The Phillies' run of bad luck with veteran relievers continues. Tommy Hunter will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on the flexor tendon in his right arm.
It means that for $18 million, the Phillies got 70 appearances and a 3.50 ERA out of Hunter in two seasons.
Then there's Pat Neshek, currently on the 60-day injured list with a serious hamstring injury. He may not return this season either. The Phillies brought Neshek back on a two-year, $16.25 million deal prior to 2018. It hasn't worked out. He's made just 50 appearances in those two seasons with a 3.61 ERA.
So that's 120 combined appearances for nearly $35 million.
Some of this is bad luck. Some of it is the risk of signing relievers in their early-to-mid-30s. Phillies GM Matt Klentak admitted as much earlier this summer, saying the team has learned a lesson from how these contracts for Hunter, Neshek and David Robertson have gone so far.
Between those three, Mike Adams, David Hernandez, Danys Baez and Chad Qualls, the Phillies have had a terrible run with veteran relievers over the last seven years. The Jonathan Papelbon contract did work out somewhat — he was productive for his entire tenure here. But even that deal was exorbitant for a closer at the time and still looks so, with Craig Kimbrel signing a cheaper, shorter-term deal this year.
The Phillies need to develop their relievers better. Guys like Edgar Garcia and Edubray Ramos haven't worked out yet. Garcia and J.D. Hammer were not on the Phillies' radar coming into 2019 as potential big-league arms. Injuries forced the team's hand.
It may take a few more years, but help could be on the way. These last two years, the Phillies have spent more draft picks than in prior years on relief prospects. In June, their sixth- and seventh-round picks were both college relievers, right-handers Andrew Schultz (Tennessee) and Brett Schulze (Minnesota). The Phils went with two more college relievers in Rounds 14 with Chris Micheles (Washington) and 18 with Nick Lackney (Minnesota).
It will take some time, but this could prove to be the better way to build a bullpen. It won't be hard to best the organization's recent track record with veteran relievers.
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