Blake Parker

Phillies sign Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, Logan Forsythe, claim Deolis Guerra

Phillies sign Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, Logan Forsythe, claim Deolis Guerra

Pretty soon, the Phillies might be able to put together an entire 26-man roster of minor-league signings.

The Phils announced four more transactions Wednesday: minor-league deals for right-handed relievers Anthony Swarzak and Blake Parker, as well as utility infielder Logan Forsythe.

They also claimed right-handed reliever Deolis Guerra off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers and designated J.D. Hammer for assignment.

Hammer, 25, debuted with the Phils last summer. He wasn't projected to crack the bigs in 2019 but pitched well enough at Double A and the Phillies were crushed by bullpen injuries, expediting his call-up. When Hammer was sent back to Triple A in late-July, the results were disastrous. He allowed 22 earned runs and 35 baserunners in 13⅔ innings.

Things could still click eventually for Hammer, who could remain in the organization if he clears waivers.

Swarzak was not good in 2019. He had a 4.56 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP and was taken deep 12 times in 53 innings. His best year was 2017, when he pitched to a 2.33 ERA in 70 appearances split between the White Sox and Brewers. He has 17 more strikeouts than innings pitched the last three seasons. 

As with the non-guaranteed signings of Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris and Drew Storen, the Phillies are hoping things fall into place for Swarzak for six months. We all know about the volatility of relievers. The percentage of non-elite relievers who sustain success from year to year is not high. The Phillies experienced it with two expensive relievers in the last three seasons in Tommy Hunter and David Robertson.

Parker fit the label of "worth a flier" last summer when the Phillies claimed him off waivers from the Twins. At points in his career, Parker has been an effective late-inning reliever. He had a 2.90 ERA with 22 saves in 2017 and 2018. He's a high-strikeout guy. The command comes and goes. He had a 5.04 ERA in 25 innings with the Phils last season.

Guerra is relief depth. He has pitched less than one inning in the majors since 2017. He spent most of 2019 at Triple A San Antonio in the Brewers' system and the results were startlingly good for a pitcher in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Guerra had a 1.89 ERA with 88 K's in 67 innings. As outlined here, the PCL was a joke in 2019, with nearly 1,300 more home runs hit than the previous season, in large part because it used the major-league ball.

More here on Forsythe's track record and viability to make the team.

Here is the full list of the Phillies' minor-league signings this offseason:

INF Josh Harrison
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Drew Storen
INF Neil Walker
INF Logan Forsythe
C Christhian Bethancourt
INF Phil Gosselin
INF Ronald Torreyes
OF Matt Szczur
OF Mikie Mahtook

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Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Phillies' acquisition of Jason Vargas two days before the trade deadline was a salary dump by the Mets, but it at least initially looked like a move that could provide the Phils another rotation option for 2020.

It was problematic that they even needed to turn to Vargas as a rotation upgrade, but the 2019 Phillies were ravaged by injuries after wholly misevaluating their starting pitching in the offseason. The topic of injuries came up a few times in the clubhouse after Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Nationals, which completed a five-game sweep for Washington and dropped the Phillies under .500 for the first time all season.

"I don't think we expected it to go this way," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "I think there's a lot of factors that go into that. Injuries and stuff where guys are being put in situations that they normally wouldn't be in if we had a lot of those bullpen arms. Who knows what would've happened? ... I think a healthy Phillies team is definitely in (the race). Everyone in this clubhouse thinks the same thing."

Vargas' last start was not a good one. He allowed five runs and walked five in 4⅓ innings, finishing with a 5.53 ERA in his 11 starts as a Phillie. Keep in mind, he had a 3.27 ERA in his prior 16 starts when he was traded to the Phillies.

Vargas' contract contains a club option for $8 million next season that can be bought out for $2 million. Because the Phillies were going to be on the hook for a couple million bucks, it seemed like Vargas might be able to carve out a spot on the 2020 staff by eating innings. But it hasn't gone well. He allowed four runs or more in seven of 11 starts and the Phillies went 4-7.

The Phillies simply can't keep going to this well of mediocre veteran placeholders. Over the last two seasons, the Phils' front office has been aggressive in the offseason but hesitant to trade any decent pieces for help during the season. This year, GM Matt Klentak timed the Jay Bruce trade well and acquired Corey Dickerson in a shrewd move, but every other trade was for a marginal upgrade and few of the deals worked out.

Of the players the Phillies acquired in-season in 2019, Brad Miller, Bruce and Drew Smyly have the best chances to return. Bruce is under contract next season and Miller has hit his way into a bench role if both sides can figure out a deal. Smyly has been decent as a Phillie with a 4.45 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in a dozen starts.

But Vargas, Jared Hughes, Mike Morin, Blake Parker, Nick Vincent, Logan Morrison, Sean Rodriguez, Jose Pirela ... all eminently replaceable pieces. Seems unlikely any of them will be back.

"I think a fully healthy Philadelphia Phillies is an entirely different ballclub than we have right now," Gabe Kapler said. "I don't think anybody can dispute that."

Vargas might have been a fit on the 2020 Phillies if they didn't already have Jake Arrieta occupying a rotation spot. It is unrealistic to expect much more than No. 5 starter production from Arrieta. It is probably unrealistic to expect more than No. 4 starter contributions from Zach Eflin. The starting pitching upgrades need to come somewhere and the ideal places are the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. The Phillies need more horses around Aaron Nola, whether that means a $200 million arm in Gerrit Cole, an aging lefty like Madison Bumgarner or Cole Hamels, or an intriguing, 29-year-old, high-reward option like Zack Wheeler.

“I'd love to be back," Vargas said. "Selfishly, of course, I want to come back. I feel like it is a special group and is just really a few pieces away from having a chance to win the last game of the year. And it would be nice to have another crack at that with these guys. Hopefully, that happens, but it is a business and I understand what goes on. And baseball is going to keep going on.”

Rhys Hoskins made a comment earlier in the week that one of the major reasons the 2019 Phillies fell short was that when the lineup was clicking, the pitching wasn't and vice versa. But in truth, the Phillies' pitching was rarely "on" this season. It's why they played an entire season without winning five straight games. It's why they've lost nine times to the lowly Marlins, who were not at a pitching disadvantage any time they faced a Phillies starter other than Nola.

The Phillies need to win two of their final three games to finish with a better record than last season. They must sweep for their first winning record since 2011.

"I'm not trying to color this rosy," Kapler said. "We just lost five games straight to the Nationals. They kicked our ass. That's the cold, harsh reality of this."

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Few teams can stay in a race with as little relief as Phillies have right now

Few teams can stay in a race with as little relief as Phillies have right now

NEW YORK — Nick Vincent wasn't even here a week ago. Now he's taken walk-off losses in consecutive games for a Phillies team falling fast out of the wild-card race.

After the Phillies mounted a late comeback thanks, again, to J.T. Realmuto, Gabe Kapler turned to Mike Morin and Vincent in the bottom of the ninth and the results were ugly. Morin put runners on the corners with two outs before Vincent hit Jeff McNeil and walked Pete Alonso to force in the game-winning run.

We've spent plenty of time this season lamenting the Phillies' weak rotation. Right now, the bullpen is just as shaky. Sure, Phillies relievers had a 3.75 ERA in the 40 games preceding Friday night, but that ERA was not a result of lights-out, swing-and-miss stuff from the back end of the 'pen. "Smoke and mirrors" may be a bit strong but is closer to explaining the success this bullpen had out of the All-Star break.

Consider that Vincent, Morin and Blake Parker — three of the final four relievers used Friday — were all let go by teams during the season and picked up by the Phillies for free. That fact alone does not mean none of them can be productive for a stretch, but high-quality relievers just do not become available for free. The more they're exposed, the more their flaws show.

Realmuto, who hit the two-run homer off Edwin Diaz to force the bottom of the ninth, felt for Vincent.

"Extremely tough," the catcher said. "I talked to him after the game on the bench, told him not to hang his head because everybody here knows how tough that spot is he just got thrown into. He's thrown three out of four games with a sick day in between. I'm sure he's a little tired, a little worn out. Everybody in this clubhouse knows that's a really tough spot he was just put in."

They can know it, and they can support their teammate, but it won't stop this slide. The Phillies did not lose ground on the Cubs Friday but the Cubs are not the only team to worry about. The Phillies are four behind the Cubs, 1½ games behind the Diamondbacks and now tied with the Brewers and Mets. To earn that second wild-card spot, they will need to outplay all four of those teams over the final 22 games.

"We're not doing what it takes to win games," Realmuto said. "We're playing OK, we're staying in the game but we're not quite finishing it when we need to, you know? We're right there in the last couple innings. Something always seems to happen where we don't get it done pitching, we don't get it done hitting. ... Of course it's frustrating."

Kapler's hands are tied. He can't force guys like Morin, Parker or Vincent to be better. He can't nurse David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Victor Arano back to health. He can work with only what he has, and right now that is not nearly enough.

How many teams can remain in a playoff race with two legitimate starting pitchers and one or two reliable high-leverage relievers?

"It's definitely a challenge and one that we have to meet," Kapler said.

The clock has almost expired on a season in which the Phillies have been forced to use more players (55) than any in franchise history.

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