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February 09, 2021

Phillies hope they can change their luck with low-risk veteran pitchers

Last offseason, the Phillies signed a trio of veteran pitchers to a modest amount of fanfare, hoping to revive a career or two and cash in on a cheap investment.

Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano each were invited to spring training in the fall of 2020. Each of them were north of 30, and had shown to be productive and reliable big league hurlers during their respective careers. Many journalists penciled one or more of them into their projected 26-man roster, with the expectation that a veteran arm or two could provide depth and leadership in the clubhouse.

None of the three broke camp with the Phillies. 

The Phillies, perhaps in part due to a lack of planning before the season started (though no one can be faulted for being unprepared for the COVID-altered season even in hindsight) wound up missing the playoffs due in large part to a terrible bullpen and lack of pitching depth. 

The Phillies are not going to let that be their downfall in 2021.

"I like the club that [President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski] and [GM] Sam [Fuld] and everyone has put together but there are so many things that have to go right and health is the first one," Phils manager Joe Girardi said last week. "Acquiring pitching depth is really important because you know at some point… someone is going to get nicked up and you need that depth."

The Phillies used a ridiculous 29 pitchers in 60 games last season, with 10 different starting pitchers appearing in what was a very unusual season. Nevertheless, the shortened 2020 season showed that the Phillies pitching depth was not strong enough to handle injuries and double headers.

The Phils are doubling down on their failed strategy from a year ago, bringing in not three, but eight (so far) of those wily veterans looking to make the 26-man roster on prove-it deals.

"The guys we are bringing in have pitched in tough situations," Girardi said. You are bringing players back who have been in playoff hunts and I like the experience we have."

Pitcher (age)StatsWAR
^*Matt Moore (31)
54-56, 4.51 ERA5.1
^Ivan Nova (34) 90-77, 4.38 ERA12.1
Chase Anderson (33)54-42, 4.06 ERA8.0
^*Brandon Kintzler (36)
22-23, 3.31 ERA7.5
^*Neftali Feliz (32)
21-19, 3.49 ERA7.7
^Hector Rondon (32)
24-20 3.49 ERA5.1
David Paulino (27)
3-1, 5.49 ERA-0.2
Brian Mitchell (29)4-10, 5.10 ERA-0.8

*Has been an MLB All-Star ; ^Has pitched in the postseason

Without the eight aforementioned pitchers, the Phillies have enough big league talent to field a full 26-man roster. But the hope is that some of the veterans make the roster, push the youngsters and are able to give the Phillies some more depth in 2021.

There is a complicated puzzle to fit together the roster. The goal for the club would be, no doubt, to have the veterans start in South Philly while some of the players with minor league options get work in at a lower level (assuming the minor league season is played, unlike last year). This would allow these extra arms to serve as added depth and injury replacements as needed.

Here's a brief overview of each player, in order of their likelihood of making the team in March.

Matt Moore

An All-Star in 2013 and a veteran of the Rays storied ability to scout pitchers, Moore pitched in Japan last year after a big drop off in his performance. From 2015-19, he had a 22-35 record and 5.09 ERA. In the five seasons prior in Tampa Bay, he was 32-21 with a 3.89 ERA. The Phillies are staking a lot on Moore returning to his former glory, giving him a $3 million deal that more or less indicates he's expected to be on the MLB roster. 

He's also a much-needed lefty, and given that the team held a news conference with media availability for Moore a week ago, that's a sign that they are serious about his potential impact.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler is the oldest member of the crew being brought to Clearwater, but he arguably has the best track record, with a respectable 3.49 career ERA and 61 career saves over 11 seasons. If he can stay healthy and come close to replicating his 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings with Miami last year, he will surely be among the Phillies go-to arms in the pen.

Chase Anderson

Anderson signed a deal even bigger than Moore's, worth $4 million. In 10 games last year, seven of which were starts, the former 12-game winner went 1-2 with a 7.22 ERA for Toronto. Will he, or perhaps Moore, wind up in the bullpen? With a rotation spot likely wrapped up for Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin, the final two spots will fall to one of Moore, Anderson, Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard — with the other two potentially finding new roles as relievers. 

Ivan Nova

As we mentioned before, the battle for a rotation spot will actually be fierce in spring training this year, and on a minor league deal, Nova may have to settle for a slot in the pen or some time in Triple-A. If nothing else, Nova, who is best remembered as a Yankee playing for Girardi, has shown he can be a workhorse. He's started 227 games over 11 seasons.

Hector Rondon

Rondon is a classic case of a low-risk gamble on a player who was dead awful in 2020, but was pretty good before that. Prior to his 7.65 ERA in 20 innings for Arizona last season, the righty had a pair of effective seasons pitching out of the Astros' bullpen, combining for a 3.46 ERA in 119.2 innings. He has 92 career saves and, on a minor league deal, will have a chance to pitch his way onto the roster. 

Neftali Feliz

Feliz was the Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in 2010. He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2017, when he struggled to a 5.48 ERA pitching for two teams. He has talent, but can he still harness it? He's a sleeper to make the rotation but is on a minor league deal.

Bryan Mitchell, David Paulino

Both of these vets are likely depth signings, with the Phillies hopeful they may get lucky on each. While Mitchell and Paulino have a combined eight seasons of big league pitching experience between them, neither has appeared in a game since 2018.

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