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August 22, 2020

Phillies trade for three relievers, but is it enough to fix their bullpen?

Let's take a look at what they're saying about Philly's newest acquisitions ahead of the August 31 MLB trade deadline...

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last month, you're quite familiar with the dumpster fire that is the Phillies' bullpen. They have the worst ERA in baseball, have directly led to several Phillies losses this season, and have been far and away the worst are of the roster for a team that had playoff aspirations heading into the season. 

Well, it appears the Phillies, who were a half game out of the wild card before dropping three straight in the last two days, still have their sights set on making the playoffs in 2020. Despite their struggles and last-place position in the division, the Phillies actually have the second-best consensus odds in the NL East of winning the division (+368) — and the World Series (+2880) —according to

On Friday, they took their latest step toward trying to fix their much maligned bullpen by acquiring a trio of relievers in a pair of trades with two AL East rivals. 

It all started on Friday afternoon, with the team acquiring David Hale from the Yankees in exchange for relief prospect Addison Russ. This move, perhaps more than the others, shows that the Phillies are still trying to contend in this pandemic-shortened season, as they shipped off a solid prospect with a high ceiling for 32-year-old with just two years of arbitration remaining. 

And that's left some in New York under the impression that the Yankees got a steal by acquiring Russ, who is eight years younger and showed a strong ability to get swings and misses during his time in the minor leagues. 

But that was only the preamble to a much bigger deal the Phillies would make on Friday night, while they were getting pummeled by Braves, acquiring Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree (plus some cash and a player to be named later) from the Red Sox in exchange for Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold. 

Let's take a look at what they're saying about the newest Phillies relievers — as well as the two pitchers the team shipped off in the deal... 

Bringing the heat

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Workman is the bigger name in this deal, but according to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Corey Seidman, Hembree will be bringing something to the Phillies bullpen that they don't already have. And, no, we're not talking about general talent. We're talking about velocity.

Per Seidman, Hembree's fastball has averaged 94.4 mph over the last four seasons. That's harder than every Phillies pitcher except fellow newcomer Zack Wheeler.

Velocity has been absent from the Phillies' bullpen this year. Hector Neris is the closer because of his disappearing splitter. His fastball is average. Tommy Hunter's best pitch is his low-90s cutter. Adam Morgan's best pitch is his sweeping slider. There was a belief that Nick Pivetta's fastball could play up out of the bullpen but he was unable to seize any role and was part of the trade to Boston. Pivetta, in fact, leaves with the highest ERA (5.50) of any Phillie since 1930 who has pitched as many innings as he did.

The biggest fastball in the bullpen to this point in the season has belonged to Ramon Rosso at just a tick over 94. But Rosso's control has been erratic. The Phillies have, out of necessity, thrust him into a role he might not yet have been ready for. He could have been a candidate to claim some high-leverage innings with a strong start, but he's put 12 men on base in 5⅔ innings.

Workman and Hembree could realistically come in here and be two of the Phillies' three most effective relievers, along with Neris.  []

Giving Girardi some options

Scott Lauber |

The Phillies, obviously, like what they're getting in these two Boston relievers. In addition to adding some talent to their bullpen, the Phillies will also be adding some serious postseason experience. And, should they need it, Workman also brings some past experience as a closer.

Moreover, adding some proven commodities to a bullpen in desperate need of stability should have a trickle down affect on the rest of the relievers. At least that's the plan. 

“We think that Workman and Hembree are going to come in and really give our group a boost, and that’s what we need right now,” Klentak said. “I think it’s going to allow the rest of our group to all settle into their roles, take the pressure off the group. Now, all of a sudden, you look up and down that bullpen and you’ve got quite a few guys on any given night that [manager] Joe [Girardi] can turn to.”

Workman and Hembree were part of the Red Sox bullpen during a World Series-winning 2018 season. Workman, in particular, has experience as a closer, posting a 1.88 ERA and 16 saves last season.

“I’m very excited,” Girardi said after Friday night’s game. They’re experienced relievers that have pitched in a tough division, the American League East. I think it will add a lot to our bullpen.”  []

It's also worth noting that Workman is familiar to the Phillies, and, like the decision to part ways with Russ, his acquisition comes as a sign that the Phillies are trying to win now. He'll be a free agent at the end of the season... 

Workman, 32, is familiar to the Phillies, who drafted him in the third round in 2007 but couldn’t sign him because he chose to pitch for the University of Texas. He has a 2.65 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 159 1/3 innings for the Red Sox since the beginning of the 2017 season. A free agent at the end of this season, he has a 4.05 ERA in seven appearances this year.  []

Putting in the Work(man)*

*I will not apologize.

Chad Jennings | The Athletic

We hinted above at Workman's path to the big leagues, but there's so much more to it than that. And his addition to the clubhouse might have just as big of an impact on the field as it does off the field, as Workman has been described as both the leader of the bullpen, and their joker-in-chief. 

Here's more from Chad Jennings of The Athletic, who takes a look at how Workman helps keep his teammates loose, something they've needed this season in Boston more than ever — and something the Phillies bullpen might benefit from once he arrives... 

Having just turned 32 years old a week ago, with more big-league service time than anyone else in the Red Sox bullpen, Workman was both class clown and leader by example. In the lighter moments, Workman was the bullpen troublemaker, the clubhouse jokester, and teammates were loath to give him credit for anything. But in the meaningful moments – on and off the field – it was a different story. Workman watched video of other pitchers, scouring for ways he could help. He spotted and eliminated pitch tipping tendencies, alerting teammates to weaknesses they’d never identified. He helped less experienced relievers figure out their warmup routine, then spotted things in-game that his fellow relievers could take to the mound.

“He’s got a fascinating way of always knowing exactly what’s going on, what pitches they’re throwing,” Barnes said. “He’s always locked into the game. I think that’s part of what makes him such a good pitcher. He has a really good baseball mind.”

Some of that, Workman said, came from his own jagged path...  []

While Jennings pointed out that Workman had more MLB service time than anyone else in the Boston bullpen, you can see that that was earned over time. It's certainly not like he's been a staple of their 'pen for the past seven years since winning that ring in 2013. In fact, in the three seasons after winning that ring, he made just 15 MLB appearances (all of them in 2014), due in large part to Tommy John surgery in 2015. When he returned in 2017, he still had a ton of options remaining due to all that missed time, and was constantly moved back and forth between triple-A and the big leagues, despite posting a 3.22 ERA in 81 innings during the 2017-18 seasons. 

It wasn’t until last season, when he was 30 years old, that Workman spent a full year in the big leagues. He was so unimpressive in spring training, a team source said, that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski considered releasing him, but Workman pitched his way into the closer role and excelled with a 1.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and the third-highest WAR of any American League relief pitcher. He had a save in four of the Red Sox’s first eight wins this season.

“Definitely developed some mental toughness through (the years),” Workman said. “I’ve definitely had to do my share of wearing it throughout this process.”  []

He seems like just the sort of guy Philly fans would embrace. But given their current (earned) disdain for the bullpen, he can win them over by simply performing when he's on the mound. 

Know your role

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

So, what roles will the Phillies' new bullpen additions take on once they arrive (likely over the weekend)? According to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, Workman could supplant Hector Neris as the team's closer if Neris (6.75 ERA, 2/5 on save opportunities) can't get it together. 

At the very least, there's another pitcher with closing experience to potentially push him. 

Hale projects to be a middle man. Hembree is a power arm in a bullpen that lacks power. He will get innings late in games.

Workman has closer experience with the Red Sox. He had 16 saves last season and struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings while going 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 73 games.

Ultimately, Joe Girardi will decide Workman's role, but for now, you can bet he will pitch high-leverage innings near the end of games. He could even end up closing if Hector Neris continues his high-wire acts.

"It's never a bad thing to have two guys with closer experience," Klentak said. "It serves us well to have multiple guys who can close out games."  []

Going, going, gone

Bill Evans |

What about the players the Phillies are trading away, namely Nick Pivetta? The 27-year-old righty, who was acquired in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, was a member of the Phillies starting rotation in his first two big-league seasons before bouncing between the rotation and bullpen last year and ultimately landing in the bullpen this season before being sent down to the taxi squad after yet another rough outing less than two weeks ago.

Now, it appears, he'll have a chance to re-invent himself with the Red Sox.

Trading Pivetta ends a frustrating Phillies career for the right-hander with a plus fastball and 12-to-6 curveball. He started the second game of the 2019 season and later in the year was taking down big outs in the bullpen, but he lacked consistency.

After losing out on the fifth starter battle, Pivetta started this year in the bullpen but was sent down to the alternate site when he gave up six runs in the ninth inning while trying to protect a 13-1 lead against the Braves. He finished his Phillies career with a 19-30 record and 5.50 ERA.

Why didn’t it work out for the player the Phillies acquired for enigmatic closer Jonathan Papelbon?

“A lot of people have tried to answer that very question,” said Klentak. “He’s enormously talented. He was never quite able to see consistency in our uniform. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”  []

Oh, and about that 5.50 ERA...

Ahead of the game

Logan Mullen |

When the Red Sox and Phillies completed their trade, there were still 10 days left until the 2020 MLB Trade Deadline. So, why did Boston pull the trigger now and not wait to see if he could get anything better than Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold? 

Apparently, the Phillies were the driving force here, which shows just how desperate they were to upgrade their bullpen.

“The timing of trades is not always something that you can foresee,” Bloom said over Zoom. “Philly came hard after these two pitchers and they really wanted to complete something. And anytime you have a situation where you know you’ve got some time before the trade deadline, you’re not just looking at the trade in a vacuum. You’re also trying to think about what’re the options that you could have between now and the deadline. And obviously that’s something we have to weigh.

“But we felt that this return was a really good fit for us, that we got two pitchers that not only fit an area of a need but are also players we like that can be part of this thing for many years. I thought that was worth doing right now.”  []

With Pivetta seemingly done in Philly before the trade even went down, it's hard to argue that the Phillies didn't get decent value here, even if they don't re-sign Workman after the season. And, interestingly enough, they $815,000 the Sox sent along in the deal accounts for nearly 80% of the addition cost of adding Workman and Hembree ($1.05 million), which will keep the Phillies under the luxury tax threshold. 

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