Phillies add Robertson on 2-year deal
Sources say Phils' focus now shifts to Harper, Machado
PHILADELPHIA -- Now the Phillies wait for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
The Phillies and right-hander David Robertson on Thursday agreed to a two-year, $23 million contract, with a $12 million club option ($2 million buyout) for 2021, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported. It could be the Phillies' final significant pitching acquisition of the offseason. Robertson and right-hander Seranthony Dominguez are likely to split ninth-inning duties next season, which takes Philadelphia off the market for free-agent closers Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton. The Phillies have pursued a left-handed starter, but they seem unlikely to add one unless the asking prices for pitchers such as Dallas Keuchel, who is a free agent, and Robbie Ray, who remains under contract with the D-backs, drop significantly.
Because of that and more, sources told MLB.com that the Phillies' focus at this point has shifted to Machado and Harper.
The Phillies met late last month with Machado, his wife and his representation at Citizens Bank Park. Machado remains the Phillies' preference because he not only is a tremendous offensive player, but he is a two-time Gold Glove winner at third base. The Phillies believe Machado will play third for them. They also are comfortable with the person, following controversial comments and actions in the 2018 postseason with the Dodgers.
"It was a productive day, and I expect the dialogue to continue," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said in a conference call Thursday.
Is there any optimism about a deal?
"Hard to say," Klentak said. "As with most free agents and trade negotiations, these things take a lot of twists and turns. It's hard to characterize."
The Phillies could meet next week with Harper and his agent Scott Boras.
"We're working on that," Klentak said.
Phillies managing partner John Middleton is expected to attend. Historically, Boras has had success appealing directly to ownership, particularly when it comes to making megadeals for superstar players. Klentak might have a walk-away point in contract negotiations with Machado and Harper, but Boras will hope to convince Middleton to go a little further when it comes to a "generational talent" such as Harper.
The New York Post reported last week that neither Machado nor Harper has the Phillies atop his wish list, but the Phillies remain best positioned to sign either player because of their financial flexibility and might. The White Sox are interested in Machado and Harper, but The Score (670 AM) in Chicago reported that they will not make more than a seven-year offer to either player.
There is no reason to think the Phillies cannot exceed that.
None of this means the Phillies will not trade a relief pitcher or make another move in the meantime, but everything from this point forward has the impact of a potential deal with Machado or Harper in mind. Internally, the Phillies are comfortable with where they are because they believe that they have addressed their offense, defense and pitching with the acquisitions of outfielder Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura, Robertson and fellow relievers Juan Nicasio, James Pazos and Jose Alvarez.
Robertson, 33, went 8-3 with a 3.23 ERA and a 2.97 FIP in 69 appearances last season with the Yankees. He struck out 91 and walked 26 in 69 2/3 innings. Robertson, who saved 110 games with the Yanks and White Sox from 2014-16, did not sign with the expectation that he will be the Phillies' official closer.
"That's something that doesn't really matter to me," Robertson said. "If I've got to pitch in the sixth, seventh or eighth or even the ninth, it doesn't matter. I just want to be in the back end of the bullpen when the big outs need to be made."
Robertson has been remarkably consistent over his 11-year career with the Yankees and White Sox. Since his rookie season in 2008, he has never posted higher than a 3.82 ERA or a 3.58 FIP. Robertson's reliability certainly attracted the Phillies, but they especially loved (and needed) his dominance against left-handed hitters. The Phils last month came close to signing southpaw Andrew Miller, but he signed with St. Louis instead.
Left-handed hitters batted .176 with a .240 on-base percentage against Robertson last season. Both marks ranked in the top eight among pitchers who faced 130 or more lefties. Lefties have a .546 OPS against Robertson in his career. Righties have a .667 OPS.
Robertson joins a crowded bullpen that includes right-handers Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Hector Neris, Nicasio, Victor Arano, Edubray Ramos and Yacksel Rios and left-handers Adam Morgan, Alvarez, Pazos and Austin Davis.
It would not be a surprise to see the Phillies trade at least one of those arms before Spring Training.
"We are open to that," Klentak said. "But I would not say that we are actively engaged on that at this point."