of needs as they must find two outfielders, determine who are their starting third baseman and shortstop, and add starting pitcher depth along with finishing their bullpen.

Neris thrived last summer after being removed from the closer’s role as he posted a 2.51 ERA over his final 40 appearances, 33 of which were scoreless. His final pitch with the Phillies -- a signature splitter in the season finale -- earned him career strikeout No. 521, eclipsing Ron Reed for the most by a Phillies reliever.

“My eyes started to cry,” Neris said after the game. “I don’t know how to explain to you the emotion I felt.”

Neris, who was the team’s longest tenured player, led the bullpen last season with 74 appearances. He was credited with seven of the team’s franchise-record 34 blown saves, 59% of which were by pitchers who are no longer with the team.

The Phillies return just five -- Jose Alvarado, Connor Brogdon, Sam Coonrod, Ranger Suarez, and Bailey Falter -- of last season’s 10 most used relievers. But Suarez enters 2022 in the rotation and Falter could return to being a starter, meaning the bullpen will have heavy turnover after last season.

For a closer, the top free-agent option is Raisel Iglesias, who saved 34 games last season for the Angels. Signing the 31-year-old right-hander would cost the Phillies a draft pick after he declined a qualifying offer from the Angels. Dombrowski said the team would prefer to not forfeit picks if they could avoid it.

That could lead them to Craig Kimbrel, who seems even more likely to be traded by the White Sox after they signed reliever Kendall Graveman last week to a three-year deal worth $24 million. The White Sox have an All Star closer in Liam Hendriks and now a set-up man in Graveman, making Kimbrel - who is owed $16 million in the final year of his contract - even more expendable.

Kimbrel, 33, converted 23 of his 25 save chances last season with the Cubs and posted a 0.49 ERA in 39 appearances. But he struggled after being traded across town to the White Sox, who used him primarily as a set-up man.

Dombrowski traded for Kimbrel before the 2016 season in his first impactful move after joining the Red Sox three months earlier. The Red Sox won the World Series two years later and Kimbrel was a three-time All Star with Boston. For Dombrowski, trading for Kimbrel worked before and he might try it again.