Phillies add a potential closer with signing of free agent David Robertson

Phillies add a potential closer with signing of free agent David Robertson

The Phillies have taken a significant step in upgrading their late-game relief corps.

The team on Thursday signed free-agent reliever David Robertson.

Robertson, who turns 34 in April, gets a two-year contract with a club option for a third year. He is guaranteed $23 million.

The move is somewhat surprising given that Robertson is a right-hander and the Phils had been looking to add a left-hander to their bullpen.

By the same token, the signing is not completely surprising because the team was looking to add top-end relief help and Robertson certainly qualifies as that. Over the last six seasons, he has pitched in 385 games and recorded an ERA of 2.83 and a WHIP of 1.04 while averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Robertson has spent the majority of his 11-year career with the New York Yankees. He was a setup man — and an All-Star in 2011 — to closer Mariano Rivera and succeeded the future Hall of Famer as Yankees closer in 2014. Robertson registered 39 saves for the Yankees that season then signed a free-agent deal with the Chicago White Sox, with whom he saved 34 and 37 games in 2015 and 2016, respectively, before being traded back to the Yankees in July 2017 and becoming a setup man for closer Aroldis Chapman.

Phillies officials shunned the idea of identifying a closer in 2018 and nine different pitchers recorded at least one save for the club. Despite their reluctance to name a closer in 2018, both general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler have said they’d be open to the idea of naming a closer if they had a proven commodity in the role. Robertson could certainly be that guy. But then again, so could Hector Neris or Seranthony Dominguez, though the Phillies seem to love the idea of using the power-armed Dominguez as a movable kill shot in high-leverage situations late in games.

Before signing Robertson, the Phillies made a strong push to sign left-hander Andrew Miller. However, the Phillies were reluctant to give Miller a three-year deal and the no-trade clause that he was seeking and he signed with St. Louis. That deal was for two years with a vesting option and included a no-trade clause. Miller, who turns 34 in May, was on the disabled list three times in 2018 with shoulder, knee and hamstring issues.

In addition to Miller, the Phillies had interest in left-hander Zach Britton, who is said to be seeking a four-year deal. The signing of Robertson likely takes Britton out of the picture for the Phils.

The addition of Robertson makes the Phillies’ bullpen a crowded place, especially from the right side. In addition to Neris and Dominguez, the Phillies also have right-handers Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano. The team will likely carry two lefties from a group that includes Adam Morgan, James Pazos and Jose Alvarez. The Phillies are open to trading Neshek or Hunter, both of whom were signed to two-year contracts as free agents before last season.

Robertson is the third significant addition of the offseason for the Phillies, joining outfielder Andrew McCutchen (free agent) and shortstop Jean Segura (trade). The Phillies are still trying to make their biggest move of the offseason as they continue to pursue free agent Manny Machado. The Phils are currently in negotiations with Machado, who is also being pursued by the Yankees and White Sox. Though Machado is their priority, the Phils remain interested in free agent Bryce Harper, as well.

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Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

What an opening weekend this would have been for Phillies

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." — A. Bartlett Giamatti

Of all the quotes about baseball I have read, the beginning of Bart Giamatti's essay "The Green Fields of the Mind" is the one that paints a picture (in oil, of course) of my connection to and love of baseball.

In three sentences we are taken from the renewal of spring to lazy summer afternoons and evenings at the ballpark and finally, to the ache of autumn as the game leaves us for the year.

This year, with fairly little warning, the heartbreak came early. Spring fever actually came with a ... real fever.

We had opening weekend on tap. The Phillies visiting the Miami Marlins. We would take the wraps off a revamped Phillies roster and get a feel for our new set of wheels this season.
What do we have? A team to be truly excited about? Not enough horses? Can Bryce Harper pick up where he left off? Will Jake Arrieta and Rhys Hoskins bounce back?

My watch signals game time.

My phone reminds me, too.

Do the watch and the phone know what they're doing to me?

If you've been a baseball fan since you were a kid, on opening weekend there is a sense of "school's out!" even though you've got two months left. What it is, really, is the promise of summer, laid out in 360 feet of basepath and three acres of the lushest Kentucky Bluegrass you've ever smelled.

As with this opening weekend, the weather is unpredictably tantalizing. Thursday gorgeous, Friday the same, Saturday wet, Sunday back in the drink.

All of that would have been OK. The Marlins play in a dome. The games would be played regardless of weather.

Would have been a good weekend to stay inside.

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