It’s certainly been a rough couple of months for the Phillies’ bullpen. While Seranthony Dominguez has been a sensation, appearing to be well on his way to becoming a lockdown closer, most of the bullpen in 2018 has been inefficient, at best and more realistically detrimental to the success of the team.
And as the calendar turns into July, and the season closes in on the unofficial halfway mark, the trade deadline looms large. The obvious move Phillies’ fans would like the club to make is to acquire Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. And while Machado would be an instant upgrade at either third base or shortstop, it won’t be easy to zone in on the All-Star. But outside of Machado, it has become evident that the fans are clambering for another back end of the bullpen arm. With the trade dealine just 31 days away, it’s time to gear up the trade machine.
This kind of speculation has to be genuine. It has to be fair and honest. Yes, I know, it’s easy, and quite honestly fun, to think of what could be if the Phillies were able to acquire an arm like Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman. But there is no conceivable way that the Red Sox or Yankees would trade their All-Star closers in the midst of fantastic seasons in which both teams, regardless of either claiming the division, will be playoff teams. So, in order to improve the Phillies’ bullpen while being realistic, I’ve taken a look at three relievers who could bolster the back end while achieving two goals: not depleting the Phillies’ farm system and being realistic.
Jared Hughes, Cincinnati Reds
What? Your first one isn’t Brad Hand? But everything I’ve read previously had Hand as a potential target for the Phillies.
Yes, I think Brad Hand would be a perfect fit to slide into the closer role, allowing Seranthony Dominguez to pitch in the eighth inning. But sometimes you have to go into the second level thinking before you make your decision on lists such as these. The reason I went with Hughes first is because of his success against left handed hitters this season. It’s been no secret the Phillies have been looking for an arm out of the bullpen to get lefties out. Hoby Milner was a shell of his last year’s self early this season, and Adam Morgan appears to have lost it. Zac Curtis has been much improved since his promotion to the big leagues, but bringing in a veteran who could get big time left handed hitters out late in the game like Hughes is crucial. In 62 at bats against left handed hitter, Hughes has allowed just 12 hits, a .194 average. Of Hughes’ 30 strikeouts this season, all but three have come against right handed hitters, which means that lefties do make contact against the right handed pitcher, but he’s kept those lefties off the bases.
The seven-year vet has posted a 1.27 ERA thus far and has closed out a handful of games for the Reds. He signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the Reds prior to the season, so the Phillies would be able retain Hughes past this year while paying him a relatively small salary. The contract includes a 2020 team option for $3 million, so, in theory, the Phillies could use his services for up to the three years if they choose.
Joakim Soria, Chicago White Sox
The trend continues, as the Phillies could pull a reliever having a successful season for a bad team. Soria is one of those arms that you feel like has been in the league forever since he came into the league with the Kansas City Royals in 2007. Soria has regained most of his form after struggling through the better part of two seasons in his second stint with the Royals.
In 31 appearances this season, Soria has thrown just 30 innings, but he’s been tremendous. He’s converted 11 of 13 save opportunities since taking over the closer duties, tossing a 2.70 ERA. He’s scattered 27 hits over those 30 innings, but has surrendered just six walks, so his command has been evident this year. He’s throwing nearly four more percent of his pitches for strikes than in 2017, allowing him to throw almost one less pitch per inning. That doesn’t seem like an important number, but it does keep Soria’s pitch count down, meaning he’ll be more readily available down the stretch. Through the first half of the season, Soria’s walks per nine number is down 1.4 walks.
All of these roundabout numbers boil down to the fact that Soria has been fantastic this season. The Chicago White Sox are squarely in the middle of a rebuild, and Soria was signed, very much like Pat Neshek was last season with the Phillies, as a veteran arm who could keep things from getting worse in the bullpen. Again, much like Neshek, he’s potentially pitched himself out of a bad situation and onto a winning team.
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
This move may actually make it easier to get Manny Machado. The Orioles are the worst team in the league this year, and it appears they’ve finally realized it’s time to retool. That means shedding contracts in order to get younger again. And one prime candidate for a contract dump is Zach Britton, who is making $12 million this season. But that doesn’t mean that Britton couldn’t help the Phillies’ bullpen. It simply may need to be a packaged deal to bring Machado to Philadelphia.
Britton hasn’t thrown many innings this season, as he’s been sidelined for most of the season withe a ruptured Achilles. He’s appeared in just nine games this year, tossing 8.2 innings. In my best Wizard of Oz impression, “Pay no attention to the one bad outing”. Britton allowed four earned runs while recording just one out against the Atlanta Braves last week, an outing that ballooned his ERA to well over 6.00. If you were to remove that one awful outing, Britton has allowed two runs over 8.1 innings pitched, good for a 2.16 ERA. Britton’s control has been a concern, as he’s issued seven walks over 8.2 innings pitched this season, but I liken that to a return to form moreso than the new norm. Prior to his injury, Britton posted four consecutive seasons of sub-2.90 ERAs, including a near Cy Young caliber season in 2016, when he gave up four earned runs in 67 innings pitched. Britton may not be quite back to dominant closer form, but he certainly would help bolster a young bullpen for the remainder of the season.
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports