They tried. Oh how the Phillies bullpen tried.
The ‘pen did their very best to blow the team’s last two games, first with a near-implosion on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers in which Hector Neris nearly blew a five-run lead by giving up two mammoth home runs and four runs in what be an eventual 10-9 win on Sunday.
On Monday, the Phillies said enough was enough.
#Phillies have selected the contract of LHP Austin Davis from Lehigh Valley (AAA).— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) June 18, 2018
To make room for him on the 25-man roster, RHP Héctor Neris has been optioned to Lehigh Valley. pic.twitter.com/c1RoYUaO1W
Neris was sent down to AAA after posting a 6.00 ERA this season, but he’s not the only reliever who has failed to pitch well late in games. Last night, it was Victor Arano’s and Adam Morgan’s turn to blow another 9th inning lead. Somehow, Arano’s strikeout to end the game went through the legs of Andrew Knapp for a wild pitch that allowed a 4-2 lead become 4-3. Adam Morgan then came in and allowed a game-tying single.
In the 10th, AAAA arm Jake Thompson served up a meatball to Tommy Pham that he hit to New Jersey that gave the Cards a 5-4 lead. Thankfully, a spunky effort by the Phils’ bats, a managing miscue by Mike Matheny, and a bad decision by outfielder Marcel Ozuna allowed the Phillies to escape with their third straight win.
The walk-off was fantastic, but it never should have gotten to that point. If it hadn’t been made clear before, the Phillies need some bullpen help.
The Phillies have a 9th inning ERA of 4.82 this season, 2nd-worst in the NL and 4th-worst in MLB. Overall, the ‘pen is 21st in ERA (4.12), 15th in WHIP (1.32) and batting average (.243), and 22nd in home runs per nine innings (1.13).
Among the bright spots, a strikeout rate of 24.9% that is 9th in baseball and a walk rate of 8.7% that ranks 12th in the Majors.
Seranthony Dominguez and his 1.27 ERA and 35.1% strikeout rate is a big reason why the team’s numbers look as good as they do, with Edubray Ramos’ 0.69 ERA the other eye-popping number. Victor Arano’s 2.70 ERA suggested he could get some late-inning action as well, and to be fair, he would have gotten the save had Knapp blocked his final strike of the game. But he also did give up two hits to put himself in a perilous position in the first place.
Meanwhile, Hector Neris (6.00 ERA), Tommy Hunter (4.05 ERA), Luis Garcia (4.74 ERA) and Adam Morgan (4.66 ERA) are/were all performing poorly in high leverage situations this season. Yes, the team is still waiting for Pat Neshek to come back, but it could be another month before he returns, and that’s provided he has no more setbacks as he recovers from shoulder and forearm issues.
The Phillies need some help from the outside. Happily, there are a ton of names that could be available on the trade market over the next month-and-a-half.
One of the elite options, the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera, was traded to the Washington Nationals on Monday in a surprise move.
So a team in the Phils’ division just gave themselves another formidable arm in the back of the ‘pen, with Herrera and Sean Doolittle essentially locking down the 8th and 9th innings. Yikes.
But there are other options.
Zach Britton is back with Orioles and has appeared in three games this year. He has yet to give up a run and has struck out three batters while walking three. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and, before his injury, had piled up 37, 36 and 47 saves from 2014-16 with ERAs of 1.65, 1.92 and 0.54.
The Mets could decide to make their closer Jeurys Familia available. He has 14 saves this year for a bad Mets team, with an ERA of 2.70 and a FIP of 2.42. He saved 43 and 51 games in 2015 and ‘16, but struggled to a 4.38 ERA and just 6 saves in 26 appearances last year. Still, he’s be a huge upgrade. Both Britton and Familia would be rentals.
San Diego’s Brad Hand is a dominant left-hander who, unlike the names above, is under team control for a few more seasons (through 2021). He has had ERAs of 2.92, 2.16 and 2.25 the last three seasons, and has struck out 36.3% of hitters this season. The Reds’ Raisel Iglesias is also signed long-term, through 2020, has 10 saves this year with a 2.45 ERA and 29.9% strikeout rate.
Middle Reliever Options
Like his teammate Britton, Brad Brach is a free agent at the end of the season, but as a middle reliever, wouldn’t cost nearly as much. He’s also not been as dominant as his teammate, with a 3.58 ERA, however he did pile up 10 saves while filling in for Britton this season. He also blew two.
Chicago’s Joakim Soria could be a great fit for the Phils. He’s signed through 2019 at $9 million this year and $10 million next season and has 10 saves this year with a 3.12 ERA and a 2.48 FIP. He has struck out 27.0% of hitters and dropped his walk rate from his career mark of 7.2% to 4.5% this year.
San Diego’s Craig Stammen is signed through next year as well and, if the Padres decide to sell him, could get a decent haul for a pitcher with a 2.10 ERA, 1.69 FIP, 28.8% K-rate and 3.8% walk rate. Opponents are hitting .213 against him.
MLB Trade Rumors provided much of the names on the list below as potential options, including the Padres’ Kirby Yates, the White Sox’ Nate Jones and Luis Avilan, the Marlins’ Kyle Barraclough, the Tigers’ Shane Greene, the Orioles’ Mychal Givens and the Rangers’ Keone Kela, Jesse Chavez, and Jake Diekman (DIEKMAN!).
The Blue Jays have four solid, if not terribly special relievers they could move, Tyler Clippard, Seunghwan Oh, Aaron Loup and John Axford.
If the Phillies just want to bring on some extra personnel without giving up anything of consequence, these are the candidates. However, they likely wouldn’t fix the 9th inning situation.
Last Year’s Deals
So, if the Phillies were to go after some relief help, how much would it cost? Let’s look at some of the trades that were made for relief pitchers last year.
Among some of the smaller deals last year were when the Phillies traded Joaquin Benoit to the Pirates for Seth McGarry, a 23-year-old A-ball pitcher. The Twins dealt Brad Kintzler to the Nationals for 20-year-old left-hander Tyler Watson and $500,000 in bonus pool money. Kintzler, by the way, was a rental, dealt for an A-ball starting pitcher.
The Pirates traded Tony Watson to the Dodgers for two low-minors prospects, one of them L.A.’s No. 27 prospect last year, the Diamondbacks acquired David Hernandez from the Angels in return for minor leaguer Luis Madero, a 21-year-old still in A-ball, the Indians got right-handed side-armer Joe Smith from the Blue Jays for an A-ball prospect and a 22-year-old AA starter named Thomas Pannone, who was suspended 80 games for PEDs in March, and the Rangers traded Jeremy Jeffress to Milwaukee for 25-year-old reliever Tayler Scott, who pitched in AA at the time.
These types of pitchers are certainly within the Phillies’ price range. But what about deals from some higher-end arms?
The Mets got Marlins closer AJ Ramos, who was under team control through this year, for the Marlins’ 9th and 22nd-ranked prospects. The Marlins’ system was significantly worse than the Phils’ system right now, so consider that when acknowledging these prospect rankings.
But the blockbuster reliever deal last year was the Nationals acquiring Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland A’s in exchange for Major Leaguer Blake Treinen and two prospects. Those prospects were the team’s 6th-best and 13th-best prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
This year, we now have our first big reliever trade of the season in the books. So what did Washington have to give up to land Herrera, who will be a free agent after the season?
It’s clear that if the Phillies want to get an elite arm, it’s going to cost them a couple top-10 guys — even for a rental, and the relievers on this year’s market are more talented than last year’s group.
The Phils’ Nos. 9-12 prospects (according to MLB Pipeline) are Ranger Suarez, Searanthony Dominguez (he’s not going anywhere), Daniel Brito and Enyel de los Santos. A deal for Britton or Familia would probably have to include two of those players, or perhaps an arm like Franklyn Kilome, their No. 7 prospect, paired with rising AAA arm Cole Irvin. That’s pretty steep. Iglesias and Hand are under team control for a while longer, and would require more, perhaps a potential top-of-the-rotation starter like Adonis Medina.
Joakim Soria, signed through 2019, would seem to be an excellent fit, and might only cost the Phils one of those AAA starters, Irvin or de los Santos. Irvin is 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 82.2 innings, with a 73/19 K/BB ratio. de los Santos is 7-3 with a 1.47 ERA in 73.1 innings, with a 76/23 K/BB ratio. de los Santos has the higher upside as a mid-rotation starter, while the lefty Irvin is seen as more of a No. 5 guy.
If all that is too rich for the Phils’ blood, they could certainly afford to go shopping in the bargain bin and perhaps hit up a team like Toronto, San Diego or Texas for a couple relievers in exchange for some low-level minor league arms.
The Nats and Royals have paved the way for teams to start talking about prospects-for-relievers, and it’s clear the Phillies need to do something now. They can’t wait any longer. For the sake of sanity, they need to get at least one more solid arm in the bullpen to pair with Dominguez.
Hopefully Pat Neshek is back in a month, and together, they could give the Phillies a bullpen that won’t make everyone binge on gallons of ice cream every time the 9th inning rolls around.