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The Phillies have lost Héctor Neris to the Astros

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In a surprising turn of events, longtime Phillies reliever Héctor Neris has reportedly signed with the Houston Astros.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Héctor Neris, the longest-tenured Phillies player, won’t be returning in 2022. It’s a major blow to the Phillies bullpen, not to mention to Phillies fans who have grown to love Neris over the past eight years.

The news came very quickly. Jim Salisbury reported this afternoon that the Phillies had given up on Héctor Neris and that he would sign somewhere else shortly. Just moments later, Salisbury broke the news that Neris would be signing with the Astros.

Héctor’s deal with the Astros is confirmed, pending a physical, and it is for 2 years and $17 million, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Improving the bullpen was considered by most to be a priority for the Phillies this offseason, so missing out on Neris comes as a bit of a surprise. With Neris officially gone, the Phillies bullpen is now in worse shape than it was last season, when it was one of the worst in the majors. With Aaron Loup and Kendall Graveman already off the market, there are only a handful of free agent relievers left who can pitch at a level similar to Neris.

Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts put it perfectly this afternoon when he said that, “the Phillies better have an actual plan”.

The Phillies easily could have matched (or topped) the contract that Héctor Neris received from the Astros. Two years for $17 million is a very reasonable contract for Neris, who has been one of the most reliable relievers in baseball throughout his career. He has never missed significant time with injuries, and he has a career 3.42 ERA in over 400 innings pitched.

For his production alone, Neris is well worth the money, but considering that Neris was the longest tenured Phillies and a positive clubhouse presence, it’s very surprising that the Phillies didn’t try to beat Houston’s offer.

That being said, if Dave Dombrowski has a clear plan to improve the bullpen (and the rest of the team) and turn the Phillies into serious, actual contenders, it’s understandable why he didn’t fight harder to sign Neris. Sometimes baseball executives have to make tough decisions in order to put the best team on the field.

But if Dombrowski doesn’t come away with any big-name free agents this offseason, and if the Phillies aren’t a markedly better team in 2022, then failing to sign Héctor Neris is almost unforgivable.

Neris is one of the greatest relievers in franchise history. He has given his all to mediocre Phillies teams year after year, and he has shouldered a lot of the blame from fans for the Phillies’ bullpen woes even though he has consistently been one of their best relievers. He bring energy to the field and he is delight in post-game press conferences. He has spoken repeatedly about how much he loves playing in Philadelphia and about how much his team means to him.

The ultimate goal of baseball is to win, yes. But baseball is also about entertainment and community and joy. That the Phillies let Héctor Neris walk away really makes me question their commitment to entertainment and community and joy. So all I can say is that they had better be really committed to winning.