Free agency is typically quiet during the period between Christmas Eve and New Year's but that wasn't the case this year, with the Mets signing Dellin Betances on Tuesday and the White Sox adding 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion on Wednesday.
The Betances move is the one that affects the Phillies. They, too, were interested in the elite reliever who missed almost all of 2019. Betances was out more than five months with a shoulder impingement, debuted on Sept. 15 and partially tore his Achilles' tendon. It did not require surgery, and there is some belief that Betances could be ready by spring training.
The structure of Betances' contract is complicated. He reportedly makes $7.5 million in 2020 with a player option worth $6 million in 2021. If Betances declines the option, the Mets will pay him a $3 million buyout instead. Thus, the total guarantee for Betances is $10.5 million for one year. If he exercises the player option, it probably means he was unhealthy in 2019. The player option is basically a safety valve for Betances that won't benefit the Mets.
It's easy to see why Betances wanted a deal like this. The $10.5 AAV is high, he gets protection from injury/underperformance, and he gets to test the market again next winter if he pitches well.
The Phillies need relief help — they need it more than they are letting on publicly — but Betances was an imperfect fit for several reasons outlined here. The main reason is that injuries to veteran relievers with long track records have crippled the Phils in recent years. The two-year deals for David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek (totaling nearly $58 million) all worked out poorly. The Phillies simply couldn't do another eight-figure salary for someone who may be unable to contribute.
That doesn't mean you never sign another veteran reliever again. It just means it has to be the right guy, and it can't be at a prohibitive price. The Mets are basically paying for Betances' rehab and what they hope is a bounce-back year. It could very well play out that Betances isn't all the way back to his previous form until 2021, when he may not be a Met. He did miss an entire year.
If Betances does revert to his prior form, don't sleep on the Mets. Edwin Diaz, whose stuff was no worse during a struggle-filled 2019, could easily be himself again in 2020. If the Mets have the right versions of Betances and Diaz, their weakest area will turn into a strength and maybe they'll even win some of Jacob deGrom's starts!
With Betances off the board, the top five available free-agent relievers are:
RHP Daniel Hudson (33)
RHP Will Harris (35)
RHP Yoshihisa Hirano (36)
RHP Craig Stammen (36)
LHP Francisco Liriano (36)
Hudson, 33, was instrumental in the Nationals' World Series victory. He posted a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings down the stretch after being acquired at the deadline from Toronto, then made five straight scoreless appearances in the wild-card game, NLDS and NLCS.
Harris has been quietly excellent for the Astros for five straight years, making one All-Star appearance and pitching to a 2.36 ERA over 297 innings.
Hirano was bad in 2019 for the D-backs (4.75 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) but was great in 2018 (2.44 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Relievers are volatile. You may sign a guy like this to a low-cost one-year deal and get nothing, or you might get a very strong year.
Stammen has been a reliable setup man in San Diego for the last three years. He's pitched at least 79 innings all three seasons and has a 3.06 ERA with a strikeout per inning.
Liriano is a well-traveled starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever. He made 69 appearances with the Pirates last season and had a 3.47 ERA. He's always struggled with control.