You can look at what Matt Klentak did Friday and say he played his hand early. During a busy day that ended with another ugly loss against the first-place Braves in Atlanta, the Phillies general manager addressed his team’s greatest need 10 days ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline.
Help for the worst bullpen in baseball came in the form of David Hale from the New Yankees during the day and Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Boston Red Sox at night.
“Hale can be their long man, Hembree can pitch in the middle and Workman at the end of games,” a National League executive said. “All three can help.”
You can also look at what Klentak did and say he addressed the Phillies’ weakest link too late. That will ultimately be decided at the end of the season. If the Phillies’ trio of bullpen additions helps them get into the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the moves will have been made in time. If not, it could cost Klentak his job.
“Every season I’ve been here, at least the years where we’ve been contending at the approach to the deadline, we’ve done things to address what our biggest needs are,” Klentak said during a Zoom call with reporters Friday. “[The needs] have been different each of the last three years, but we’ve done different things and I think that’s what we did this year. Whether it’s pressure or anything else, that’s our job. Our job as a front office is to evaluate our team, figure out what are needs are and identify the best ways to address them.”
The big question is whether Klentak and the front office should have done more to bolster the bullpen before the start of the season. The Phillies were reluctant to go over the competitive balance threshold, a barrier they have never surpassed. That took them out of the mix for the elite bullpen arms and left them shopping for potential bargains.
The two biggest additions ended up being Francisco Liriano, who opted out of pitching after the COVID-19 outbreak and Tommy Hunter, who accepted an $850,000 deal to pitch a third season in Philadelphia and has so far been a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Six of the 11 pitchers in the Phillies’ opening-day bullpen had never been on an opening-day roster before. Those half dozen relievers combined for a 10.53 ERA while allowing 53 hits, including nine home runs, in 27 1/3 innings through the first 22 games of the season.
It has not helped, of course, that closer Hector Neris has also been bad, blowing three of his five save opportunities, or that Nick Pivetta struggled just as much as a reliever as he did as a starter before being sent to the Red Sox Friday.
But it’s still fair to say that Klentak should have done better in putting together his bullpen. The Phillies took fliers on veterans Drew Storen and Bud Norris and went 0-for-2.
Kansas City, meanwhile, rolled the dice with Trevor Rosenthal after his abysmal 2019 season and appears to have struck gold. Milwaukee’s David Phelps signed for $1.5 million and his 0.90 ERA would look good in the Phillies’ pen right now.
For two years and $7.5 million, the Phillies could have brought back Jake Diekman. Instead, he re-signed with Oakland, where he has pitched nine scoreless innings for the first-place Athletics. Tyler Clippard, after posting a 2.90 ERA last season in Cleveland, has a 1.69 ERA in 10 appearances with the first-place Minnesota Twins. He signed for $2.75 million.
In order to get Hale, the Phillies gave up 25-year-old Addison Russ, who had 22 saves, 81 strikeouts and a 2.54 ERA in 56 2/3 innings with double-A Reading last season. Baseball America had him ranked as the Phillies’ 20th-best prospect.
Giving up Pivetta as part of the deal for Workman and Hembree doesn’t seem too bad because the 27-year-old right-hander appeared to be in desperate need of a change in scenery. But giving up Connor Seabold, a 24-year-old righty whose stock was on the rise after he posted a 2.24 ERA in the minors last season, does sting. He was the team’s 30th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America.
“I guess in order to get something you’re going to have to give something up and that’s the way it has been in this game for many years,” Klentak said.
In making the two deals Friday, the Phillies managed to stay under the tax threshold just as they did during the offseason.
“We are for now,” Klentak said. “We don’t have a lot of room. Unforeseen circumstances could put us over even without us trying to. If things break properly for the next six weeks, we should be able to stay under. I’ve said before, it’s a guideline not a barrier, so we have to see how the rest of the season plays out.”
Klentak correctly pointed out that the Phillies spent their fair share in the offseason, signing right-hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal worth $118 million and shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year deal worth $14 million. So far, both look like great deals.