Analyzing the Phillies’ Offseason, 2017 Edition

Phillies fans rejoice – your team is no longer in fire sale mode.  While it would be premature to say the Phillies are no longer rebuilding, the team’s work so far this offseason indicates that the organization is setting higher expectations for the season to come.  All of the Phillies’ offseason transactions add pieces to the major league roster instead of subtracting, as has been the case in offseasons past.  Here is a quick look at some of the Phillies most notable transactions this offseason, courtesy of MLB.com:

  • November 4 – Astros trade RHP Pat Neshek to the Phillies in exchange for a player to be named later
  • November 11 – Dodgers trade OF Howie Kendrick to the Phillies in exchange for 1B Darin Ruf and 2B Darnell Sweeney
  • November 14 – RHP Jeremy Hellickson accepts the Phillies’ $17.2 million qualifying offer
  • December 6 – Phillies sign RHP Joaquin Benoit to a 1 year, $7.5 million deal
  • December 20 – Red Sox trade RHP Clay Buchholz to the Phillies in exchange for minor league 2B Josh Tobias

Except for the acquisition of Kendrick, the Phillies’ moves this offseason have aimed at improving the pitching staff as a whole, as the team has made moves for both starters and relievers.  These moves are particularly interesting because, coming into the offseason, three of the Phillies’ top five leaders in WAR last season are in their starting rotation (Aaron Nola, Vince Velazquez, and Jerad Eickhoff).  The re-signing of Hellickson and the acquisition of Buchholz gives the Phillies’ anticipated rotation in 2017 a total of 11.8 projected WAR, according to the Steamer.  This is only 0.5 WAR less than the combined projected WAR of all of the Phillies’ position players from last season.  The acquisitions of Hellickson and Buchholz are going to strengthen an already strong Phillies rotation.

The weakest area of the Phillies’ roster has to be their bullpen.  The Phillies’ bullpen was only projected to post 1.2 WAR heading into the offseason, 0.8 of which was expected to come from one reliever, Hector Neris.  

The Phillies have tried to address their bullpen deficiency by acquiring two veteran relievers in Neshek and Benoit.  Both were once among the best relievers in the game.  Neshek is just a few seasons removed from an all-star season with the Cardinals in which he posted a very formidable 1.9 WAR as a setup man.  While the Steamer does not project very favorably upon him, he is coming off of a season in which he posted a 3.06 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in 47 IP, so there is hope that he can still be a quality setup man.

Benoit, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent setup men in all of baseball since 2013.  Hitters have hit for an average of less than .200 against him during that time period, and he stranded more than 80% of baserunners in over 234.2 IP.  Most importantly, he has been worth 3.6 wins over the past four years, averaging a 0.9 WAR in that time frame.  The Steamer is very conservative with its projections for Benoit but still projects him posting a 3.57 ERA and a 9.87 K/9 for a WAR of 0.6.  The additions of Neshek and Benoit will not cure the Phillies’ bullpen woes, but they should certainly help to improve on last year’s lackluster bullpen.

Howie Kendrick has been the Phillies’ only offensive addition up to this point in the offseason, but he will certainly fill a void for the Phillies in left field.  Kendrick is expected to strike out 6% less than Cody Asche, the Phillies’ starting left fielder last season, and post a .337 OBP compared to Asche’s projected .306 OBP.  Kendrick is also expected to be worth a whole win more than Asche in 2017.  Like many of the Phillies’ additions this offseason, Kendrick is not going to lead the his new team to a division title, but he will certainly improve one of the team’s most significant weaknesses last season.

Looking ahead, the Phillies are probably done making major transactions this offseason.  The team could certainly use another arm or two in the bullpen or even another power bat in the lineup, but these would just be complementary pieces, not big names (Forget about Jose Bautista, Phillies fans.).  However, the Phillies are still poised to finish near the bottom of their division in 2017, as they simply do not have any star players that can help lead the club to the postseason.  Though the Phillies likely will not compete with the Nationals and Mets in the NL East this upcoming season, their offseason moves suggest that they are ready to fight for wins in the present instead of just looking to the future.

All statistics and information courtesy of MLB.com and Fangraphs.

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