I don’t need to throw any fancy numbers in your direction for you to know that the Phillies’ bullpen needs a major overhaul if they are going to seriously contend this season.
Matt Klentak has already made significant strides in improving the lackluster ‘pen by acquiring Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox, as well as David Hale from the Yankees.
Even though these three represent a considerable upgrade to the current crop of relievers, I believe bringing in at least one more option could further bolster the bullpen’s depth.
Another important factor to consider is the impending 40-man roster crunch that the Phillies’ front office has to get out in front of. There are multiple prospects in the system who are projected to be added to the 40-man ahead of December’s Rule 5 Draft. Klentak could look to unload some of these players at the deadline in an effort to alleviate the overabundance of roster talent.
With that said, here are 8 more relievers the Phillies should consider acquiring ahead of the August 31st trade deadline.
Miguel Castro, Orioles
Miguel Castro is having a very interesting season judging by his advanced data. Despite having one of the worst hard hit rates in baseball (54.3%), Castro has actually posted above average expected statistics across the board this season. His barrel rate is also a solid 5.7%.
Castro has been mostly average the past couple seasons, however the biggest difference for him in 2020 has been the explosion in his strikeout rate. Currently, it stands at 33.9%, which is a dramatic upgrade from his 2019 mark of 22.3%.
He has a three pitch mix (sinker, slider, changeup) that all feature above average movement. In short, his stuff is great and the jump in K rate is likely the byproduct of him locating it better.
Castro’s price tag could be steep as he has 2 additional years of club control remaining beyond 2020 and is only 25 years old.
A.J. Cole, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays signed Cole to a minor league deal this past winter and are in a prime position to flip him for future assets at the deadline. Cole has been flat-out dominant in 2020, posting a .209 xwOBA with 0 barrels across 13 innings.
His 2020 performance is not a fluke either. Cole’s contact numbers were above average across the board in 2019, however his standard statistics (3.81 ERA and 1.500 WHIP) were far less exciting and likely contributed to his release by the Indians last November.
All told, Cole would be a low-risk, possibly high-reward acquisition. His xwOBA would be far-and-away the best on the Phillies.
Mychal Givens, Orioles
Givens has been a popular name on the trade wire for a few seasons now. He has extensive experience as a late inning reliever, and if he is acquired, I imagine the Phillies would try to extend him.
Simply put, Givens has been electric this season posting a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings. His K rate took a huge jump to 33.1% last season, and he is proving that was no fluke by posting a 34.8% K rate thus far in 2020.
One issue with Givens’ game last season was his 11% barrel rate, which has dropped to 4.2% this season.
It is likely that Givens’ ERA will deflate at some point, however he still represents a sizable upgrade for the bullpen. He is 30 years old and comes with 2 more years of club control beyond this season.
Greg Holland, Royals
Greg Holland’s struggles in recent years have stemmed from walking too many batters, and even in an up year he still has a below average BB%. However, Holland has consistently been one of the best relievers in baseball at not getting barreled.
Holland has posted 5 above average barrel rates in each of the last 5 seasons, and it is all the way down to 2.6% this season.
Holland is a 34-year-old rental, meaning he will be inexpensive to acquire from the rebuilding Royals.
Like Givens, Holland has a ton of experience working in high leverage situations.
Keone Kela, Pirates
The biggest question about Keone Kela is his health. Kela exited the Pirates’ game on Friday with reported forearm tightness. If this injury sidelines him for a prolonged period, then the Pirates will have no choice but to hold onto him through the deadline.
If the Phillies do acquire Kela, they will be getting a reliever with a sub .300 xwOBA in each of the last 4 seasons. Kela is an above average strikeout artist (career 30.1% K rate), due in large part to his devastating fastball-curveball combination.
One performance issue with Kela is his lefty/righty split difference. Kela’s difference on his xwOBA between the two sides is .152 (since 2019), meaning he gets hit considerably harder by lefties than he does righties.
Despite this factor, Kela is still well above average by reliever standards. He should also come relatively cheap, as he too is on an expiring contract.
Trevor Rosenthal, Royals
By most metrics, Trevor Rosenthal has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball thus far in 2020. Rosenthal has been among the league leaders in xwOBA (.275) and K rate (34.1%)
This is a terrific comeback for Rosenthal who missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery and struggled mightily in his return last season.
Rosenthal’s best peripheral stat is his 32.9% whiff rate, which grades as well above average. Still only 30, Rosenthal could be someone the Phillies have free agent interest in this offseason if he can maintain his strong production through the end of the year.
Hansel Robles, Angels
For the Phillies, Hansel Robles would be a bounce-back candidate as he is having a pretty disastrous 2020 thus far. Yes, he has a 10.64 ERA, however that comes with a 5.77 FIP, giving him the 3rd highest ERA-FIP difference among relievers this season. This indicates that the Angels’ 28th ranked defense (in defensive runs saved above average, according to Fangraphs) is not doing Robles any favors.
While this may be true, Robles is still getting hit hard this season, posting a 12.9% barrel rate. Last season, Robles’ .263 xwOBA was among the top 6% in baseball, and he also finished with a minuscule 5.7% BB rate.
Robles comes with one more season of club control beyond 2020. Because he has that additional season, the Angels could be inclined to keep him through this deadline and let him rebuild his value.
Robert Stephenson, Reds
The Reds entered 2020 poised to contend for the NL Central, but after a slow start could be in a position to sell at the deadline. 27-year-old Robert Stephenson was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019. His .253 xwOBA was among the top 3% in the league, as was his 26.8% hard hit rate.
Stephenson also struck out 30.9% of batters last season. However, his most impressive stat might be his 18.9% swinging strike rate, which trailed only Josh Hader and Nick Anderson among relievers.
Stephenson only has one appearance in 2020, and faced three batters before the Reds shelved him with a back injury. He was activated from the IL on Monday.
The right-hander has a prospect pedigree as well as three years of club control remaining beyond 2020, meaning his return price could be rather steep. Another important factor is seeing how Stephenson performs upon his return from the IL.
If he does return to his 2019 form, he should certainly be on the Phillies’ radar.
Kyle Crick (PIT), Paul Fry (BAL), Joe Jimenez (DET), Matt Magill (SEA)