"That doesn't have an obvious answer," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together, but what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players."
Those conversations continued Monday from a fifth-floor suite at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. As baseball gathered for its annual winter meetings, Klentak fielded inquiries from other teams interested in his young players. The Phillies general manager could deal from a perceived strength — his horde of starting pitchers — but the immediate additions are incremental.
That is why the Phillies last month added a 36-year-old reliever and reached an agreement Monday with a 39-year-old reliever, transactions that are not typical for a rebuilding franchise. The bullpen is a place where the 2017 team can be upgraded and not at the cost of marginalizing young players.
They will sign veteran righthander Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million deal, according to a source. Klentak would not comment; the deal was still being finalized. Pat Neshek, 36, came to the Phillies for $6.5 million in a November trade with Houston.
When the Phillies were competitive last season, it was because the starting pitchers could hand a slim lead to a makeshift bullpen that somehow did not break. In their first 37 games last season, the Phillies won 14 one-run games. They won by one run in 14 of their next 125 games. Much of that is simple randomness, but the formula for those one-run leads usually did not deviate.
"Anything that we can do to try to augment the bullpen," Klentak said, "we're going to do."
So the Phillies, for now, will dedicate a significant percentage of payroll to their bullpen. In addition to Neshek and Benoit, they have Jeanmar Gomez, who could make close to $5 million through salary arbitration. Hector Neris, 27, emerged as a possible closer last season. Edubray Ramos, who turns 24 later this month, is a promising young arm. The veteran additions provide manager Pete Mackanin with various late-inning combinations.
Both Neshek and Benoit, if they perform well, could be flipped in July for younger talent. Benoit, who has pitched for six teams in his 15-year career, was especially good in the second half of last season. The Dominican righthander posted a 5.18 ERA in 24 1/3 innings with Seattle and struggled with command. But, after a trade to Toronto, he prospered. Benoit had a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings while striking out 9.1 per nine innings and walking 3.4.
He has a career 3.79 ERA in 712 big-league appearances with experience as both a setup man and closer. Benoit's average fastball velocity has maintained 94 mph over the last seven seasons, according to PITCHf/x data. He also throws a change-up and a slider.
A good bullpen is a luxury for a rebuilding team. But the Phillies have searched for low-risk deals that will not affect their future payrolls but could provide gains in 2017 without blocking others. And, at this point in the rebuilding plan, the Phillies believe the bullpen is the place for that.