In today’s MLB, having a strong bullpen is key to making a deep playoff run. With managers being more aggressive than ever, having multiple quality relievers who can come in at any point in a game and be trusted to get outs is a must.
The Phillies currently have a 4.18 bullpen ERA, good for 12th in all of baseball and 5th in the National League. When looking at those numbers, one must keep in mind that David Robertson, Adam Morgan, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, and Edubray Ramos are all on the injured list. That is essentially the entire opening day bullpen minus Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarez, and Hector Neris.
It’s perfectly logical to insist that the Phillies bullpen will improve on its own when all of those guys are healthy. However, as the injuries have already shown, you can never have enough pitching. And while the Phillies don’t necessarily lack quality bullpen arms, they do lack elite ones. It wouldn’t hurt to bring in a big reliever or two to give manager Gabe Kapler more options in what is expected to be a tight division race.
Felipe Vazquez, LHP Pittsburgh Pirates
Vazquez is a 27 year old hard throwing left hander with a nasty slider, curveball, and changeup. He would be a major addition and would fulfill the need for an elite reliever. On the season, Vazquez is pitching to the tune of a 2.19 ERA in 23 appearances with 14 saves. Vazquez has a ridiculous 37% strikeout percentage against a 4.7% walk percentage and a .232 average against.
Although the Phillies bullpen as a whole has been good, one of their flaws has been getting left handers out. In 80.1 innings pitched against lefties, the Phillies ‘pen has a collective 4.59 ERA and a .285/.361/.483 batting line against. Outside of the injured Adam Morgan, the Phillies really don’t have many other relievers who can consistently get left handers out. That’s where Vazquez comes in.
For his career, Vazquez has held lefties to a .195/.261/.262 batting line over 93.1 innings with a 26.6% strikeout to walk percentage. But Vazquez is much more than a lefty specialist. An All-Star in 2018, he is a reliever with closing experience who can get both lefties and righties out at a highly consistent rate with a high number of strikeouts. Because of his ability and his age, he would most likely cost the most of any reliever on this list in terms of prospects.
Vazquez is signed through 2021 with $13.5 million remaining on the contract. His contract also has two club options for 2022 and 2023 for $10 million each. To pry him lose from the Pirates, the Phillies would most likely have to center a package around pitcher Adonis Medina (MLB.com’s No. 2 Phillies prospect, No. 68 nationally) plus some lesser prospects.
Will Smith, LHP San Francisco Giants
Smith has been one of the most consistent relievers in the league over the last half decade. Playing on three teams since debuting with the Kansas City Royals in 2012, Smith has a career 3.60 ERA over 368 career innings. Despite only averaging 92 MPH on his fastball, Smith has a career 21.5% strikeout percentage.
Smith uses four pitches to get hitters out. In addition to his fastball, he uses a slider to get righties out and utilizes a curveball and changeup against lefties. This season, Smith has a 2.38 ERA across 23 appearances and is a perfect 13-13 in save opportunities while striking out 39 percent of batters he’s faced. Until last season, Smith was primarily used as a set-up man, not a closer.
Trading for Smith would also give the Phillies another weapon against left handed hitters. In 2019, Smith is limiting lefties to a minuscule .158/.200/.158 batting line against, although only having faced 20 lefties so far on the season. Right handers are not faring much better. Through 18 innings against right handed hitters, Smith is limiting them to a .153 batting average and a .194 on base percentage. However, righties are slugging .300 against him.
Despite Smith’s overall solid career track record, he does have concerns. The 29-year-old missed all of the 2017 season with Tommy John surgery. His numbers have actually improved after the surgery, but nevertheless it must be taken into consideration. He is also under control for only this season after signing a one year deal with the Giants worth $4.225 million. It’s easy to see the Phillies acquiring him in a package deal that also includes Giants starter Madison Bumgarner.
Sean Doolittle, LHP Washington Nationals
Phillies fans should already be a little familiar with Doolittle. After debuting in 2012 with the Oakland A’s, Doolittle was traded to the Washington Nationals at the 2017 trade deadline. This season, Doolittle is 3-1 with a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings and has converted 12 of 14 save opportunities. The 32-year-old has a 27.8 strikeout percentage opposed to a 6.5 percent walk percentage.
Doolittle is a deceptive left hander who throws an overwhelming amount of fastballs. This season, Doolittle is throwing his four seam fastball, which averages 93 MPH, a whopping 91 percent of the time. He will mix in a slider against lefties and a splitter against righties.
Doolittle, like Vazquez and Smith, would provide another left handed late inning option that can get lefties and righties out. Since coming to the Nationals, Doolittle has almost exclusively been a closer, going 58 for 62 in save opportunities. However, Doolittle has an injury history, having missed games throughout his career with various injuries including shoulder injuries throughout his career and a foot injury last year.
At 32 years old, Doolittle is under contract for the rest of this season at $6 million and has a team option for next season for $6.5 million. Because of his age and previous injuries, Doolittle would cost less than Vazquez or Smith, although the Phillies would have to sweeten the pot with a little bit of an overpay in order to get the Nationals to trade him within the division.
Alex Colomé, RHP Chicago White Sox
Colomé is off to a great start on the South Side. Through 23 2/3 innings, Colomé has a 2-0 record and a 1.52 ERA as well as being 12 for 12 in save opportunities. He has 22 strikeouts and only 5 walks on the year. He is limiting all base runners to the tune of a 0.59 WHIP.
Colomé is almost exclusively a two pitch pitcher. His best pitch is his cutter, which he throws 64 percent of the time and averages 89 MPH. His second pitch, a four seam fastball, averages 94 MPH and he throws it 35 percent of the time. He mixes in both pitches against righties and lefties. He has held righties to a .108/.175/.216 batting line and lefties to an equally impressive .125/.163/.325 line.
After starting last season with the Rays and being roughed up to the tune of a 4.15 ERA in 23 games, Colomé was traded to the Seattle Mariners. In Seattle, Colomé rebounded, pitching to a 2.53 ERA in 47 games as a set-up man instead of a closer. Colomé was then traded again to the White Sox where he has assumed the closer role.
Colomé is 30 years old and under control for this season at $7.325 million. He will be due for a raise at the end of this season as he is arbitration eligible. He would most likely cost a top 10-15 prospect in the Phillies system.