In the mold of old boss Ed Wade, Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has made it a habit in recent years to bring in veteran bullpen arms in the offseason in an attempt to re-create the magic that his predecessor Pat Gillick created in the Phils’ glory run.
Unfortunately, most of said signings have fallen flat, with flops such as Chad Durbin, Danys Baez, Jose Contreras (the second contract), Chad Qualls, Nelson Figueroa, Zach Miner and Mike Adams to name a few. As these veterans floundered in the majors, the Phillies’ minor league system was in the process of producing a plethora of bullpen prospects that are just now poking through in the majors.
As such, the Phils have difficult decisions to make regarding these players who have not done a great job of separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Behind closer Jonathan Papelbon, setup man Adams and the recently-acquired Brad Lincoln, the bullpen is likely to be supplemented with the best of a young crop of relievers that all provide varied histories of success.
Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst and Michael Stutes provide the most experience and big league success, with Bastardo probably deserving to be grouped with the established players. Meanwhile, prospects Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Ethan Martin, B.J. Rosenberg and Joe Savery all bring big league innings to the table, but convey little confidence of long-term success at such an early stage in their careers.
Additionally, Rule 5 selection Kevin Munson will be given every opportunity to make the roster coming out of Spring Training.
The Phillies’ 25-man roster, while far too early to be accurately predicted, appears to have room for approximately 6-7 relievers. Four of those spots are most certainly going to be taken by Papelbon, Adams, Bastardo and Lincoln. This leaves three spots for the above group of quad-A pitchers who have yet to break through. All have shown promise and weaknesses, and all will have a lot to prove in Spring Training if they want to make the team.
Leaving four bullpen spots at most for a group of nine young pitchers will force Amaro to make uncomfortable decisions on those who do not make the 25-man roster. Will he send them back down to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, trade them or release them? Most of these players have paid their dues in the minors already and have shown all they are going to show at the Triple-A level, which makes a jettison more likely.
The constant call-ups and demotions between the majors and minors that many of these pitchers endured over the past two seasons have stunted their growth, and prevented the powers that be from truly examining their investments.
What leaves fans frustrated about such a predicament is that it was not unforeseen. Sure, a team can never have enough pitching but at some point, a team must see what it has in those pitchers. Bastardo, former Phillies setup man/close Ryan Madson and Stutes (to a lesser extent) proved that when provided those opportunities, success can be found.
Michael Schwimmer, Mike Zagurski and Drew Carpenter were also provided that opportunity and are now elsewhere. Regardless of the success or failure, the key is that the team knew what it had. Amaro’s continued dip into the reliever free agent market has prevented management and coaches from getting a good look at this glut of young hurlers.
As a result, their 2014 bullpen will consist of an injured veteran, an overpaid malcontent, a journeyman and a handful of under-evaluated young pitchers. This is yet another example of the organization’s lack of direction, focus and commitment to the future.