Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages
Although the Phillies appear to be interested in inking another star pitcher like the 25-year-old Japanese international sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto despite having just closed on a deal to bring back Aaron Nola to the tune of $172 million over the next seven years, I would advise against it.
Hear me out! The Phills tried to do that last off-season when they paid SP Taijuan Walker $72 Million to leave the Mets. Still, I think most of us would agree that while he did win 15 games this past season, his production still wasn’t enough to warrant the team being stuck paying him $18 million until the end of the 2026 season. Besides, I don’t know about you, but Ranger Suarez impressed me a lot this postseason. So much so that if I were manager Rob Thompson, I would already have him slotted in as my number three guy for next season.
I think a better idea would be to wait and revisit upgrading the starting rotation until later in the season, like Dealing Dave Dombrowski did last year when he acquired the impending All-Star free agent SP Michael Lorenzen from the Tigers at the trade deadline.
This way, Philadelphia could instead go out in the coming days and throw money at a much more glaring hole right now: the bullpen! While the team managed to get great production from guys like Seranthony Dominguez, Matt Strahm, and Jose Alvarado last year. Others failed to live up to their expectations.
A key example of this was their free agent acquisition of closer Craig Kimbrel last offseason. But I’ll give Dombrowski some credit here: even though he tried to cheap out on a closer Kimbrel (who now has 417 career saves) did seem like a good idea at the time when the team was able to sign the now 35-year-old free agent to a one-year deal for the significantly discounted price of just $10 million. But the team should have known better because, just like when they brought in veteran closers Jonathan Papelbon and Billy Wagner, who were at the tail end of their careers. Craig, too, turned out to be a shell of his former 50-saves-a-year self.
In fact, he even ended the regular season well below his career average of 29.7 saves a year when he finished the 22-23 campaign with just 23 for the Phills. Kimbrel also saw his E.R.A. jump from a career 2.40 to a 3.26 last season. And we won’t even mention the beach balls he was tossing up in the postseason that easily cost the team a couple of games- if not the series- versus the Diamondbacks.
So, it should go without saying that Kimbrel won’t be back next season, but what about the production (or lack thereof) that the team received from lefty reliever Gregory Soto, whom they acquired from the Tigers last January? He, too, was not as lights-out as the team had hoped he would be this past season. Greg averaged a 4.62 E.R.A. during the regular season but ended up getting rocked in the postseason, where his E.R.A. proved to elevate about as fast as the balls that the opposition was able to hit off of him, with his postseason E.R.A. reaching an embarrassing 6.00.
Who, then, should their options be in free agency, you ask? Well, to start, I wouldn’t mess around anymore. I would go out and acquire an elite-level closer who is young enough that management could feel comfortable signing him for approximately five years. The reason behind this being so they won’t have to revisit this problem on an annual basis. And to me, that player would be none other than 29-year-old Josh Hader from the San Diego Padres. Hader, who finished last year with an E.R.A. of just 1.28, collected 33 saves and 85 strikeouts, which proved him to be one of the best at his position last year.
But signing him will not come cheap, considering his current market value is estimated to be around $17.5 million a year. However, with the Phillies’ payroll reaching new heights and their production beginning to level off, their window to win now is starting to close. That’s why I feel it’s high time Dombrowski tried solidifying this position for the first time since maybe Brad Lidge last grabbed a rosin bag and was still lining them up and sitting them down.
I know many teams out there are currently vying for Hader’s services. Still, one thing that may be on Philadelphia’s side is that signing with the Phillies may serve as a homecoming of sorts for this Millersville, MD native who has bounced around the country a lot over the last few years.
If the Phillies can get Hader, they will no doubt be in an excellent position to make a run yet again, but if they wish to compete for a World Series title, then I suggest they sign another relief pitcher in addition to Hader; one that can truly bring the heat. And for that, I would recommend 27-year-old right-hand reliever Jordan Hicks. Hicks, who came up throwing absolute gas that registered 105 m.p.h. on the gun with the St. Louis Cardinals some five years ago, has managed to develop over the years into a more complete pitcher. For example, Hicks finished the season with the Blue Jays last year where he was able to showcase his newfound ability of not just going up there trying to blow the hitter away every pitch (like he did in the past) but instead mix in a slider every now and again to keep the opposition guessing.
If acquired, this still relatively young pitcher who averaged a 3.29 E.R.A. last season might just be the piece that allows this team to reach the summit. What’s surprising, though, is that it may not cost the Phillies as much as you may think because his current market value is just $3.5 million a year.
Although some may view this article as nothing more than a blueprint for what I feel could lead this team to future success, let’s face it: while the Phillies could still use an upgraded multi-positional player to fill in when the occasional injury occurs, overall, the team already has the bats needed to drive in the runs; they just need the arms that will be able to prevent runs from being scored on them late in a game.