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November 10, 2016

The not so obvious top trade chip the Phillies could deal this winter

PHOENIX – On the penultimate day of the General Managers Meetings, Matt Klentak said he had spent hours the previous day speaking to agents and had planned to touch base with just about every team before he left Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia.

It’s unlikely the second-year Phillies general manager will pull the trigger on a trade or reach the finish line on a free agent deal before he departs Arizona today.

But Klentak has pounded the pavement at the scenic Scottsdale sanctuary. He’s had conversations and presented teams and agents with where the Phillies stand in roster building.

He's laid the groundwork for deals to come this winter.

One of those potential moves could be more obvious than many would think, at least given the construction of the Phillies roster heading into the offseason: swapping setup man Hector Neris for a ready-now bat or projectable arm or three. We first presented the idea of using Neris as trade bait back in July, while he was in the midst of a breakout season in the Phillies bullpen.

MLB relievers with 65-plus IP and a 30-plus strikeout percentage in 2016 

  IPBatters FacedKK% 
 Andrew Miller 74.1 275  123 44.7
 Dellin Betances  73299 126 42.1 
 Kenley Jansen  68.2251 104 41.4 
 Kyle Barraclough  72.2 306 11336.9 
 Ken Giles 65.2 256102  35.7
Tyler Thornburg 67 263  9034.2 
Cody Allen 68  26487 33 
Seung-hwan Oh  79.2 313 103 32.9
Hector Neris  80.1328 102 31.1 

At first blush, Neris might not seem like the best trade chip Klentak has in his arsenal. And he still might not be. But he's probably the most likely to be traded.

Vince Velasquez, a hot and heavy name before the July 31 deadline, is a better chip if they put him on the market. He would bring back more value, simply because he’s a starting pitcher. Ditto Odubel Herrera, although his age and combo of offense and defense at a premium position, without an obvious heir apparent (the Phils rate his defense better than injury-prone Roman Quinn) makes him a long shot to be dealt.

As for Neris, he would seem to be the most obvious choice at the moment to be the Phillies closer at the start of the 2017 season, right, Matt?

“Some of it might depend on what we do this winter, which players we bring in from the outside,” Klentak said when asked specifically about the possibly vacant closer position. “Obviously Jeanmar (Gomez) saved 30-plus games last year and for five months was very good at it. Hector Neris has shown he has the stuff to do it. I think (Edubray) Ramos has shown he has the stuff to do it, too. We just have to wait to see what else we bring in from the outside.”


Neris almost makes too much sense to move in a trade this winter. Let’s count the reasons.

 Remember last offseason...

 ... when the Phillies signed veteran back-end reliever David Hernandez days before trading Ken Giles to the Houston Astros? Perhaps Klentak made a similar maneuver last week, when he traded for 36-year-old reliever Pat Neshek.

Neshek pitched the majority of time in the seventh and eighth inning with Houston last season. In those 31 innings, he had a 2.03 ERA and a 30-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio. Between Neshek, Gomez, and Ramos the Phillies would figure to have some decent coverage after the sixth inning, even without Neris.

Have you watched the postseason...

 ...for the last few years? The Royals and Giants rode sturdy bullpens (the Royals’ pen was arguably their greatest strength) to titles and the Cleveland Indians made up for a glutton of injuries (Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes in their regular lineup, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in their rotation) with a shutdown ‘pen.

Major League teams are well aware of the trend.

“Credit to the Royals what they did the last few years in winning with a deep bullpen,” Klentak said earlier this week. “It bears watching to see how it turns out in free agency. … There are very high-end, top-caliber relievers available, period. I will be curious, as I know a lot of people in this room will be, to see how this year's postseason affects it. 

Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, the way these managers were deploying their top relievers not necessarily in the ninth inning but more strategically based on leverage. We're all curious to see how that plays out in free agency. There are good relievers available both at the high end and in the middle innings. Bounce-back candidates. There's a lot of good relievers.”

The three top relief arms on the free agent market...

  ...are expected to get very well compensated this winter. When the alternative to committing more than $50 million to a veteran reliever is to deal away a couple-three prospects for a pre-arbitration eligible reliever on the rise, it has to sound at least a little enticing. It certainly did for the Astros a year ago.

Hector Neris, 27, was among baseball’s best relievers last season. Any team that acquired him would be getting him on the cheap (he’s not arbitration eligible for two years) and as he’s entering his prime. Just as with Giles.

And then there’s this: Neris in 2016 was arguably better than Giles in 2015. (Giles had a better ERA, but relief pitchers ERA often doesn’t tell you a whole lot since it’s also relying on the guy that follows you in the ‘pen to keep inherited runners from scoring.)

 K/BB BB/9 K/9 K% Opp. OBP WHIP 
 Ken Giles (2015) 3.48  3.211.2  .292.286  1.20
 Hector Neris (2016) 3.40 3.411.4 .311 .281  1.11

So this all points to the Phillies and a contending team (one in need to a late-inning reliever but wary of overspending for one guy) agreeing to a deal sometime between now and the end of the Winter Meetings next month, right?

It’s definitely a possibility, as the Phillies attempt to put themselves in a better position to contend after the 2017 season. Teams that do expect to contend in ’17 could do a lot worse than adding one of the top strikeout relievers from ’16 to their relief corps.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21