Phillies add All-Star Soto in 5-player trade with Tigers

January 7th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies continued to bolster their bullpen on Saturday, acquiring two-time All-Star from the Tigers in a five-player deal.

In addition to Soto, Philadelphia will receive infielder in exchange for outfielder Matt Vierling, utility player Nick Maton and catcher Donny Sands (the Phillies' No. 21 prospect per MLB Pipeline).

“We like the players we gave up. It was not easy for us; they all contributed last year, particularly Vierling and Maton,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “But we just felt the opportunity to add another back-end arm that we really, really like -- that we also have control over for at least three years -- that it was a deal that would help make us better going into the season.”


Phillies get: LHP Gregory Soto, INF Kody Clemens
Tigers get: UTIL Nick Maton, OF Matt Vierling, C Donny Sands (Phillies' No. 21 prospect)

Soto, who had a 3.28 ERA and racked up 30 saves for the Tigers last season, is one of the hardest-throwing lefties in the Majors. His four-seam fastball averaged 98.7 mph last season, making it the second-fastest qualified pitch by any southpaw -- behind only new teammate José Alvarado's sinker (99.6 mph).

Those two flamethrowing left-handers will share a bullpen with right-hander Seranthony Domínguez, who averaged 98.2 mph with his sinker and 97.6 mph with his four-seamer.

The move to acquire Soto also comes just two days after the club introduced veteran righty Craig Kimbrel, who ranks seventh all time with 394 career saves. But prior to signing Kimbrel, the Phillies made sure he was on board with manager Rob Thomson’s preferred approach of not having a set closer.

Though the Phillies didn’t have that same luxury with Soto, since they couldn’t communicate with him directly until the trade was official, they were able to make contact with the lefty -- who is currently pitching in the Dominican Republic -- via WhatsApp shortly after completing the deal.

“He was thrilled to join us. I think when people look at our ballclub now, and they look at the arms that we have out there, they're happy to contribute at the back end,” Dombrowski said. “He's going to pitch meaningful innings in meaningful games.”

Soto certainly adds to that group, though he tends to make things interesting. The 27-year-old, who is under team control through 2025, has averaged 5.3 walks per nine innings over his four-year career, including 5.1 last season. His strikeout rate also dipped from 29.6 percent in 2020 and 27.5 percent in '21 to 22.8 percent in '22. He also allowed an average exit velocity of 91.4 mph, the sixth-highest mark out of 358 qualified pitchers.

Still, Soto figures to help a Phillies bullpen that -- while it stepped up during the club's 2022 NL pennant run -- put up a 3.97 ERA overall last season. That ranked 18th in the Majors, but it was a slight step forward from 2021 (4.39 ERA, 19th) and a drastic improvement from the disastrous '20 campaign (5.14, 27th).

The relief corps shined when Thomson first took over after the Phils parted ways with Joe Girardi on June 3. At the time, Philadelphia's bullpen had a 4.10 ERA, which ranked 21st across the big leagues. From that point through the end of July, the 'pen posted a 3.51 ERA, good for the eighth-best mark in MLB. As the team battled injuries down the stretch, the relievers put up a 4.99 ERA in August and a 4.62 mark in September.

However, when the Phillies leaned more heavily on their high-leverage arms in the postseason, the 'pen responded with a 2.62 ERA over 68 2/3 innings.

Though David Robertson (signed with the Mets), Zach Eflin (Rays) and Brad Hand (free agent) are now gone, the Phils have replenished the group with Soto, Kimbrel, Matt Strahm and Erich Uelmen, who was acquired from the Cubs on Wednesday.

“Having pitching depth, you can never have enough of it,” Dombrowski said. “Talked to Rob Thomson a lot about it before we made the deal, pros and cons, and again, even though he liked the players that we traded, he thought that having the ability to rest some of his hard-throwers or back-end-type guys and still having other types of individuals who can do that the next day was very important to him.”

As for the other pieces in the Soto deal, Vierling -- despite serving as the Phillies' starting center fielder for a stretch last season -- was relegated to platoon appearances against left-handed pitchers following the Trade Deadline acquisition of outfielder Brandon Marsh.

Maton, meanwhile, provided valuable innings in August and September as the Phillies navigated key injuries down the stretch. Naturally an infielder, he made 10 appearances at each corner outfield spot to fill in for Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, while also making appearances at second, third and shortstop.

Clemens, the son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, provided similar versatility in Detroit last season. The 26-year-old appeared at first base, second base, third base and left field -- and even made seven pitching appearances -- all while slashing .145/.197/.308 over 127 plate appearances following his MLB debut on May 31 last season.