CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Brandon Kintzler is salty.
His nickname is “Salt,” after all, so the mood fits. A 15-minute conversation with him this week at BayCare Ballpark offered every reason why.
“I act like I’m [ticked] off every day,” Kintzler said. “I get screwed in this game so much, you got to be [ticked] off.”
Kintzler is one of three veteran relievers in Phillies camp who should be salty: they settled for Minor League contracts with invites to Spring Training despite successful 2020 seasons and/or successful careers. Kintzler, 36, logged a 2.22 ERA and 12 saves last season with the Marlins. Tony Watson, 35, posted a 2.50 ERA and two saves with the Giants. Héctor Rondón, 33, struggled with Arizona, but he registered a 3.06 ERA over the previous six seasons, winning a World Series with the Cubs in 2016 and winning an American League pennant with the Astros in ‘19.
Each could make the Opening Day bullpen. Many consider Kintzler and Watson favorites.
“Honestly, without getting into much, it's pretty weird to see those guys signing Minor League deals,” Phillies right-hander Archie Bradley said.
“Yeah, apparently, you get over 30 and they think you suck,” Kintzler said. “I think I’ve gotten so much better past 30. … Apparently ERA doesn't matter. It’s either you give up the run or you didn’t. At least for me. They don’t care about your ERAs anymore. Some other [stuff] they want to look at to understand what really happened. What is it? SIERA?”
Kintzler likes to pitch with an edge, so he finds ways to motivate himself. He found one last July when former Phillies closer Ricky Bottalico called the Marlins “bottom feeders” on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s postgame show following the Phils’ Opening Day loss to Miami.
“It was a pretty dominant game,” Kintzler said. “I mean, [Aaron] Nola still pitched a good game. [Sandy] Alcantara dominated. The guy’s throwing 98 mph. I don’t know how you just call us a bottom feeder. So I just pushed it and pushed it, especially during quarantine. I just kept pushing it, pushing it. Replaying the video in group chats. So we came out of the quarantine [ticked] off. We just had to be [ticked] off.”
“Bottom feeders” became the Marlins’ mantra. They made T-shirts. Kintzler even thanked Bottalico after they beat the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Series.
“Every big win, it was, ‘You guys suck, you bottom feeders,’” Kintzler said. “We always talked about it.”
“It is what it is,” Bottalico said in a text. “They used something that I said, which I think is funny. I said what everyone was thinking. Good for him for being salty. Makes for a good reliever.”
Kintzler found more fuel this offseason. First, the Marlins declined his club option. Second, he said the club lowballed him with a one-year offer. He considered retirement after a chat with his financial advisor. But former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper texted.
Come to Philadelphia.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got a guaranteed deal on the other side,’” Kintzler said. “He’s like, ‘You’ll be fine.’ You know what? I like a challenge. I’m up for it. So I said, ‘If I don't make the team, me and you are going to have some problems.’ … I think I told Miami if it wasn’t going to work out, I was going to use it as motivation to face them. And I think they kind of know what motivates me.”
Watson owns a 2.80 ERA in his 10-year career. He will use his situation as motivation, too.
“I mean, you’re on a Minor League deal,” he said. “Your roster spot is not guaranteed at all. So it's definitely new for me and it's been a while since I've been in this situation, but I like it because you know, it's going to hopefully take the focus up a notch early and go out there.”
Kintzler, Watson and Rondón each have March 24 opt-out clauses. If they trigger those clauses -- they almost certainly will -- the Phillies will have 48 hours to place them on the roster or they can ask for their release.
Kintzler has no plans to play in Triple-A. Watson declined to tip his hand.
“I got zero interest,” Kintzler said. “I didn't even fill out the Minor League insurance form. No offense to you, but I have zero plans of going there. I'd rather just go home.”
The Phillies could use a veteran presence in their bullpen. They could use some pitchers with an edge. Newcomers like Kintzler, Watson and Rondón could provide that. At the very least, they are legitimate options.
“You create it with names,” Bradley said about building a successful bullpen. “I think that's where it starts is when a team looks at you on paper, they look at the names you have down in the bullpen. That's what we're starting to create. You look at Bradley, [Sam] Coonrod, Kintzler, Watson, [Héctor] Neris … like you start to be like, 'OK, there's, you know, names.'”
And plenty of motivation.