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Choosing free agent relievers for the Phillies
by Scott Butler 11/23/12

If you have been reading this blog lately, you know that I have trashed Ruben every which way for his poor decisions over recent years. Now I will put my money where my mouth is and plop myself in the General Manager's seat. Rather than provide possible free agent options, I will give you, free of charge, the players I would choose in free agency.

In the first of a series of articles regarding the Phillies' free agent options, we begin with the bullpen.

Phillies bullpen needs

The Phillies bullpen as it is currently constituted involves a proven and expensive anchor in Jonathan Papelbon and numerous cheap, young, unproven, high potential pitchers. With only two players as near givens to make the roster in Papelbon and Bastardo, the Phillies have a great deal of flexibility with which to fill the bullpen puzzle. With that flexibility obviously comes an extreme amount of unpredictability.

The Phillies have a plethora of young arms with the potential to dominate, but the destruction of last season's bullpen forces the Phillies to dive into free agency to create some stability.

Who will those free agent relievers be? Who should they be?

With needs in two or three outfield positions as well as third base, the Phillies need to be frugal with their bullpen spending. With $13 million locked up in Jonathan Papelbon next season, it would be foolish to dump excessive cash into the bullpen. Relief pitchers are a notoriously flaky bunch who rise and fall with the stock market each year. Outside of closers, it is a major gamble to go overboard on relievers.

The Phillies should only be looking to fill two or three spots through free agency. Under my plan, the Phillies should first seek a legitimate setup man who they will offer a guaranteed multi-year contract. The Phils should also add another pitcher for a cheaper one year deal, ala Chad Qualls last season. Finally, they should pick a few pitchers to invite to Spring Training, as they did with Dontrelle Willis last year.

I hid in the bushes, applied my fake mustache, knocked out Enrico Palazzo, and snuck into Ruben’s office. I scoured the list of 59 free agent relievers and narrowed down my choices in the three categories previously mentioned.

Phillies free agent bullpen set up man

The Phillies desperately need an arm they can count on in the late innings ahead of Papelbon. The Phillies were a disaster in the eighth inning last season, with a 4.89 ERA that ranked second worst in baseball. The top name on the list is Rafael Soriano, but he just turned down a $14 million option and is looking for big money. Quality closers cost upwards of $10 million, so the Phillies should be looking towards set up men in the range of $4-6 million per season for roughly three years.

Here are the four free agent relief pitchers who I would choose, listed in order beginning with who I would speak to first.

Ryan Madson

This goes against my own logic, but I wanted Ryan Madson on the Phillies last year and I want Ryan Madson this year.

If the Phillies were in the market for a closer and/or had unlimited funds, I would have taken Madson already. But that is not the case and Madson will not be coming to Philly next season for a couple of reasons. Madson and his agent, Scott Boras, made it clear that he wants to close. If a team out there is willing to make Madson a closer, that pretty much eliminates the Phillies as a possibility.

Also, do you really see Madson crawling back to the Phils after they snubbed him last season?

If for some reason Madson finds no suiters as a closer, money is also an issue. Madson signed a one year deal with the Reds last season for $8.5 million, which is too expensive for a setup man in my mind. If the Phillies could grab him for $7 million per year, I say go for it. It's more than I would be comfortable spending, but $7 million for one of the top relievers in the game with the ability to close is worth it.

If Madson is available and willing to rejoin the Phillies at that rate, he tops my list. It's a nice thought, but it aint happening.

Mike Adams

The career numbers for Mike Adams are impressive. A career 2.28 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 6.9 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 9.0 SO/9. In his last four seasons before last, the 34-year-old posted ERA's of 2.48, 0.73, 1.76, and 1.47 with an average of 59 appearances per season which came almost exclusively in the eighth inning.

Last year was the first hiccup for Mike Adams. His ERA was 3.27 ERA and his hits against rose to 9.6 per nine innings, but most of his other stats were comparable to his previous seasons: 2.9 BB/9 and 7.7 H/9. I like to think that four great seasons trump one bad season, and the fact that he hits free agency after his worst season since 2006 should drive his price down. There are concerns that his velocity dropped last season, but a proven veteran like Adams should overcome that.

Matt Lindstrom

If the Phillies can't work out a deal with Madson or Adams, Matt Lindstrom should be their next target. Lindstrom has been a solid pitcher with a career 3.64 ERA and is coming off his two best seasons, but he has not been as consistent as Adams. His ERA of 3.00 in 2011 and 2.68 in 2012 follow a 5.89 ERA in 2009 and a 4.39 ERA in 2010.

The problem with Lindstrom, as with many big league relievers is that it is hard to tell what you will get from one year to the next. Lindstrom might be cheaper than Adams, but he is coming off his two best seasons following several mediocre seasons which will inflate his value. What I do like about Lindstrom are his HR numbers: 0.5 HR/9, which is way below average and a perfect fit for snug CBP.

Joakim Soria

Joakim Soria screams value. He had a 1.94 ERA in his four seasons prior to last with an average of 39 saves from 2009-2011. Last year, however, Soria dealt with injury issues and posted by far his worst season with a 4.08 ERA. Soria should return to his old form if he is healthy and should be fairly cheap. One major problem with Soria is that he will begin the season on the DL. The Phillies can't afford to wait for Soria, so I would only take him for a steal.

Tier 2 Free Agent Relievers

After securing one of the top setup men listed above, the Phillies should look to offer a one-year contract for $2 million or less to one pitcher. The thought here is to find an under the radar, potentially undervalued pitcher who might have underperformed last season. If it works, you end up with pitchers like Chad Durbin, JC Romero, and Scott Eyre in 2008. If it doesn't work, you end up with Chad Qualls. Here is my list of pitchers who I would offer a one year deal for $1-2 million.

Ramon Ramirez

Ramon Ramirez is a 31-year-old with decent career numbers: 3.32 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9. It might be reaching to expect to get Ramirez for under $2 million with ERA's of 2.64 in 2008, 2.84 in 2009, 2.99 in 2010, and 2.62 in 2011, but his 4.24 ERA last season might scare away other teams. Ramirez is who the Phillies should look to first from this group.

Jason Grilli

Jason Grilli might be a bigger long shot than Ramirez. With an ERA under 3.00 in the last two seasons (2.48 in 2011 and 2.91 in 2012), it is unlikely the Phillies can get Grilli cheap enough. At the same time, the 36-year-old righty had a 4.22 ERA in his four full seasons prior to 2011 and is not worth the risk of anything higher than a couple million bucks. His age and more bad seasons than good seasons drops him below Ramirez in my rankings.

Matt Capps

I prefer Ramirez and Grilli, but it might be easier to come to terms with Matt Capps. He has been a consistently solid pitcher over his career, with ERA's since 2006 of 3.79, 2.28, 3.02, 5.80, 2.47, 4.25, 3.68. Nice numbers as they are, few teams will offer big setup man dollars for it. Capps seems like a nice, safe option to add to the bullpen on a one-year basis to solidify the middle innings.

Mark Lowe

Lowe might fit in nicely into the Phillies bullpen, but only at a cheap price. His ERA during the past two seasons is alright (3.80 in 2011 and 3.43 in 2012), but in his three prior seasons he had ERA's of 5.37, 3.26, and 5.40. Worth $1-2 million? Maybe.

Free agent Reliever Spring Training invites

Finally, here is my list of Spring Training invites. These are the Dontrelle Willis types, guys who will not receive guaranteed contracts and need to tryout for a spot on a Major League roster. The only cost is to compensate them at the league minimum for time served in Spring Training. If they look good, you give them a one year deal close to the minimum. If they look bad, you release them with no strings attached.

Takashi Saito

Takashi Saito is a perfect candidate for a Spring Training invite. Saito has a sparkling 2.34 career ERA in seven MLB seasons, but he turns 43 next month and was sidelined for most of 2012 with a calf injury after a hamstring strain kept him out of action for the bulk of 2011.

Saito signed a one-year, $1.75MM deal last year with the D-Backs and considering his age and injury issues, I doubt any guaranteed offers will be coming his way. If they deem Saito to be healthy enough, bring him down to Clearwater and see if he still has what it takes.

Bobby Jenks

After a few decent seasons and a 3.40 ERA in six seasons with the White Sox, Jenks had a 6.32 ERA with the Red Sox in 2011 and only pitched 19 games before encountering a back issue that kept him out of baseball for most of 2011 and all of 2012. Plus, he was charged with a DUI last year.

It is quite possible he can't pitch at all anymore. But if he is available, he is only 32 and I would certainly consider inviting him to Spring Training and possibly grab him for rock bottom prices.

Brad Penny

You may remember Brad Penny as a solid starter with the Marlins for five seasons and the starting pitcher for the 2007 all-star game. The current, 35-year-old version has a 5.41 ERA in his last two seasons sandwiched around a short stint in Japan. Penny pitched in 22 games as a reliever with the Giants last year before shoulder injuries ended his season. If he is healthy, it might be worth a shot to give him a look next season.

Phillies Free Agent Reliever Pickups

My staff of one picked the list of free agent relievers we want for next season. Since the Phillies obviously can't add all eleven players to the roster, it is time to figure out which of these pitchers will actually make the squad next season. Given the market for relievers, asking prices from the players, and the Phillies budget, here are my predictions of which players wear Phillies pinstripes in 2013.

Mike Adams

Matt Capps

Takashi Saito

So, there are your three new Phillies relievers they can and should add to the team next year. Let's see if any of them make the team in reality.

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