Phillies give quartet of relievers another chance

Bailey, Frieri, Mujica and Russell could be closer or setup man

February 19th, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The moment the Phillies traded Ken Giles to the Astros, they needed a closer.

They already needed a setup man, and maybe another reliable reliever or two. They signed David Hernandez to a one-year, $3.9 million contract shortly before the Giles trade in December. But rather than sign another free-agent closer or setup man or acquire one in a trade, the rebuilding Phillies made more minor moves, which included signing four reclamation projects to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training: right-handers Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri and Edward Mujica and left-hander James Russell.

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The Phillies hope one of them can be their closer or setup man in 2016.

If they are lucky, two or more of them will find their mojo and stabilize a bullpen that has few certainties other than maybe Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez.

"I can't say they're all going to be as impressive," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. "I'd like to believe that more than a couple guys are going to make our job difficult. I'd like to believe that all of them are going to compete well enough that we're going to have a tough decision to make. That's what we're hoping for."

Bailey, Frieri, Mujica and Russell have made a combined 1,395 appearances with 226 saves. But each of them has plenty to prove.

That is why they are here.

"I know they're rebuilding," Russell said. "But it's always a good opportunity for somebody that's not coming off the greatest year and trying to get back on track."

Russell, 30, had a 5.29 ERA in 49 appearances last season with the Cubs. He posted a 1.71 ERA in 33 appearances from May 5 through July 7, but had an 11.08 ERA in 16 appearances the rest of the way before the Cubs designated him for assignment Sept. 1.

"I don't know what it was last year," Russell said. "I felt like I was cruising for a little bit then had a couple bad outings going into September that really hurt me. If I could take away three outings, I have a great year again."

In fact, remove Russell's two worst performances in August and he had a respectable 3.16 ERA in 47 of 49 appearances.

Bailey, 31, has pitched in just 59 games the past four seasons because of a shoulder injury. He pitched with the Yankees last season. He had a 1.80 ERA in 28 Minor League appearances before he posted a 5.19 ERA in 10 appearances with New York. Before injuries hit, Bailey, who is from Haddonfield, N.J., had a 2.07 ERA with 75 saves from 2009-11. He made the American League All-Star team twice.

"I'm coming off injuries and working my way back, so it's the opportunity I was looking for the most," Bailey said. "The Phillies presented me with a great one and I hope to take full advantage of it."

Frieri, 30, had a 2.76 ERA in 228 appearances from 2009-13, but he had a 7.34 ERA in 48 appearances with the Angels and Pirates in 2014. The Rays have had tremendous success fixing pitchers in the past, so they took a shot on him in 2015. Tampa Bay designated Frieri for assignment in June after he posted a 4.63 ERA in 22 appearances. At the time they said they needed more relievers who could pitch multiple innings, and they thought Frieri was just a one-inning pitcher.

Mujica, 31, is a former All-Star who has made 494 appearances with 50 saves in his career. He had a 4.75 ERA in 49 appearances last season with Oakland and Boston. He has battled a neck injury the past couple of seasons, which he said has been resolved. He also fractured his right thumb in May. He said he might have returned too early from that injury.

"It's a different experience for me," Mujica said about being in camp as a non-roster invitee. "This is my first time in this position. You don't have a spot on the roster. It's a little crazy."

But while each pitcher can point to a reason for his recent struggles, there is no question each will need to pitch well to win a job. They are guaranteed nothing, which is why the Phillies are taking a shot. They are low-risk, high-reward arms on a roster filled with inexperience.

"We don't know yet," Mackanin said about who will be the Phillies' closer. "That's one of the things that's going to be a lot of fun looking at. By the end of Spring Training, we'll come up with somebody. We'll look at all of them."