The largest area of need for the Phillies in 2022 is the bullpen, specifically the back end. The Phillies had the second most blown saves in 2021 with 34. Given that they finished 7 GB in the loss column of Atlanta for the division, and 8 GB of the 2nd wildcard spot, losing 34 out of 70 opportunities really stings. The pieces they brought in before the season did not pan out (10 blown saves in 19 opportunities), as Hector Neris continued to struggle as the everyday closer (7 blown saves in 19 opportunities). Even Ian Kennedy, who was acquired to help with the stretch run, had 3 blown saves in 13 opportunities.
Now Neris, Kennedy, Archie Bradley are gone, Corey Knebel has been brought in, and Seranthony Dominguez will be back as a factor at the end of games. But they will need more than this to overcome their woes. We look now at just a few players who could fill the black whole void that has been the back end of the Phillies bullpen (133 blown saves – 12 more than the league average since 2016).
Late game Bullpen Options
Archie Bradley is a guy who I think the Phillies should bring back. He may not be the answer at closer, but he has been extremely valuable in non-save situations over his career (2.55 ERA over 144.2 innings). His 2021 was filled with IL stints, which isn’t surprising.
Asking these pitchers to endure a 50+ inning season after only pitching 18+ innings in 2020 is a big leap for relief pitchers. Plus, I think Bradley is a great presence in that bullpen. He brings a wealth of experience over his 7-year career, especially for the younger guys that will get their chances this season (Bradley began his career at 22 y/o). I think the Phillies can bring back Bradley for a relatively modest price and keep at least some familiarity in the bullpen.
Joe Kelly is probably my favorite relief pitcher available for the Phillies to get for one sole reason: he’s a winner. In his 10-year career, he has missed the playoffs twice. In that same span, he has won the World Series twice (and lost once).
He’s been around winning culture and knows what a winning team look like. The Phillies desperately need a culture change. Not to mention in almost 220 innings, he has an ERA of 2.83 as a reliever, and has almost identical numbers against righties and lefties. Plus, he is the type of player that Philadelphia would love, with all the emotion he plays with. I know he’s a long shot, given he’s a California guy who has his pick of the litter in terms of locations, but I would love to see the Phillies bring him in.
One guy who set the world on fire last year and had a major influence on Oakland’s push for the playoffs was Andrew Chafin. Coming off his best season by far of his career, this lefty would be a welcome addition to the Phillies’ bullpen for the lone reason of him being a lefty.
However, one thing that can be attributed to his season-long success is the effectiveness of his slider, while using his sinker as his feature pitch and his fastball as more of a set up. Ranger Suarez has shown how effective sinker pitchers can be at Citizens Bank, and I think if Chafin can lean on his 2021 success, he would be extremely valuable in the end of games (1.55 ERA over 64 IP in innings 7-9).
The last option on this list is with the understanding that Corey Knebel and Seranthony Dominguez will not be the closer. Brad Hand has 20+ saves in four of the last five seasons and led the league in the shortened-2020 season with 16 saves.
While Kenley Jansen is the top closer available, he will also be well out of budget. And trade targets are out of the scope for this article (i.e. Craig Kimbrel). So I think Hand fits a lot of the things the Phillies are looking for: stability and consistency at the end of games, wealth of experience in save situations, and another lefty to add to the arsenal.
Who will the Phillies sign?
I think bringing back Bradley is a very real possibility. He’s probably the most likely name on this list to be a Phillies in 2022.
Unfortunately, I think Chafin and Kelly will likely sign elsewhere. Chafin will be highly sought after and be pushed out of the budget. Kelly will likely stay close to home, with either LAD, LAA, or SD. However, I do see a very real possibility that the Phillies can sign Hand. Unless they promised the closer role to Knebel, I think the Phillies are still actively looking for a legitimate closer. Hand would slide nicely into that role.
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