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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