The Bullpen Youth Movement

Despite being led by 31-year-old veteran Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies’ bullpen featured a plethora of fresh, young arms in 2012:

The bullpen was unarguably the Phillies’ Achilles heel throughout the season. For a while, they were among the bottom quartile in the National League going by bullpen ERA. A great September (2.05 ERA) has them closer to the league average and gave us a glimpse into what the future may hold.

Relievers are notoriously volatile from one year to another which is why many Saberists suggest spending as little money as possible on the bullpen. Outside of the always-reliable Papelbon, the Phillies used a very Saber-friendly bullpen as most of the above are young, under team control for a long time, and have the ability to miss bats at a frequent rate. Now that the young relievers have some Major League seasoning, Amaro shouldn’t change a thing. Charlie Manuel recently said about the bullpen:

I think we have some real good pieces there. But I think we need at least one good piece. And when I talk about pieces, I mean someone that’s very, very good. First-class good. That’s what it takes to be a first-class team.

There will be quite a few decent relievers available, such as Mike Adams or Jeremy Affeldt, just to name a couple starting in the A’s. But would the Phillies be significantly better off paying Adams $5 million to set up for Papelbon than paying Aumont $500,000 to do the same job? Would several million for Affeldt leave the Phillies in a better place as opposed to utilizing Bastardo at $750,000? It was only two years ago that Affeldt finished with a 4.14 ERA and it was only last year that Bastardo finished with a 2.64 ERA. With relievers, you are guaranteed nothing, no matter how much money you toss around.

For 2013, the Phillies should grab Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, and Horst, then open up the final three spots to spring training competition. It’s the best of all possible worlds.

As you can see, the Phillies have a number of tough decisions to make between the end of the post-season and the end of spring training. It will be the most arduous time of Amaro’s career as GM of the Phillies, the author of an aging, expensive, injury-prone roster. Adept handling of the risks and rewards of the upcoming off-season will leave the Phillies ready to reclaim their throne atop the NL East; stepping on the various traps that lay beneath the surface will effectively end the Phillies’ reign as a superpower.

Check out past and future offseason coverage with the “offseason” category.