Phillies

Which available closer would fit Phillies best?

Phillies

The last time the Phillies paid big money for a closer was the offseason after 2011, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract in an attempt to extend a run of five straight NL East crowns.

Papelbon pitched very well here from 2012 through 2015, converting 123 of 138 save opportunities (89%) with a 2.31 ERA. But the Phillies were descending at that point and soon they'd embark on a years-long rebuild that still has not led them back to the postseason. For a 90-loss team, an elite closer is a luxury rather than a necessity and that's why the Phils shopped Papelbon, eventually trading him to the Nationals for then-prospect Nick Pivetta in the summer of 2015.

Fast forward to the offseason of 2021-22 and the Phillies are back in the market for a premiere closer. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has listed closer as a priority, and it's certainly a goal this winter to eliminate some of the intrigue and agita from Phillies ninth innings.

As always, there are second- and third-tier relievers available, and sometimes those signings work, but picking one of them would not send the Phillies into the season with high confidence that they've found the right solution. Could Ian Kennedy get the job done? Could Kendall Graveman? Maybe Jeurys Familia? Perhaps, but if the idea is to lock down the ninth inning, then the target should be a lockdown closer.

Let's run through the top available closers:

Raisel Iglesias

Iglesias is the top closer on the free-agent market and is coming off of his best season. With the 2021 Angels, he saved 34 games, posting a 2.57 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 70 innings. 

 

He appeared in 65 games and pitched more than one inning 16 times, recording at least five outs in six different games. He is a workhorse with stamina who always wants the ball.

The last two seasons have been Iglesias' best in terms of run prevention, strikeouts and walks. He will be seeking a contract similar to the three-year, $54 million deal Liam Hendriks signed last offseason with the White Sox. Hendriks' $18 million per year is the record for a closer.

Iglesias, who turns 32 in January, will have a robust market that should include at least the Phillies, Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox and Blue Jays. Given the willingness to spend of the teams expected to pursue Iglesias, this number could soar.

The Angels extended Iglesias a qualifying offer, which will factor into the pursuit. If the Phillies were to sign him, for example, they'd be stripped of their second-highest 2022 draft pick and $500,000 of international bonus pool money. Iglesias was the only reliever who received a qualifying offer.

At last week's GM Meetings in California, Dombrowski said his "preference is not to give up a draft pick."

Kenley Jansen

With 350 saves, a 2.37 career ERA and even stronger work in 57 career playoff appearances, Jansen is one of the best closers of his era. He reaches free agency the same year as another longtime Dodger, Clayton Kershaw.

Jansen had a strong walk year, posting a 2.22 ERA, his lowest since 2017. Every year, he seems to have an early-season rut before reverting back to dominance. You know what you're going to get with Jansen -- an exploding cutter about 60 percent of the time with the occasional sinker or breaking ball.

Jansen's experience in high-pressure situations is an advantage over Iglesias. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract he receives this winter. Will it be half of Iglesias'? Three-quarters?

Jansen is 34 and, importantly, was not extended a qualifying offer. If the Phillies or any other closer-needy team grades Iglesias and Jansen out similarly over the next three years, the tiebreaker could be the lack of draft pick compensation attached to Jansen.

Craig Kimbrel

Kimbrel is not a free agent -- the White Sox exercised his $16 million club option but seem intent to trade him after their failed second-half experiment. They acquired Kimbrel from the Cubs at the 2021 trade deadline but made him a setup man after he had spent the last decade closing. He did not pitch well in the new role, allowing 13 runs and five homers in 24 appearances with the White Sox after allowing two runs and one homer in 39 appearances with the Cubs.

The Phillies were one of several teams after Kimbrel at the trade deadline but the asking price was too high. Now? It should be considerably lower, given Kimbrel's second-half struggles and the one year of control as opposed to a year and a half.

 

If the Phillies were to trade for Kimbrel, his $16 million salary would, in essence, replace the AAV of Andrew McCutchen from these last three years. From a financial standpoint, it would cost less than Iglesias or Jansen because it would require only a one-year commitment, giving the Phillies flexibility to move forward with him or cut ties if things don't work out. The additional cost would be whatever it takes to trade for him. 

Josh Hader

Another trade candidate. The Brewers won their division in 2021 and have a promising core of young starting pitching, so it's not like they're itching to trade one of baseball's best closers. But they'll listen, and if they're blown away, they might do it.

They'd sure be selling high after Hader's ludicrous 2021 season. He had a 1.23 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 60 appearances with 15.6 strikeouts per nine and just three home runs allowed. 

Beyond the numbers, Hader is one of the most uncomfortable pitchers for any hitter to face. He is a herky-jerky left-hander with velocity, movement, deception and confidence. For his career, lefties have hit .124 and righties .147.

The trade cost for Hader, who has two years left of club control, would be exorbitant. Through arbitration, he could make about $25 million combined over the next two seasons, though an acquiring team could opt instead to extend him.

Mark Melancon

The Braves let Melancon walk after a productive two-year stint and he signed for just $3 million over one year with the Padres. It looked bad at the time, but then the Braves went on to win the World Series, so nobody will care or remember moving forward.

Melancon got it done with the Padres, just as he did with the Braves, Nationals and Pirates before them. Since 2013, he has a 2.40 ERA with 223 saves, and he led the majors with 39 this past season.

The thing with Melancon, though, is that no team knows exactly when he's going to drop off. He has never possessed elite velocity or swing-and-miss stuff, getting by all these years with pinpoint command. There is a much smaller margin for error when requiring pinpoint command. We saw it, to an extent, with Kennedy this summer. Miss your spot by an inch and it can go 445 feet.

Melancon's best quality all these years has been avoiding the longball. He has allowed just 24 home runs in 514 innings over the last nine seasons, surrendering no more than four in any year.

Melancon could again provide a signing team with the most bang for its buck, but things could also go the other way as they did in 2018 and 2019 with the Giants, when he put 1½ men on base per inning with a 3.67 ERA.

Melancon fits somewhere between Kennedy and Jansen, though much closer to Kennedy. He should be significantly cheaper than Jansen.

After this group of five, there's a drop-off to setup men like Hector Neris, Brad Hand, Ryan Tepera, Daniel Hudson, Archie Bradley, Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Jake Diekman and Andrew Miller. The Phillies are interested in bringing Neris back as a setup man.

 

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