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How do the recent reliever signings affect the Phillies?

You know, other than they won’t sign with the Phillies

San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

So this weekend was the “hey, some relievers are signing!” weekend. Josh Hader, inarguably the top reliever available on the free agent market, took his talents to Houston while Robert Stephenson, yet another product the super-reliever making factory that is Tampa Bay, followed the money to Anaheim. Both of these relievers were always going to garner many millions of dollars, but it’s at least mildly surprising it took this long for them to sign considering how popular they both were. Monday night, another name went off the board when Aroldis Chapman signed with Pittsburgh, though the Phillies probably had very little to no interest in his services.

Still, that’s two names off of the market for the Phillies to bring into Philadelphia, two relievers that would have upped the overall look of their bullpen to be one of the top three or four units in the game. Having a dominant bullpen is no longer looked at as a luxury to have; it’s become almost a necessity the way the game has changed. Now, as has been noted much more often recently, teams are more likely to use relievers as openers than they are to have a quality fifth starter, making depth and dominance a roster building priority. The Phillies are fortunate in that they currently employ five starters that give the team a fair chance of winning each time out based on their quality alone.

As it stands, the team’s bullpen looks like so (depth chart via Fangraphs):

  • Jose Alvarado
  • Seranthony Dominguez
  • Gregory Soto
  • Jeff Hoffman
  • Matt Strahm
  • Orion Kerkering
  • Dylan Covey
  • Andrew Bellatti

It’s a formidable top five group of names, a wild card sixth name that has the potential to be the top right handed option and two names that could use an upgrade were the team able to.

So, with Hader and Stephenson off the board, where does that leave the Phillies in regards to a possible upgrade over Covey and/or Bellatti?

Well, for starters, there is no reason to trade for a reliever now as the market is still flooded with options should the team decide to spend some money. Trades for relievers are more a deadline thing than anything.

Moving on, it’s possible that the team might be satisfied going into spring training with this group of eight as the backbone of the group, Covey and Bellatti’s spot up for open competition. Looking at what is in the minor leagues near the top of the chain, Kerkering is already there. Michael Mercado, McKinley Moore, Connor Brogdon, Luis Ortiz and Yunior Marte already have 40-man roster spots and will get long looks each during March to see if they’re better equipped to take over Bellatti’s spot. Covey’s ability to throw multiple innings without letting the game get out of hand is something the team clearly values, so he’s likely to continue having a spot on the 26-man roster for now.

If we’re talking free agents, we can probably narrow down the team’s interests to someone who throws from the right side. Already having three solid options at left-hand relieving probably means they’re focusing on a right-handed reliever if they’re looking at all. The names available aren’t exactly ones that will inspire the fanbase either. Hector Neris would be able to come home to Philadelphia, Ryne Stanek is only two years removed from posting a 1.15 ERA across 54 23 innings (though peripherals were a little skeptical of that), David Robertson can brings his handsomeness and his calf muscles to Philadelphia for a third go ‘round and on and on. There are injury risks, there are pitchers coming off of a down year, a regular cornucopia of troubled major leaguers just waiting to be handed a contract.

The issue is, as with all things, money and contract length. The last two seasons, the Phillies have signed a veteran relief pitcher for $10 million - Corey Knebel before the 2022 season, Craig Kimbrel before last. It stands to reason that the team has some free agent bucks earmarked for a veteran reliever, but they’ve also shown that in both of those deals, they were only willing to go one year with the deal, a multiyear deal of no interest to them. The market has shown teams willing to go multi years for relievers, so why would anyone settle for a one year deal right now? Why wouldn’t someone like Neris or Stanek keep waiting for even a two-year deal at this point, knowing the losers of both the Hader and Stephenson sweepstakes might shift interest their way. It’s annoying for those that follow the transaction wire and love the offseason for all the action that those two (and many other) are waiting out the market, but it makes good sense for them personally.

So, it seems the status quo is still in place for the team. They have some options internally if they choose to sit out the free agent market altogether, though the effectiveness of those options can be questioned. There are still veterans waiting to be signed if that route is decided to be the most prudent. As much as one might think the signings of Hader and Stephenson might move the needle for the team in terms of desperation, the truth is - it really doesn’t.

They’re in a good spot already.