The winter meetings began on Monday, and as we like to say in the baseball world, the stove is getting hot for some teams in the league. For the Angels, Shohei Otani’s signing and subsequent injury news means the stove in Anaheim is catching fire. For the Phillies, the stove will likely be on a mild simmer, boiling our leader Liam Jenkins’ afternoon tea, but not burning my morning eggs.
The Phillies will be assertive, yet not overly aggressive in the coming weeks, and that was proven by the signings that the team has made thus far. The club will almost certainly not overpursue an expiring contract of Manny Machado, giving up top tier prospects in the process. But they will also not sit on their laurels while they watch the other teams in the National League better their rosters.
That’s mild aggression is evident by the signing of two bullpen arms early in the week that will settle any late game woes without breaking the bank or the farm system.
First, the Phillies were seemingly able to pull the wool over the Colorado Rockies’ eyes by re-signing submarine style reliever Pat Neshek on a two-year deal. After signing the 2017 All-Star to a one-year deal prior to the start of last season, the Phillies found a trade partner in the Rockies in late-July. In return, the Phillies received three prospects, including strikeout artist J.D. Hammer. While the other two players were nice pieces, Hammer is clearly the best asset of the trade. Well, just five months after trading Neshek away, the Phillies have brought him back into the fold. This time, it’s a two-year deal worth about 16 million dollars a year. In bringing Neshek back to Philadelphia, the Phillies effectively received Hammer for free. Neshek’s final line in 2017 was sensational. Between Philadelphia and Colorado, Neshek finished 5-3 with a 1.59 ERA. His ERA actually rose once he left Philadelphia, but that’s somewhat expected, as the ball flies out of the yard at an uncontrollable pace inside Coors Field. Don’t worry about his second half results, as they were inflated in Colorado. Neshek will likely slide into the seventh inning role, just as he did in 2017. While I don’t expect any pitcher to post sub-2.00 ERA’s in consecutive seasons, I do expect Neshek to perform identically to what he did in the first four months of last season for the Phillies.
The next day, it was reported that the Phillies have found their setup man as well. The Phillies signed former Oriole and Ray Tommy Hunter. Hunter pitched with the Rays last season, posting a 3-5 record with a 2.61 ERA. He struckout 54 over 58.2 innings pitched last year, and allowed less than a baserunner per inning in 2017. He walked just 14 and allowed 43 hits, resulting in 57 baserunners over those innings pitched. Since 2015, Hunter has lowered his ERA each season. This will be Hunter’s fifth team in four years. The deal is worth less than what Neshek received, averaging about nine million dollars per year. It’s likely that Hunter will slide into the eighth inning role for the Phillies in 2018.
With Neshek filling the seventh inning and Hunter occupying the eighth inning, this likely means that the closer role will initially fall to Hector Neris. Neris was the primary closer for the Phillies last season, going 4-4 with a 3.01 ERA. He converted 26 of 29 opportunities. We know that Neris is an extreme ground ball pitcher, relying heavily on his sinker to get outs. It’s a deadly proposition that Neris often puts out, as a hanging sinker is nothing more than a flat fastball. He has to be extremely careful with pitch location in 2018. Neris was promising toward the end of the season, finishing 2017 with more strikes thrown, and less pitches per at bat and inning.
So with the seventh, eighth and ninth innings locked up in the short term, where does that leave the remainder of the bullpen? It likely means that the Phillies will be righty heavy in the bullpen, and also that a few arms won’t make the Opening Day roster that finished 2017 with the big league club. It comes down to if the team wants to carry two lefties or one. If the option is just one, than the seemingly resurgent Adam Morgan will get the first shot at left handed hitters. If the Phillies decide to go with two lefties, Morgan will be joined by Hoby Milner. Milner gives the team a matchup lefty, and Morgan can be the power left handed arm. So you have Neris, Hunter, Neshek, and Morgan as locks with Milner as the second lefty if they so choose. That gives the Phillies five bullpen arms, with two spots remaining. Luis Garcia should also be a lock despite faltering a bit down the stretch in 2017. That leaves just one sure spots for a bullpen pitcher. My guess would be either Edubray Ramos or Ricardo Pinto would get that final spot to begin the season for now. That doesn’t mean a minor league arm could emerge as an MLB pitcher in 2018, or that the team is done in free agency, but for now, I can only estimate the known, and the known tells me it’ll be Ramos.
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports