We were told earlier today that the Phillies (and Yankees) are focused less on the Harper/Machado front right now and are instead working on fortifying their bullpens with some of the big name free agent relievers available. On Thursday, the Phillies made their move, securing David Robertson to a deal worth at minimum $23 million.
BREAKING: David Robertson has agreed to a two-year deal with the Phillies that guarantees him at least $23 million. He’ll earn $10M in 2019, $11M in 2020, with a $12M club option ($2M buyout) for 2021. He’s passed a physical and the deal is complete.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 3, 2019
Robertson, who has been representing himself without an agent this off-season, had been seeking a three-year deal that would take him into his age 36 season with a club in the northeast. Boston had been a potential fit for the 33-year-old right-hander until the Phillies made their move.
Robertson has never quite returned to his all-star 2011 form, in which he logged a 1.08 ERA in 70 games for the Yankees. In 2017, the year he returned to New York after being traded to the White Sox before the 2015 season, he posted a 1.84 ERA and 2.9 WAR between his two teams.
The appeal of a player like Robertson is obvious for the Phillies in an off-season in which they have clearly made durability a primary concern. Last year, Robertson averaged 11.8 K/9, and is the only reliever to have thrown at least 60 innings in each of the last nine years with a K/9 over 10 in each of them. He has a career 2.88 ERA and a 2.81 FIP, and last year, in 69 games, put up a 3.23 ERA and a 2.97 FIP in 69.2 innings. He struck out 32.2% of batters last season, right in line with his career average of 32.4%, with a walk rate of 9.2% that was also right around his career mark of 9.6%.
Robertson has become more curveball reliant over the last two years, throwing 43.3% of the time in 2017 and 42.9% last season. He’s also throwing his slider more (14.4% last season) and has seen his fastball percentage drop to an all-time low of 42.5% last season. However, the velocity (low-90s) has been consistent.
Of particular value to the Phils is that he is good against left-handed hitters. In 2018, he held lefties to a .172/.240/.378 slash line and gave up just five home runs to lefties. For his career, left-handers have batted a meager .186/.267/.278 against him, so he will help Philadelphia combat something that was an extreme weakness for them last season. He’s also not a homer-prone reliever, averaging 0.77 HR/9 over his career.
The addition of Robertson gives manager Gabe Kapler an experienced option for the 9th inning. While he has been a set-up man the last two seasons, he did save 34+ games each season from 2014-16. He also brings pennant race and postseason experience pitching for New York, the largest media market in the country.
Whether he’s used as the team’s “closer” or as just another effective late-inning option, it’s clear the Phillies have the makings of a flexible and scary bullpen. Seranthony Dominguez can perhaps return to the “fireman’s” role Kapler desperately wanted to use him in, and barring any trades, have Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio, Hector Neris, Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Edubray Ramos, and James Pazos in the bullpen as well.
The signing of Robertson is a great signing and allows the Phillies to focus fully on acquiring either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.