Phillies add another bullpen piece in Hunter

December 12th, 2017

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Phillies had no intentions of tossing their plans aside and signing a starting pitcher to a nine-figure deal or sending a massive package of prospects to a team for a player in the final year of his contract.

They instead are building a strong bullpen.

The Phillies on Friday announced the signing of right-hander Tommy Hunter, who posted a 2.61 ERA and struck out more than a batter an inning over 61 appearances last season with the Rays. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reports it is a two-year contract in the $18 million range. The Phillies also announced a two-year contract in the $16 million range with right-hander Pat Neshek.

The moves are consistent with what Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said on Tuesday, despite continued speculation that they will take a run at free-agent starters like or put together a package of prospects for Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who will be a free agent following next season.

"It still has to make sense in the context of the team we're trying to build, the core we're trying to build," Klentak said.

The Phillies met this week with agent Scott Boras, who represents Arrieta. But it did not mean they are seriously interested in the 31-year-old right-hander, who could be seeking a contract worth more than $200 million. The organization believes that makes little sense while it is still trying to develop its young core of talent.

"We've spent the last day and a half meeting with most of the prominent agents in the industry," Klentak said. "A lot of agents represent players we're targeting and players we're not targeting, and I can understand why sometimes the connection will get made. We're very cognizant of the fact that we're a large-market team that has carried large payrolls in the past and does not have a lot of future commitments. We know this about ourselves, the agents know this about us, the fans know this about us. I think it's natural to connect the Phillies to players who are going to command a lot of money.

"I've said this before: There will come a time where those connections will be accurate and we will spend again."

On Friday, sources confirmed to that the Phillies agreed to terms with slugging first baseman on a three-year, $60 million contract.

The Orioles, meanwhile, are shopping Machado. But he is expected to become a free agent following the 2018 season, meaning a cost of premier prospects for just one guaranteed season from Machado.

Hot Stove Tracker

"It all has to do with where do I think our organization is now," Klentak said. "Where are we going to be next year and where do we want to be three, four, five, six years down the road and how are we best equipped to get there? I think we have to be open-minded to those scenarios, but the scenario you outlined presents some challenges that make it less likely. But we're open-minded to just about everything."

The Phillies also have been in contact with free-agent reliever . It is unclear if the signings of Neshek and Hunter end that pursuit.

It is believed the Phillies have also contacted the Royals, presumably about their pitching. Starters Danny Duffy (owed $60 million through 2021) and ($12 million mutual option in 2019 or $2 million buyout) and relievers (free agent after 2018) and ($10 million club option in 2019 or $1 million buyout) are available. The Royals have let teams know they are in a total rebuild and are looking for young prospects in return.

But one thing is clear: The Phillies are trying to build a strong bullpen to compensate for an inexperienced and often inconsistent rotation. The Phillies also want as many solid relievers as possible as they potentially move away from traditional bullpen roles.

"We've seen over the last couple of years somewhat of a shift toward matchups and playing to players' strengths," Klentak said. "We've certainly seen that in the postseason. We haven't seen that quite as dramatically during the regular season. But I think the game is going to trend in that direction. Does it get there in the snap of a finger or do we get there a little more gradually? I don't know. I know [manager Gabe Kapler] is very open-minded about that. Personnel will dictate that to a large degree. We're going to utilize the players in the roles that help us win the most games. If that means we have one set closer, that's fine. If it means we mix and match late in the game, that's OK, too."

Extra bases

• The Phillies plan to bring catchers , and into Spring Training. Alfaro is out of options and is a lock to make the team. Rupp (.716 OPS last season) and Knapp (.736 OPS) both have options.

"We'll have to navigate that," Klentak said. "All three of those guys are Major League catchers. We'll figure out that part."

• The Phillies are interviewing first-base coach candidates this week. It is their only coaching vacancy.