In my personal opinion, a match-up dependent lefty reliever might just be the best job to have in baseball. It makes me want to have my future son grow up as a lefty with a wicked slider and have him make millions a year to throw about 5-10 pitches a game. Lefty specialists such as Tony Watson and Javier Lopez, and up-and-coming dominant lefties such as Brad Hand and Felipe Rivero, have made a living off of making left-handed hitters look silly. As it stands right now, the Phillies only have four left-handed pitchers on their entire 40-man roster, including the likes of Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Elniery Garcia, and the newly acquired David Rollins. Of those 4, Morgan pitched the most innings in the majors last year, trading time between the bullpen and the starting rotation for the Phils, pitching to a record of 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 113.1 total innings pitched. As for the other 3 guys, between Rodriguez, who saw a cup of coffee for the Phils for 12 games in 2016, and Rollins, who found his way into 11 games for the Mariners this past season, the two have combined for a whopping 43.3 IP at the major league level. Garcia, at 22 years old, hasn’t even made it past Double-A yet. All in all, left-handed pitching is an obvious gaping hole for the Phils right now. Every good team seems to have a shutdown lefty in their pen, as we saw throughout the 2016 playoffs. The Cubs, aside from the obvious Aroldis Chapman who could pitch to anyone, had Mike Montgomery and Travis Wood, who I’ll talk more about later on, coming in and getting the tough lefties out. The Indians of course had Andrew Miller, who can get anyone out so it’s almost unfair to even bring him up either. I like to look at a team such as the San Francisco Giants when they won the World Series in 2012 and 2014, who on those teams had Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt shutting down the tough lefty sluggers in the postseason. The Phillies need a guy who can at least somewhat work out of the pen like a Watson, Lopez, etc., who come in to face one or two left-handed hitters a game and then head to the showers. Some players who would fit that role for the Phils, such as Brett Cecil (Cardinals) and Mark Rzepczynski (Seattle) have already found new homes, but as for the remaining free agents, here is a list of some lefties who would fill this void nicely for Pete Mackanin and company:
Javier Lopez (2016 team: San Francisco Giants)- Can you tell I like Javier Lopez? This is already the 4th time I’ve said his name here. Whenever I saw him come in to face the likes of Ryan Howard or any other lefty in the past who knew they would look stupid against him, I knew it was game over. Lopez has that perfect deceptive delivery that drives power-hitting lefties insane. This past season he appeared in 68 games but only threw for 26.2 total innings. Remember what I said about the best job in baseball? He pitched to a 4.12 ERA, which was actually his worst ERA since he threw up a 9.26 ERA in 11.2 IP with the Red Sox in 2009. Since then, other than this past season, his ERA was never higher than 3.11. He isn’t going to strike every lefty out (although it seems like every Ryan Howard highlight against the Giants consisted of him striking out against Lopez 100 times), but he is going to keep them off balance and keep the ball in the ballpark. At 39, he won’t be a long-term answer for the Phils, but with the signing of Joaquin Benoit and the trade for Pat Neshek, I don’t think youth is what the Phils are going for in the bullpen right now. They just simply needs outs and consistency, and this guy provides just that.
Travis Wood (2016 team: Chicago Cubs)- If anyone ever reads what I write, you might notice that Travis Wood was on my Phillies offseason wish list a few writings back. I still want him, and the Phillies should too. Wood is as versatile as it gets for a left-handed pitcher. He can fill any role on the mound, as he can be the situational lefty that they need, but he can also start, long relief, and even close. Heck, the guy can even hit well for a pitcher! He pitched some key innings for the world champion Cubs this past postseason, and if he doesn’t go back to Chicago, the Phillies would be wise to scoop him up. Wood pitched in 77 games for the Cubs this past season, throwing up a 2.95 ERA and 47 K’s in 61 innings. He’s not going to dominate anybody or blow the ball by hitters, but he has that certain deception about him as well, and he just gets the job done, no matter what role he is in.
Boone Logan (2016 team: Colorado Rockies)- I also included this guy, along with Mike Dunn and the already signed Brett Cecil, in my Phillies wish list writing. In my opinion, though, Logan would be the better signing for the Phillies. Logan would cost a few more dollars than Dunn, but the Phillies have plenty of money to go around, and it wouldn’t be a bad move to use some of that on Logan. He’s just about the only guy who could say that going to Citizens Bank Park would be a more pitcher-friendly destination than his last, as Logan pitched his home games at Coors Field in 2016, throwing in 66 games for the Rockies and racking up 46.1 IP to a 3.69 ERA and 57 strikeouts. Logan has the track record to represent why he is one of the higher paid middle relievers in the game, and the Phillies would be doing themselves a favor by signing him for right around the $6.25 million he made with Colorado in 2016.
Brian Matusz (2016 team(s): Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs)- Now, here’s an under-the-radar name that the Phillies could buy as a low-risk high-reward kind of guy. Matusz, since being a prized prospect for the Orioles for a long time, has since been forgotten amongst most baseball fans. He only pitched in 7 games for the O’s in 2016 after beginning the season with some back discomfort before being traded to the Braves in May. Matusz never appeared in a game for Atlanta, as he was subsequently released in June about 3 weeks after he was acquired. Matusz was later picked up by the Cubs, but only ended up pitching in 1 game for Chicago, that being a start. All in all, for his adventurous 2016, he appeared in 8 major league games. The casual fan wouldn’t think that this same guy was a pretty awesome reliever for the O’s from 2013-2015. After failing as a high-potential starter for Baltimore, Matusz ended up being one of the better lefty relievers in baseball for a while, appearing in 186 total games during those 3 years and throwing a total of 151.2 innings with 159 K’s. His ERA dropped each year, starting at 3.53 in 2013, and dropping to 3.48 in 2014 and dropping all the way to 2.94 in 2015. After being virtually out of baseball last year for no real apparent reason, Matusz could latch on with someone as a NRI, and this could be a very sneaky signing for whoever ends up with him in 2016. The Phillies should be that team.
With just hours remaining at the winter meetings in Washington DC at the time of this writing, the Phillies still have some work to do, and if Matt Klentak and company were smart, they would use some of those hours to find a lefty who can get them some big outs in 2017.
Photo: evie22 (via: Flickr)