Yesterday, the Phillies made a move that probably looks like things to come for the coming season.
If you’re like me, the first thought was realizing how incredibly old you are that Neftali Feliz, who hasn’t been in the majors since 2017, is still only 32 YEARS OLD!
The second thought is thinking: what in the world has Neftali Feliz been doing since 2017? That isn’t really as appealing as learning what he has been up to lately. Luckily for us, Gomez has that covered as well!
Neftali Feliz stats with @aguilascibaenas in 2020 Dominican Winter League:— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) December 17, 2020
“Small sample size! Small sample size!” the masses will scream. It’s not possible to make any kind of determination of what kind of effectiveness a pitcher will have based off of 12 innings of work. The counterpoint to that is that that is precisely what evaluators will be doing thanks to the shortened 2020 season. In the grand scheme, the signing of Feliz doesn’t represent much more than a blip on the transactional radar that will quickly be forgotten.
And yet we can determine so much more about this by extrapolating the ideas behind it. The team is likely going to be scaling back payroll in an effort to “recover” from not getting enough money in the 2020 season. Should they desire to bring back J.T. Realmuto and/or sign another free agent of note, that player will likely command a large part of whatever money the team does have to spend this offseason. That means Dave Dombrowski and company will need to make due with whatever money is left over and that will mean some deep bargain bin diving.
When Feliz was last an effective reliever, he was regularly pumping fastballs in the high to mid 90’s that had the ability to miss bats. That is a skill that hardly anyone on the team’s current roster possesses. Even if Feliz has lost a tick or two off of that velocity, it is likely that the pitch is still capable of being effective (the 19 strikeouts in 12 2⁄3 innings of DSL play somewhat confirms this). He’s exactly the type of gamble this team should be taking as they look to assemble a bullpen that is better than the 2020 iteration on the cheap.
This strategy is the more likely path the team takes than signing someone on the free agency market that will command large amounts of dollars. While getting someone like Liam Hendriks would solve a lot of problems, he is staring at a contract with an AAV of around $9-10 million, something the Phillies likely would want to avoid, even if it is the easiest way to fix the problem that is the bullpen.
However, if the plan to roll the dice with multiple arms instead of even dipping their toes in the free agency market, that could prove to be foolhardy. All the arms like Feliz that are available for cheap minor league contracts are available for a reason. For Feliz, it’s the fact that he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch in three years despite the ability to miss bats with a high velocity fastball. For others, it could be they are coming off of a major injury, were extremely ineffective in 2020 or before, or some other reason. It’s fine if the team wants to grab an arm or two from this bin as a means of trying to catch lightning in a bottle, but basing their entire offseason strategy off of this way of acquiring players would be a mistake. Expecting regression back from the abyss for several relievers is fine, and probably likely, so the bullpen can’t be as bad as it was, but there has to be some addition from a more worthy relief arm. Adding that kind of experience to some young relievers while mixing in minor league lottery tickets is the best way to build that bullpen on the cheap. So while Feliz is probably a sign of things to come, let’s just hope that there are other irons in the fire.