Phillies' 'pen expensive, but not necessarily worth all that money

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jonathan Papelbon was paid $13 million in the 2013 season.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jonathan Papelbon was paid $13 million in the 2013 season.
Posted: October 14, 2013

The final part of a four-part series

THE CONSTRUCTION of a successful major league bullpen is, at best, an inexact science.

Five years ago this month, the Phillies paraded down Broad Street with a collection of relievers that included a closer basically discarded as damaged goods by his former team (Brad Lidge), two well-traveled veteran lefthanders who were dumped by their former teams (J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre) and one homegrown setup man with closer stuff (Ryan Madson).

If you look at the bullpens of the four teams left standing in baseball's postseason this month, there are certainly some similarities.

Boston lefthander Craig Breslow, third on his team in appearances, is with his seventh major league organization. Randy Choate had been with eight other major league organizations before finding a home in St. Louis.

Detroit, Los Angeles and St. Louis all have a couple legit homegrown arms in their bullpens, too.

One thing that can be surmised after looking at the respective relief corps of the Red Sox, Cardinals, Dodgers and Tigers is that there is certainly no reason to take $13 million and commit it to one reliever.

The combined salaries of the four pitchers who have made the most appearances with the Dodgers and Cardinals this season: $10.9 million. The money the Phillies committed to closer Jonathan Papelbon this season: $13 million.

Even the four busiest members of the bullpens in Detroit (a combined $8.35 million) and Boston ($8.84 million) were considerably cheaper than Papelbon in 2013. Of the four closers still pitching in 2014, the most expensive, Detroit's Joaquin Benoit, at $5.5 million, is making less than half of what Papelbon earned in 2013.

Alas, the Phillies will be paying Papelbon $13 million again in 2014, and in 2015, and, possibly, in 2016, too, if a vesting option kicks in to his contract.

Money well spent? Yeah, probably not.

Then you factor in his declining fastball: According to fangraphs.com, Papelbon's average fastball this year (92 mph) was three clicks down from his average fastball in his last year with Boston in 2011 (95 mph). Then you factor in his surly personality, the "I didn't come here for this" comments, while being a part of an underperforming, underachieving team.

It all adds up to what could be an unmitigated disaster at the back of the Phillies' bullpen.

"Well, he's our guy right now," manager Ryne Sandberg said after Papelbon flirted with disaster in his final outing of 2013.

If you're general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., you have to hope and pray every night that Papelbon, who turns 33 next month, can find some kind of second wind in his career. And you also have to hope and pray that the large collection of homegrown arms behind him in the 'pen can succeed, since the bullpen's budget was blown on one grossly overpaid closer.

No, the Phillies do not have a Trevor Rosenthal or Kenley Jansen coming to the rescue.

Yes, they probably need to re-examine their amateur scouting department in an effort to add those kinds of pitchers to their farm system each June. Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez pitched in 76 games in the 2013 regular season, a year removed from being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft.

But perhaps Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg and converted starter Ethan Martin can benefit from the on-the-job training they've all had in the last two seasons to develop into middle-inning options.

"We can hope to get some production out of some of them . . . but we can't necessarily count on them," Amaro said, of the uncertainty of his bullpen. "We'll look to try to improve in those areas, whether it be via trade or free agency. We have to try to explore all areas."

The major league scouting department, much like the amateur scouting department, hasn't exactly had many hits in finding viable bullpen options recently. In the last two offseasons, the Phils signed Chad Qualls, Dontrelle Willis, Chad Durbin and Mike Adams; none of them pitched in a game in the final 3 months of either of the last two seasons.

Of that quartet, only Adams remains, and he had surgery on his rotator cuff 2 months ago. Amaro, who is paying Adams $7 million next season, isn't sure what he can expect out of the 35-year-old former setup man.

"We really don't have any idea," Amaro said. "We hope that we get something out of him, obviously."

Antonio Bastardo, who served a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal, may be the most reliable, veteran arm on the current 40-man roster. The 28-year-old lefthander was 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 48 games this season.

At the time of his suspension, Bastardo's 47 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings ranked fourth among NL lefthanded relievers. He also had limited opponents to a .217 average and .637 OPS.

"I don't know why people get on Bastardo, but the damn guy is very, very good," Amaro said. "How much that will affect him, we don't know. We're hopeful we can count on him to be a viable option toward the back end of the bullpen. But I don't know."

And that might sum up the current state of the Phillies bullpen: A lot of uncertainty and a lot of hoping for the best, too.

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