Phillies fans are giddy. It looks as if Jonathan Papelbon could soon be leaving town.
Numerous stories, including one from our intrepid Justin Klugh on Friday, touted the nearness of a Jonathan Papelbon deal to the Milwaukee Brewers. While Milwaukee is on Papelbon's no-trade list, it's reported he would be willing to go to the Brewers if the $13 million option for 2016 is picked up.
And as CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury said on Friday night, it appears that's the lone sticking point between the two teams.
It appears as if this is going to happen. So, as we look ahead to 2015, what does a Jonathan Papelbon-less bullpen look like for the Phils?
Ken Giles becomes the obvious choice to succeed Papelbon as the Phils' closer. Of course, given the team isn't likely to win a whole lot of games this season, it's unreasonable to expect Giles to pile up the saves.
But these are exciting times. The man known as "100 Miles Giles" actually averages in the upper 90s and has a devastating slider as well, an arsenal that many have compared to Craig Kimbrel.
Last year, Giles finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting after putting up an ERA of 1.18 in 45.2 innings, with an astonishing 64 strikeouts and just 11 walks. In a mere 45.2 IP, he was worth 1.9 bWAR last season.
This is just too good, guys.
I do not care for established bullpen roles, personally. With the exception of closer, which a team should never spend a ton of money on, managers should get more comfortable riding the hot hand. However, for this exercise, we'll look at two arms who will most likely handle the later innings of tight ball games.
Left-hander Jake Diekman showed flashes of billiance last year, and his overall numbers were pretty decent. In 71 innings he had an ERA of 3.80 but with a far superior FIP of 2.65, with 100 strikeouts and 35 walks. His walk rate of 4.4 batters per nine was a bit high, and that got him in trouble sometimes.
He was almost unhittable against left-handed hitters last year, with lefties posting a .239/.273/.304 slash line against him. However, he struggled a bit with his control against righties, with a slash of .253/.363/.385 against right-handers. Perhaps part of the problem was he faced twice as many right-handers as left-handed hitters last year, a trend that will hopefully reverse in 2015.
The departure of Papelbon does leave the team looking for a right-handed reliever to step up and assume a late-inning role. The first man up is probably Justin De Fratus, who can hump it up into the mid-90s as well, posted a 2.39 ERA in 52.2 innings last year. He struck out almost a batter per inning, totaling 49 strikeouts and 12 walks.
Mario Hollands will serve as the team's official LOOGY, the man brought in to tame tough left-handers. In 47 innings, his ERA was 4.40 with 35 strikeouts and far too many walks, 21. But in 21 innings against left-handed hitters, he held them to a slash line of .238/.307/.316 and a FIP of 2.57.
Jeanmar Gomez, who signed a free agent minor league deal this winter, is a 27-year-old right-hander who pitched decently for the Pirates the last two years. In 2013 his ERA last year was 3.19 in 62 IP and the year before was 3.35 in 80.2 IP. He's not going to miss a lot of bats, but he gets guys out and will get every opportunity to earn a regular bullpen role in spring training.
Luis Garcia throws hard, averaging 95 mph on his fastball. But he often doesn't know where it's going, as evidenced by his 8.36 walks per nine innings last season. Of course, he only pitched 14 innings at the big league level last year, and has just 45.1 innings under his belt in the Majors. That small sample size noted, in those 45.1 innings he's walked 7.15 batters per nine. Bottom line, Garcia has a live arm, but needs to get it under control if he wants to stay with the big club.
Cesar Jimenez is the old man of the group at age 30. He was quite good for Lehigh Valley last year, with a 1.45 ERA in 49.2 innings, with a 23.7% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate. Control has been the issue for him at the Major League level, though. In 81.1 career innings, he's walked 4.1 batters per nine.
HOLDING OUT HOPE
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is going to be given a chance to make the Phils' rotation in spring training, but if he doesn't land a starting gig, he could end up in the bullpen. Frankly, we haven't seen enough of Gonzalez to know what he's going to be. He has some promise, but in his brief cup of coffee with the team last year seemed to lack a true "out" pitch. He'll need to develop one if he's going to be effective.
Ethan Martin is still recovering from an injury and, as of Thursday, was behind schedule to start in Clearwater when camp opens. As for Phillipe Aumont, he's still on the 40-man roster so I have to include him, but he doesn't seem to have a future in Philadelphia. Barring a miracle, he's done here.
Then there are a handful of youngsters who could get a look at the big league level this year. Hector Neris has one career Major League appearance under his belt, but he has been tearing up the Dominican Winter League and could be an intriguing young arm to add to the mix. He's a fastball-changeup guy who is developing a slider, and is one pitcher Ruben Amaro has taken note of this winter.
Nefi Ogando, whom the Phillies received when they traded John McDonald to the Red Sox, and Rule V pick-up Andy Oliver, a left-handed reliever with lots of control issues, are also in the mix.
All in all, there are a lot of intriguing young arms on this roster. And if Papelbon gets moved, it will open up a lot of spots for players to come in and win jobs.
The bullpen is a sea of opportunity. It should be fun to see who can sink or swim.