PHILS INSIDER

Questions, answers and observations on Phillies' 3 trades

PHILS INSIDER

There was a television mounted on the wall behind Phillies general manager Matt Klentak as he conducted a video news conference to announce a series of bullpen moves late Friday night.

The television was not on and that was a good thing.

Because while Klentak was speaking with reporters, his team was down in Atlanta suffering an 11-2 loss to the Braves.

That's four straight losses for the Phils, who are 9-13 as the middle third of this 60-game sprint begins to unfold.

By now, you know the skinny on this season. The starting rotation — Aaron Nola's poor start Friday night, the shortest of his career, notwithstanding — has been pretty good. The offense, led by Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, has also been mostly good.

But the bullpen has been putrid. It got roughed up in a doubleheader loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday. 

On Friday, with his team sporting the worst bullpen ERA in the majors (8.07), Klentak gave the unit a makeover when he acquired three veteran relievers, David Hale from the Yankees and Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox. All are right-handers. All have pitched in the postseason. Workman and Hembree earned World Series rings with the Red Sox.

A few questions, answers and observations on the trades:

The cost

The Phils paid a price for a trio of 30-something relievers.

They gave up pitchers Nick Pivetta, Addison Russ and Connor Seabold in the deals.

 

Pivetta has talent, there's no question about that. He has a big arm. But he's never been able to harness his ability. Sometimes he's too emotional for his own good. He pitched to a 5.50 ERA in four seasons with the Phils (92 games). If it clicks in Boston for Pivetta, well, good for him. But it wasn't going to happen for him here. It was time for a change of scenery for him. 

Russ, 25, went to the Yankees for Hale, who had been designated for assignment. Seabold, 24, went to the Red Sox with Pivetta. 

Russ is a reliever who throws a splitter and put up big strikeout numbers at Double A Reading last season. Seabold also pitched well in Single A and Double A last year. He projects as a back-end starter or middle reliever.

Russ and Seabold are both young enough and have enough upside to have potentially helped the Phils in some role down the road. But the Phillies are in must-win mode so they could not let a couple of second-tier prospects hold up the deal.

"In order to get something, you're going to have to give something up," Klentak said. "We think Boston got two good arms with promising futures."

Strike now

The trade deadline is still 10 days away. Klentak did not want to wait to do the deal. He said there was urgency to improve the bullpen even before Thursday's disaster against Buffalo.

"We think Workman and Hembree will come in and give our group a boost and that's what we need right now," Klentak said. "This season is very unique. On one hand, our trade acquisitions might only be here for six weeks, but that's two-thirds of the season, which is significantly longer than a typical trade deadline would allow."

Roles?

Hale projects to be a middle man. Hembree is a power arm in a bullpen that lacks power. He will get innings late in games.

Workman has closer experience with the Red Sox. He had 16 saves last season and struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings while going 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 73 games.

Ultimately, Joe Girardi will decide Workman's role, but for now, you can bet he will pitch high-leverage innings near the end of games. He could even end up closing if Hector Neris continues his high-wire acts.

"It's never a bad thing to have two guys with closer experience," Klentak said. "It serves us well to have multiple guys who can close out games."

Some details

Workman, 32, will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

Hembree, 31, has one more year of salary arbitration.

The Phillies are getting $815,000 from Boston in the deal. That offsets the bulk of the $1.05 million that remains on the two pitchers' salaries. The Phils could still get more cash or a player to be named later.

For now, the offset money that the Phillies are receiving in the deal will keep them under the $208 million luxury tax threshold.

 

"We don't have a lot of room," Klentak said. "We're close enough that some unforeseen circumstance could put us over without even trying to. If things break properly over the next six weeks, we should be under."

So the Phils are done with deals?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Klentak echoed a familiar refrain when he said the team will use the tax as a "guide, not a hard barrier." He said the team would pursue other deals if they made sense and filled a need.

"Whether we make another trade, I don't know," Klentak said. "To me, the bullpen was our biggest need and we got three guys 10 days before the deadline. We tried to read the market and get a jump on it. This could be it, but we'll continue to see what's out there."

The look of the bullpen could change more in the next couple of weeks as lefty Ranger Suarez nears his return from COVID protocol. David Robertson is also trying to come back from Tommy John surgery and could be in the picture next month.

Pressure to deal

It's no secret that there's a ton of pressure on this front office to deliver a postseason berth. Heck, if these Phillies can't make the postseason in a year when the number of qualifying teams has grown from 10 to 16 teams (eight in each league) then something is seriously wrong.

So, did Klentak personally feel pressure to pull off a bullpen-improving deal?

"Every season I've been here we've done things at the deadline to address what we felt were our biggest needs," he said. "I think that's what we did this year. 

"Whether there's pressure or not — that's our job. We evaluate our team, assess our needs and address them. That's what we did."

The manager’s take

Girardi said he was “excited,” about the additions, but challenged the entire team, from himself to the final man on the bench, to be better.

“They’re experienced relievers that have pitched in a tough division, the AL East,” he said. “I think they add a lot to our ‘pen

“But it’s on all of us as a team. We can’t just say the ‘pen. We all have to be better. We just added three pieces. We need to get it done.”

When will the new arms arrive?

You could say, not soon enough.

Hale is expected to be in uniform Saturday night.

The Phils hope to have Workman and Hembree in uniform Saturday night, but COVID-19 protocols might make Sunday more realistic.