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It’s time to talk about the Phillies bullpen in 2020

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It’s clear the Phils are going with internal options to round out the bullpen for next year.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On Christmas Eve, the New York Mets jumped into the reliever market and snagged the guy many had pegged as being a possible addition to the Phillies at some point this off-season.

Dellin Betances, formerly a lights-out closer for Joe Girardi’s New York Yankees, will not be reunited with his former skipper. Instead, he’ll move across town to Flushing to play for the Phils’ NL East rivals after signing a one-year, $10.5 million deal that could be worth $13 million with incentives. It’s expected he’ll either set up or battle it out for the closer position with incumbent Edwin Diaz.

For the Phillies, it’s become all too clear that they are not going over the luxury tax and, as a result, will be looking for stability in the bullpen with internal options. Adding Betances, who didn’t appear in a game until mid-September due to shoulder and lat injuries only to also suffer a partial tear of his Achilles in his one and only appearance, would have been a nice speculation play on the part of the Phils, although certainly one with some risks. Perhaps there was something they didn’t like in the medicals, who knows.

But with most of the top relievers off the board, there really is nowhere left to turn, and maybe that’s OK. After all, general manager Matt Klentak hasn’t had much luck when it comes to signing veteran relief free agents.

Two years ago they re-signed Pat Neshek to a two-year deal, and also inked Tommy Hunter to a two-year contract. Last off-season they signed David Robertson, one of the steadiest relievers in baseball over the last decade, to a two-year contract as well.

Things didn’t go well.

And it wasn’t just the veteran guys. Virtually everyone the team was depending on fell victim to injuries last year.

Despite it all, the bullpen did have the 4th-best ERA in the National League after the All-Star break, a fact that did not escape the attention of Andy MacPhail at the team’s year-end news conference. But the additions of Blake Parker (4.50 ERA, 4.08 FIP), Mike Morin (5.79 ERA, 4.61 FIP) and Jared Hughes (3.91 ERA, 6.47 FIP) were emergency moves necessitated by the fact that almost none of the young, internal options managed to stay healthy or were productive last year.

Seranthony Dominguez was expected to be a closer or late-inning fireballer, but he only appeared in 27 games and put up a 4.01 ERA before shutting it down for the season with elbow trouble. He chose not to have surgery on that elbow, so the worry lingers that the issue will recur this year. Adam Morgan was inconsistent in his 40 appearances before he missed the last two months, Victor Arano pitched in only three games and Edubray Ramos appeared in only 20.

The AAA guys were abysmal. Hammer lasted just 19 innings and had a 3.79 ERA while striking out just 6.16 batters per nine. Enyel De Los Santos didn’t get much of an opportunity to do anything, starter or reliever. Edgar Garcia was especially disappointing, with a 5.77 ERA and a ghastly 6.00 BB/9 in 39.0 innings of work. One of the few brights spots was starter-turned-reliever Ranger Suarez, who had a 3.14 ERA, 3.89 FIP in 48.2 innings last year. You can assume he’ll be one of the lefties out of the ‘pen.

The Phillies were also hoping that either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta would come through as a bullpen option, but injuries to the starting rotation forced Velasquez out of the ‘pen, and Pivetta walked 5.11 per nine in his 24.2 innings as a reliever.

Many, if not most, of those names are going to get another crack at it this year, along with some other guys who will get their first swing at it: Robert Stock, Garrett Cleavenger, Austin Davis, Cole Irvin, Trevor Kelley, Mauricio Llovera, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero, Cristopher Sanchez, Connor Brogdon, Kyle Dohy, and others.

The Phillies are hoping that the old adage — bullpens are volatile — is true, because they need to find seven or eight guys out of spring training who can reasonably be expected to get guys out. They are hoping Seranthony and Morgan will be healthy, and they are hoping they can get another season of effective relief work out of Neris. They’re also hoping that they can add pieces in-season, much like the Washington Nationals did.

Remember, after the first month of the season, the Nats had a bullpen ERA of 5.95, 2nd-highest in Major League Baseball. But they made some trades at midseason, most notably the addition of Daniel Hudson, and managed to stabilize things well enough to go on a postseason run and ultimately win the World Series.

Of course, the Nationals had much better starting pitching in 2019 than the Phillies are forecasted to have in 2020. The Phils are hoping their starters will give them more length this season, and are also hoping a new pitching coach and new manager won’t wear out their relievers by having them warm up multiple times a game.

The last two off-seasons the Phillies spent a lot of money on relievers and it blew up in their faces, so perhaps you can’t blame them for staying away and hoping the home grown guys step up, knowing the bullpen is the easiest area to shore up during the summer. But Phils fans are right to feel uneasy about the current crop of arms they appear willing to head to Clearwater with next spring.