Phillies' bullpen picture a little unclear
Club's strong spot has two openings before Spring Training
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies certainly understand the importance of a good bullpen.
Their bullpen had a 3.19 ERA last season, the best mark in the National League and the best mark for the franchise since its bullpen had a 2.48 ERA in 1976. It also went 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in the World Series, and 3-0 with a 1.79 ERA in the entire postseason.
But the Phillies find themselves a little shorthanded with left-hander J.C. Romero set to serve a 50-game suspension to start the season for violating Major League Baseball's policy against performance-enhancing substances.
It's not like they're in bad shape. Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey already are in the fold. But with Romero out until June 1, that leaves two spots open instead of one.
The Phillies have expressed interest in some of the remaining left-handers on the free-agent market: Joe Beimel (5-1, 2.02 ERA last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers), Will Ohman (4-1, 3.68 ERA with the Atlanta Braves) and Randy Flores (1-0, 5.26 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals). But they seem to be looking for contracts in line with the two-year, $8 million contract Jeremy Affeldt received from the San Francisco Giants in November. Philadelphia, whose budget is expected to be more than $130 million, will not sign one of those relievers unless their demands drop more to what Eyre received from the Phillies a few days before Affeldt signed: a one-year, $2 million deal.
"We've talked with them, but I think they have some expectations that may be beyond where we want to be," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
Affledt's contract set the tone early for relief pitchers, and despite there being a little more than a week remaining for pitchers and catchers to officially report to camps in Florida and Arizona, they're holding firm on their demands.
"They're looking for the multiyear deals," Amaro said. "It's more an issue of length than dollars, I think."
Could it get to a point where Beimel and Ohman throw up their arms and take a one-year deal? Possibly. But most teams have their payrolls relatively set, so the Affeldt-type deal might not be available this close to Spring Training.
But it still seems less likely than likely that Beimel or Ohman will have a locker with the Phillies when camp opens on Feb. 14 in Clearwater, Fla.
So if they're unlikely, who's got a shot?
Philadelphia signed right-hander Chan Ho Park last month, telling him he could compete for a spot in the rotation. Park will get that shot, but the feeling is that the Phillies prefer he ultimately land in the bullpen. Of course, if Park clearly outpitches Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco, the Phillies could have little choice.
If Park doesn't outpitch Kendrick, Happ and Carrasco, he'll get a bullpen job.
If he ends up in the rotation, everything opens up a little more.
Kendrick or Happ would be the most likely candidates to fill out the bullpen after Park. Pitchers on the 40-man roster like right-handers Scott Nestor, Robert Mosebach (a Rule 5 Draft pick) and Joe Bisenius are worth watching. Left-hander Mike Zagurski would make sense, but he is recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and might not be ready by Opening Day. Non-roster invitees Mike Koplove, Gary Majewski, Blaine Neal, Dave Borkowski and Justin Lehr have big league experience, but non-roster invitees always have an uphill climb to make the 25-man roster.
Perhaps the best-case scenario for the Phillies is that Kendrick, Happ or Carrasco win the fifth starter's job and Park fortifies the bullpen, leaving one job available until Romero joins the team in June.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.