Phillies' 'pen picture should become clearer

March 24th, 2021

Nobody has said it, but the Phillies’ rotation looks set with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson.

The bullpen is an entirely different matter.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he expects to carry eight pitchers in his bullpen, but there are numerous ways it could look come Opening Day. They should have a clearer picture by the weekend, because three veteran relievers in camp can exercise opt-out clauses on Wednesday.

Here is a look at the remaining contenders in camp and how things might stand:

They might be the only “locks” to make it. Girardi has not named a closer yet. Neris (72 career saves) has more experience than Bradley (28 saves) and Alvarado (15 saves) as closer. It would not be surprising if Neris opened the season in the role. But at least this year, if the Phillies need to look elsewhere, they have legitimate options.

Alvarado has been one of the Phillies’ best stories this spring. He is regularly throwing 100 mph.

It is difficult to imagine Brogdon and Romero not making the team, but pitchers with options are perennial candidates to start in Triple-A, so they fall short of “lock” status. Brogdon looked legit in September, when he struck out 14 and walked two in 8 2/3 scoreless innings. He has struck out five and walked three in four scoreless innings this spring. Romero impressed last season, too. He has struck out eight and allowed eight hits, one run and three walks in 7 2/3 Grapefruit League innings.

RHP Sam Coonrod
He might be right there with Brogdon and Romero, but he is listed separately because he is a new arrival. Coonrod has struck out seven and walked two in 7 1/3 innings. He has allowed one run on three hits. The Phillies love velocity and Coonrod throws hard. If Brogdon, Romero and Coonrod make the team, it almost certainly bumps out at least one of the veteran non-roster invitees in camp.

RHP Brandon Kintzler, LHP Tony Watson and RHP Héctor Rondón
These three will know if they made the team by the weekend, if not earlier. Each can exercise opt-out clauses on Wednesday. Kintzler has the best chance to make it. He has a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings, striking out nine and allowing 10 hits and two walks. Watson is on the bubble, especially if the Phillies see Romero filling a similar role. Watson has a 7.20 ERA in five innings, striking out seven and allowing nine hits and two walks. It is difficult to see a path for Rondón, who has a 7.71 ERA in eight appearances.

How the Phillies handle Kintzler and Watson will be an interesting look at how they view roster construction.

Front offices often mention the importance of maintaining organizational depth when they finalize Opening Day rosters. It is why veterans sometimes make rosters over optionable pitchers with more upside. If the Phillies cut loose Kintzler and Watson, for example, they have a smaller pool to choose from if something happens to another reliever. So, they could see what they have in Kintzler and/or Watson. If both pitch great, great. If they struggle and the Phillies want to make a move, well, they have better options in Triple-A.

Of course, it isn’t just an “oh well” moment if one of them does not work out. Kintzler and Watson will each make $3 million, if they make the team. Does the front office feel confident enough to roll the dice on a potential $6 million in salaries? The Phillies are pushing the $210 million luxury tax threshold. The more they spend now might mean less money to spend in July, unless ownership gives the OK to exceed it.

Is the clubhouse a consideration? Several players early in camp mentioned how excited they were that the Phillies got Kintzler and Watson on Minor League deals.

“If you have a guy like Watson down there, a guy like Kintzler down there, who are veteran guys that are great bullpen guys, it’s really going to help,” Bryce Harper said.

Kintzler had a 2.22 ERA and 12 saves in 24 appearances last season with the Marlins. He has an edge to him, which could serve the bullpen well. Watson had a 2.50 ERA and two saves in 21 appearances last season with the Giants. He has World Series experience. How might it play if neither make the team?

RHP Vince Velasquez, RHP Spencer Howard and RHP David Hale
Velasquez or Howard are likely to make the bullpen as a long man. Could both? If Neris, Bradley, Alvarado, Brogdon and Romero make the team alongside Velasquez and Howard, it leaves Coonrod, Kintzler, Watson and Hale competing for one job. If Neris, Bradley, Alvarado, Brogdon, Romero and Coonrod are the first six in the 'pen, it leaves Kintzler, Watson, Velasquez, Howard and Hale fighting for one job.