Zach Britton

What role will new Phillie David Robertson fill and does his arrival mean a trade is coming?

What role will new Phillie David Robertson fill and does his arrival mean a trade is coming?

The Phillies signed a very good late-game reliever in David Robertson on Thursday.

OK, in what role will he pitch?

General manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler were reluctant to tab one person as their closer last season, but they've indicated they may be willing to do that if they were ever to come up with an accomplished closer.

Robertson, who has saved more than 30 games three times in his career, has the résumé.

Will he be the guy?

Klentak was noncommittal.

"He's going to pitch high-leverage innings for us," Klentak said. "That's what he's been doing for most of his career and he's been doing it very consistently, very effectively for a long time. I don't expect that that will change.

"Obviously, the fact that he has experience pitching the ninth inning is something that was very appealing to us. I expect that he will pitch the ninth inning at times but I also know with Seranthony Dominguez and others back there, that we are likely to continue to use guys in a variety of roles late in the game. But make no mistake, we are signing David Robertson to get big outs for us late in the game."

Does Robertson have a preferred role?

"I don't," the pitcher said. "As long as I get opportunities to pitch at the back end of games, I'm happy. Sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning …

"I'm willing to pitch any point in the game. Baseball is heading in that direction. There will always be lockdown closers, but there's a good mix of guys like me who will pitch anywhere."

Before signing Robertson, the Phillies pursued Andrew Miller, a lefty who has been very successful bouncing around the late innings, pitching wherever needed in high-leverage situations. Miller signed with St. Louis.

In addition to Robertson and Dominguez, the Phillies are likely to consider Hector Neris as a candidate to close games. He lost the feel for his splitter in 2018 and his confidence suffered. But after a stint in the minors, he came back and dazzled, striking out 35 of the 69 batters he faced over the final six weeks.

However it shakes out, the trio of Dominguez, Neris and Robertson will be busy late in games.

The addition of Robertson gives the Phillies some serious right-handed depth in the bullpen. They could hang on to it because it always seems to come in handy or look to package some of it in a trade. A veteran such as Tommy Hunter or Pat Neshek could be used in a trade.

"I don't know how aggressive we're going to be in shopping our players because we like the group we have right now," Klentak said. "I think if we go into the season with the group we have plus the depth we have, we're setting ourselves up to have a real advantage in the bullpen throughout the year. Having said that, we also know that there may be opportunities to deal from that group to address other areas and we're going to be open to that. I would not say that we are actively engaged on that at this point, but it's something we'll be open to."

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Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

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Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

There are two elements to the Phillies’ offseason: The pursuit of megastars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and the pursuit of anyone else. 

That “anyone else” specifically refers to additional starting pitching and bullpen help. So far this offseason, despite the Phillies’ well-known desire to add a lefty starter to an all-righty rotation and a lefty reliever to the bullpen, they’ve missed out on Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Andrew Miller. 

With Corbin, it was understandable. Six years and $144 million would have been a humongous investment for a team better served to allocate that money to a player who makes a difference more than once every fifth day. It was a logical deal for the Nationals, who replace some of Harper’s production and get to say to their fan base, “Hey, we didn’t keep Bryce but here’s a consolation prize.” 

The Phillies clearly did not feel Happ was a meaningful enough upgrade to commit three years to. And from Happ’s perspective, the Yankees were a better fit in terms of immediate contention for a 36-year-old pitcher. 

The Miller non-signing was confusing. The Phillies heavily pursued him and it seemed like a deal was close to being done, only for Miller to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Cardinals. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a third-year vesting option. The no-trade clause was important to Miller after he was dealt following his last contract. 

The third-year vesting option and no-trade clause couldn’t have been dealbreakers for the Phillies. If they were, it’s strange. If the third year vests, it means Miller has stayed healthy and productive. And it’s not as if trading him would’ve been a necessity if things went south. 

The Phillies must not have felt totally comfortable with Miller’s health. He spent much of 2018 on the DL with three different injuries and was not his typical dominant self. The previous four years, Miller was perhaps the best reliever in all of baseball. 

He would have made a ton of sense for the Phillies and for Gabe Kapler, who likes using his best relievers in the highest-leverage situation, regardless of inning. That is the optimal way to use Miller, who has the stamina to get five or six outs when needed. 

Now, the Phillies’ best lefty option in the bullpen is Zach Britton, who they’ve wanted for a while. Britton would still be a big upgrade to this bullpen, but it will cost a pretty penny. Why would Scott Boras seek anything less for Britton than Miller received?

In terms of starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel is still out there, but he’s trending down. Do you really want to be paying Keuchel and Jake Arrieta — two groundballers who miss few bats — a combined $42-45 million the next two years?

Fair or not, the “stupid money” comments from Phillies owner John Middleton placed even more pressure on the front office than anticipated. And while Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen are good additions, the Phils cannot expect to realistically push for 90 wins with their current rotation and bullpen, unless major strides are made by pitchers who were inconsistent in 2018.

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Zach Britton? Mike Minor? Status quo? The latest on Phillies' search for a lefty reliever

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Zach Britton? Mike Minor? Status quo? The latest on Phillies' search for a lefty reliever

At the conclusion of the winter meetings a week ago, it looked as if the Phillies were poised to strike a deal with left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.

Now, Miller has reportedly signed a two-year, $25 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Entering the offseason, the Phillies had hoped to add a high-end lefty to their bullpen. With Miller off the board, where do they go from here?

According to sources, they remain interested in Zach Britton. Should the Phils miss out on Britton, they could opt to take their chances with lefty relievers James Pazos and Jose Alvarez, both added in trades this offseason, and look to upgrade during the season. The Phils also have lefty relievers Austin Davis and Adam Morgan on the roster.

There is also the chance the Phils could add a versatile lefty who could start or relieve. A source confirmed a Philadelphia Inquirer report that said the team had interest in trading for Texas Rangers lefty Mike Minor, who can start or relieve. The Phillies also considered Minor at the trade deadline last summer.

At the moment, the Phillies’ main focus appears to be at the top end of the free-agent market and infielder Manny Machado, who met and dined with team officials in Philadelphia on Thursday (see story). Machado is also being pursued by the Yankees and White Sox. If the Phillies don’t sign Machado, they could shift their focus to slugging outfielder Bryce Harper.

The Phillies liked the idea of adding the versatile Miller because he can close or pitch in other high-leverage situations in the late innings. St. Louis apparently liked the idea more. In addition to two years and $25 million, the Cardinals gave him a vesting third-year option based on games pitched that is worth $12 million and a full no-trade clause.

It is not clear where the Phillies' talks with Miller broke down. He will turn 34 in May and was on the disabled list three times last season with shoulder, knee and hamstring issues.

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