The Phillies could not continue like this. They certainly could not win like this.
So the Phillies’ front office made a flurry of moves Friday to upgrade their beleaguered bullpen. In the afternoon, they acquired right-hander David Hale from the Yankees for right-handed prospect Addison Russ. A few hours later, the Phillies acquired Red Sox closer Brandon Workman and right-hander Heath Hembree, plus $800,000 and a future player to be named or more cash for right-hander Nick Pivetta, whom the organization once considered a breakout candidate in the rotation, and right-hander Connor Seabold, a promising prospect ranked 23rd in the Phillies’ system. The cash in the Boston trade kept the Phillies just below the luxury tax threshold, which they have worked to stay below.
It means the Phillies could be finished making moves before the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline.
“You have to give something to get something and there are not a lot of quality relievers available right now in this market,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said about the trades. “We think we’re reading the market and trying to get a jump on it because I don’t know that there will be a lot of relievers that change hands in the next 10 days.”
The improvements were desperately needed. The Phillies did not address their bullpen in the offseason, and it came back to bite them. The bullpen entered Friday with an 8.07 ERA through 21 games, which was the highest mark in baseball. No Phillies bullpen had a higher ERA through 21 games since 1938 (10.26 ERA), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Phillies entered the season with high expectations. Klentak said in November that “it is time to win right now.” He said Friday that he felt no personal pressure to upgrade the bullpen as frustration has mounted inside and outside the organization.
“Look, I think this is a very unique season,” he said. “Our offense has been scoring runs and our starters have been pretty good. I think the bullpen was the area for us to address. I’d like to think in every season I’ve been here, at least the years we’ve been contending approaching the Deadline, we’ve done things to address what we believe our biggest needs are. Whether it’s pressure or anything else, that’s our job. Our job as a front office is to evaluate our team, figure out what our needs are and identify the best way to address them. I don’t think we did anything other than that.”
It is unclear how Phillies manager Joe Girardi will use Workman, who is the biggest piece in the deals. He could close or set up Héctor Neris. Workman, 32, has a 4.05 ERA and four saves in seven appearances this season. He went 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 16 saves in 73 appearances last year. He will be a free agent after the season.
Hembree, 31, is a hard thrower with his fastball averaging 94 mph. He is 2-0 with a 5.59 ERA in 11 appearances. He went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 45 appearances last year. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
Workman and Hembree could join the Phillies before the end of the weekend. Hale could be in the bullpen Saturday.
“We think that both Workman and Hembree are both going to come in and really give our group a boost,” Klentak said. “And that’s what we need right now. This season is very unique for a variety of reasons. It’s Aug. 21 and yet we are roughly a third of the way through a short season. On the one hand we can look at this as though our trade acquisitions only have six weeks to pitch with us this year, but on the other hand you can look at it and say they’re going to be with us for two-thirds of the season.”
Hale, 32, was designated for assignment on Monday, when the Yankees activated closer Aroldis Chapman from the injured list. Hale has a 3.00 ERA (two earned runs in six innings) in five appearances.
The Phillies designated left-hander Austin Davis for assignment to make room for Hale on the 40-man roster. When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
“[Hale] can help us bridge [from starter to closer], and I think we also use him a little bit later,” Girardi said. “He’s a three-pitch guy [who] has a really good changeup. He has a breaking ball as well. He’s had some success in the Yankees’ bullpen, and he just probably fell victim to having a very deep bullpen.”
The trade closes the book on Pivetta, whom the front office expected big things from entering 2019. But Pivetta never matched his talents with any consistency. He lost his job in the rotation and bounced around from the bullpen to Triple-A, including this year. Scouts like Seabold, but the Phillies needed to do something to improve the 'pen and he proved to be the cost of doing business.