Fixing the Phillies: Part Two (The Bullpen)

Posted: September 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

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A strong bullpen, like a dominant special teams in football, can separate the contenders from the pretenders. As Phillies fans witnessed in 2008, a shutdown closer coupled with a reliable setup man can push a team over the top and towards a world championship.

In 2012, the Phillies had one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues. Philadelphia made blowing late leads look like an art. It didn’t matter who Charlie Manuel went with, the “Pigpen” was as reliable as FEMA in the inner cities.

Heading into 2013, Ruben Amaro aimed to prevent this tragedy from happening again. The Philadelphia general manager acquired veteran setup man Mike Adams to supplement Jonathan Papelbon at the backend of the ‘pen. Adams, 34, inked a two-year, $12 million contract last December. The former Padre and Ranger was expected to provide top-notch relief in the eighth inning for the 2013 club. However, as has been the case with many Amaro signings of late, the injury bug reared its ugly head. Adams was coming into this season with a body already full of aches, pains, and question marks. The right-hander was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before he even signed the deal. While the Phillies avoided any setback with regards to TOS, the beleaguered ballclub could not avoid major injury to their prized off-season acquisition. Adams was lost for the season in July with multiple tears in his shoulder, leaving Charlie Manuel with a collection of youth and inconsistency at the backend of his pen.

As for Papelbon, it would be difficult to describe his first two years in red pinstripes as a disappointment. The former All-Star, who signed a four-year, $50 million contract with a vesting option for 2016 prior to 2012, has saved 67 games since joining the club. In 2013, Papelbon started tremendously. In the first half, opposing hitters batted just .207 against him. After the All-Star break, on the other hand, he was raked to the tune of a .283 batting average. The Phillies have to hope that “Pap’s” second-half woes are merely a sign of short-term fatigue and not a preview of things to come.

Papelbon and Adams will return next year to man the backend of what should be an improved bullpen. In the second half of 2013, the Phillies not only have to deal with Adams’ injuries and Papelbon’s inconsistency; but, they also had to endure a 50-game suspension to left-hander Antonio Bastardo (3-2, 2.32). With both Adams and Bastardo sidelined, youngsters like Justin DeFratus (3-3, 3.91), Jake Diekman (1-4, 2.65), Luis Garcia (0-1, 3.99), BJ Rosenberg (2-0, 4.82), and Cesar Jimenez (1-1, 2.20) were promoted from Lehigh Valley and played crucial roles down the stretch for both Manuel and Sandberg.

DeFratus and Diekman were perhaps the two most impressive arms of the season. The former began the season as the IronPigs’ primary closer. It didn’t take long for the right-hander to be promoted once injuries hit the Phillies’ bullpen. DeFratus had his struggles, as any young pitcher does. But, the fast array of roles that he filled during the course of the season proved just how valuable he can be to an organization. Diekman, meanwhile, is a talented lefty who replaced DeFratus as Lehigh Valley’s closer following the latter’s promotion. After ranking among the league leaders in games finished during his time in the International League, Diekman flourished in his second stint with Philadelphia in 2013. Against southpaws, Diekman was nearly untouchable (.148 opponents’ batting average, 0 extra-base hits allowed). The 26-year-old was brilliant in the second half, going 1-4 with a 2.08 ERA. It would be absolutely stunning if we didn’t see both of the “Killer Ds” in the Ryne Sandberg’s bullpen next spring.

So, there are four pieces already cemented. If one assumes that Bastardo, who was moderately reliable prior to his suspension, returns to begin the year, Amaro likely won’t have much shopping to do with regards to bullpen pieces.

Some pitchers that the Phillies relied on this year are unlikely to return. Phillippe Aumont, whose million-dollar arm is only matched by his ten cent head, claimed following his AAA campaign that he did not want to be back. The centerpiece of the December, 2009 Cliff Lee trade has clearly lost his motivation in this organization and should expect to be traded. Jeremy Horst, acquired prior to 2012 from Cincinnati for Wilson Valdez, regressed this season after a stellar first campaign in Philadelphia. He was lost for the season due to injury. But, the LOOGY should be expected back by spring training.

Other pitchers who contributed this season included Zach Miner (0-1, 3.08), J.C. Ramirez (0-1, 7.48), Raul Valdes (1-1, 7.46), Ethan Martin (2-5, 6.32), Michael Stutes (3-1, 4.86), and Joe Savery (2-0, 3.32). Of all of these names, the most likely duo to make the squad out of spring training are Martin and Savery. The former, as mentioned in part one of this series, has an electric arm and knee buckling curveball. Endurance and emotion seem to be the only things holding him back. Savery, a first-round pick in 2007, has bounced between AAA and the major leagues for three years now. It is becoming clear that he will never be a front-line reliever. But, the left-hander provides valuable depth behind Bastardo and Horst on the Phillies’ organizational depth chart.

Clearly, the Phillies don’t have a lot of shopping to do to improve the bullpen. The available arms in free agency hardly stick out. A return of Ryan Madson, who hasn’t pitched since the 2011 NLDS, could be considered as it would be a low cost, low risk move. Other veterans like LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde, and Carlos Marmol all are massive question marks.

As of now, it would appear that Papelbon, Adams, DeFratus, Diekman, Bastardo, Martin, and Horst/Savery will make up the bullpen next year. This makes the bullpen the easiest fix heading into 2014 for Amaro. How do you improve the ‘pen? Let them go for it again.

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