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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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

Earlier in the week, we looked at three Phillies pitchers entering make-or-break seasons, players who will need to push their careers forward in 2019 to maintain the role they want and/or currently have.

On to a couple hitters:

Roman Quinn

Quinn came up at the end of July and had a nice six-week run with the Phillies, hitting .345/.375/.560 with six doubles, three triples, two homers and seven steals. He also added a new dynamic in center field, with better speed, instincts, range and a stronger throwing arm than Odubel Herrera.

He went ice cold to end the season, going 5 for 47 with 21 strikeouts in his final 16 games, but the real make-or-break aspect of Quinn's upcoming season won't be the avoidance of a slump but the avoidance of a long-term injury.

Quinn will be 26 on May 14. The most plate appearances he has had in any season is 382 in 2014. In three of the four seasons since, he hasn't reached 300.

Quinn has dealt with so many injuries throughout his career. He's been through a torn Achilles, a torn left quad, a concussion, a strained ligament in his elbow and torn ligament in his right middle finger. 

It's not as though Quinn would face being released if he can't stay healthy this season. Even at 26, he's still inexpensive and cost-controlled for at least another five seasons. But this is the first real opportunity he's had to start on opening day. The Phillies are relying on him, maybe not to play every day but to play a lot in an outfield that also includes Andrew McCutchen, Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. (If the Phils sign Bryce Harper, a trade of an outfielder would be the next logical move.)

If Quinn can play 120-plus games this season, reach 350-400 plate appearances and exhibit his trademark speed and defense with pop sprinkled in like it was last August, he can change the course of his career and what the Phils can realistically expect from him. He can turn himself into an everyday player for the Phils and a top-of-the-order table-setter.

Odubel Herrera

Herrera is already down in Clearwater working out. Smart move. He understands how important Year 5 is for him. 

Herrera is coming off by far his worst season as a major-leaguer. After hitting .288/.344/.430 from 2015-17, he hit .255/.310/.420 in 2018. He did set a career-high with 22 homers, but nearly every other offensive number plummeted. Herrera hit only 19 doubles after hitting 42 the prior year, and he stole only five bases, two years after swiping 25.

Aside from that, Herrera had a series of gaffes on the basepaths and in the field, the kind that can swing games and frustrate teammates. His level of concentration needs to improve, and already being in Clearwater in mid-January as opposed to living it up somewhere else is a good sign. It shows he's focused more on the 2019 season than soaking up every last bit of his offseason.

Herrera's value is lower than it has been the previous three years, but all it would take to reset that conversation for a while is a strong first half. In 2016, he had an excellent first half that led to an All-Star appearance. In 2015 and 2017, he had strong second halves, hitting .329 and .323. When he's going well, Herrera is able to take pitches but also be a bad-ball hitter who uses all fields. When he's not going well, Herrera gives many at-bats away and can be as easy to retire as Ryan Howard used to be during a cold spell.

"Consistency" is an oft-used word in sports that applies to very few athletes. Rare is the player who goes through an entire season without straying too far one way or the other from his baseline. Almost everyone is inconsistent, to a degree. Herrera's inconsistency is more dramatic, and if it remains that way this season in a healthy Phillies outfield, he could very easily lose out on playing time to Quinn, McCutchen and Williams. It's just a different situation in the Phils' outfield than it was the last four seasons with more ready-to-go talent.

We've seen enough of the good Herrera to believe he has the offensive skill set to hit .300 with 30 doubles and 20 homers in a season. For the Phillies to truly contend in a tough NL East, they will need a season like that, regardless of whether they land one of the free-agent superstars.

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss the latest with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado's free agency. Which rumors are true? Which rumors are just noise?

What is the potential of the starting rotation? What could the outfield look like with or without Harper?

Also, we're keeping one eye on Mike Trout. When should the Phillies begin their pursuit of the best player in baseball?

1:00 - The latest on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
4:00 - Jim thinks the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees and Cardinals are in on Harper and/or Machado.
10:00 - Are the White Sox serious contenders for Machado?
15:00 - The guys answer questions from the audience.
19:00 - Difference Machado would make defensively.
25:30 - Opening day outfield without Harper.
31:30 - Is baseball's offseason too slow?
35:00 - Keeping an eye on Mike Trout.

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