Relievers and This Winter’s Checkbook

The bullpen! It needs help! And although the lingering fear is that the best fix is to go with an influx of external candidates, pouring free agent money out the taps and dishing pint after pint of it to the latest and greatest relief arms to grace the free agent pool, there may actually be a way to avoid such a money dump.

Right now, the relief corps looks pretty crappy. September call-ups on tryout, lethargy in the air and the absence of other names via injury or suspension have rendered the bullpen a place of shame and dread, its gate-opening an act to be regarded with the utmost distaste. Hell, even the best arm currently available within gets booed nearly every time out, regardless of performance.

It’s a sad place. But the good news is that brighter days may be ahead in 2014! That’s easy to say about nearly any aspect of this Phillies club, but we need to go one thing at a time, lest our gripes pile upon our chests to a suffocating weight before we’re ready to bear them.

Here’s what we know: Jonathan Papelbon isn’t getting traded and will be back, Antonio Bastardo will be back and Jake Diekman will, too. Beyond that, little is certain, and that lack of certainty is the impetus for my free agency worries. But a closer look reveals that this trio is actually a damned fine start for a ‘pen. Consider:

  • Is Papelbon overpaid? Absolutely. Is his dropping K rate concerning? Yeah. But in spite of the dropped punch-outs, Paps has stayed effective – in the face of what the boobirds might say – and there’s enough there to think ’14 could follow in ’13’s footsteps.
  • Bastardo is frustrating for a lot of fans because of his tendency to go a little wonky control-wise, but I have faith in the Strikeout Rampage and that he’ll be worth Arb2 money after returning from his suspension.

There’s a lot of “faith” and gut-based conjecture there, but those aren’t the guys worth going in-depth on right now. They’re somewhat-known commodities in their assumed presence in 2014. The real interest lies in Diekman and the wild cards following in his wake.

Diekman arrived on the scene in 2012 armed with an impressively electric fastball and slider and the control problems that come with lefties possessing such an arsenal (at least, the ones not named Billy Wagner). Diekman walked 20 batters in 27.1 Major League IP last season, neatly complementing from the left side the wildness of Phillippe Aumont from the right. This season, however, has seen a more effective Diekman trim the free passes (14 – 12 unintentional – in 33.2 IP. His K rate is down but still at 10 per nine innings, and lefties are hitting (get this) just .158/.222/.158 in 64 plate appearances. Lefties are striking out more than a third of the time and walking at only about eight percent. The man is becoming a legitimate lefty weapon.

Beyond him, an intriguing wild card is the recently converted Ethan Martin, whose travails as a starter have landed him in the spot most people in-the-know have envisioned for him all along. Martin’s starts were laborious and largely ineffective, but the stuff has many people thinking a translation to the bullpen could be the Rosetta Stone Martin needs for a successful career. Is it a bummer to see another acquired pitching prospect’s starting ability peter out? Sure. But Martin – teamed with Aumont, if he ever gets his head right, and I believe he can – has the stuff to be a solid reliever. What’s more, he could possess the laxity to be a solid multi-inning reliever.

As a starter, his fastball sat 93-94 with a mid-80s slider and change and mid-70s curve. You can expect a pitch to be trimmed from the repertoire if he stays a reliever, but you can also expect an uptick in velocity with the freedom to let ‘er rip in one or two innings. Also encouraging: the first time through the order, hitters put up just a .618 OPS against Martin. Keeping him from multiple exposure could improve his chances of being successful.

Beyond that, excitement dims a little. Justin De Fratus still has the potential to be a solid relief arm but has yet to show he’s realizing it for any extended stretch; Mike Adams will be back, but it’s hard to expect vintage performance form him, given his arm troubles; some amalgamation of Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst, B.J. Rosenberg and others could fill in the gaps, or at least provide depth options.

The truth of the matter is that there isn’t enough certainty for Amaro to avoid digging in his pockets altogether this offseason. Perhaps a saving grace could be that there isn’t much certainty to be had in free agency, either (trades, especially when it comes to relievers, are impossible to speculate on).

Maybe it requires a little more faith thanmost would be comfortable providing, especially given the recent failures and lack of depth in this particular corps recently. But I’ve got the faith that, yes, there is a bullpen core in place and, yes, a big-money relief addition can be avoided while a competitive group is still fielded. We’ll find out soon enough if that bullet is dodged.

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  1. John

    September 13, 2013 03:11 PM

    Jesse Crain a good fit?

  2. Smitty

    September 13, 2013 04:30 PM

    Luis Ayala veteran still highly effective at little $…..

  3. LTG

    September 13, 2013 04:48 PM

    This is a serious question, although it will probably come off at first like a veiled criticism.

    Why do you believe those two things about Aumont: a) that at least one of his problems is his head; and b) that he can get his head right?

  4. T. Martin

    September 13, 2013 10:09 PM

    1) I have ZERO faith in Aumont at this point and I’ll be SHOCKED if he isn’t traded this winter after not getting a September call up and then whining about it.

    2) You didn’t mention Mike Stutes at all. Is he getting non-tendered?

  5. Stupid is as Stupid Does

    September 14, 2013 06:31 AM

    Honestly, as bad as this season was from the viewpoint of the Pitching, I have absolutely no faith in the FO to sign, at a reasonable cost and contract, a reliever of quality. I would rather go forth with the BP constructed today with the knowledge that Adams may be back and Stutes should be back.

    A. I like Martin, he doesn’t have control issues and really could be the missing piece

    B. Sandberg will, in my opinion, use the BP more effectively than Cholly. Cholly was dealt a bad hand but he really didn’t help matters this year

    C. Rosenburg and Diekman do show electric stuff and I am willing to take a flyer on them

    BP 2014 – Paps, Adams, Bastardo, Stutes, Martin, Diekman, Rosenberg and than pick of the litter (Defratus, Savery or someone in the minors who steps up)when we need an additional arm.

    SP still concerns me more Lee and Hamels and a wing and a prayer

  6. BobSmith77

    September 15, 2013 08:29 PM

    Have you watched Papelbon pitch lately? The $20M they have invested in Papelbon and Adams is arguably as big an issue next year as Howard’s $25M.

  7. Pencilfish

    September 16, 2013 10:35 AM

    We tried using home-grown BP options for the most part in 2012 and 2013. In both years, the Phillies BP has ranked near the bottom on every significant statistical category. While Adams’ injury was a disappointment, it shouldn’t make the team shy away from certain BP pieces like Uehara.

    The only way to justify not attempting to fortify the BP with external additions is if we expect the team to hover around .500 in 2014. In that case, we should also forgo any upgrades to the rotation, OF and C.

  8. Simmons17

    September 16, 2013 11:29 AM

    I, for one, have watched Papelbon pitch recently and what I’ve seen is that despite a loss in velocity, he’s a smart and capable pitcher. I think a lot of people are too invested in hating him and/or his contract to see his performance clearly.

    I am hoping they can develop Martin as a late-inning guy, perhaps poised to move into the closer role after Papelbon moves on. Martin and Diekman give me hope for next year’s bullpen. Still waiting to see DeFratus have a nice run of shutout innings – he gets BABIP’d to death, but when it happens to so often, I can’t help but wonder if there is something more than bad luck going on.

    Aumont should be thrown into a deal this offseason as a sweetener – I’m sure some team would like to take a shot on his arm but I’ve seen nothing to make me think he’ll ever be effective here.

  9. LTG

    September 18, 2013 02:32 PM

    This thread is probably dead but how is it Pencilfish was allowed to assert something as false as:
    “We tried using home-grown BP options for the most part in 2012 and 2013.”

    BP IP 2012-13: 847.1 (least in MLB)
    ~400 of those were thrown by Paps, Adams, Qualls, Contreras, Valdes, Horst, Miner, Durbin, Garcia, and Lindblom. None of them are homegrown and that accounts for almost half the innings and most of the high-leverage ones. ~95 IP belong to Bastardo who is not the kind of farmhand to which Fish referred because he was established as an effective reliever before 2012.

    So, over the last 2 seasons the Phillies homegrown relievers have pitched ~350 innings. Many of those innings have been accumulated after the outside talent has been set aside (Durbin, Qualls) or injured (Adams, Contreras).

    For the most part, the Phillies have gone into the year with established veterans assigned fixed roles in the back of the bullpen. They have filled in the gaps with a mixture of veterans and farmhands. It hasn’t worked for a number of reasons. Sometimes the veterans suck (Durbin, Qualls) and sometimes the farmhands suck (Aumont). Maybe turning over the bullpen to the youngsters isn’t the best strategy. But it would certainly be novel.

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