For the second consecutive winter, the Philadelphia Phillies are focusing on their bullpen. Last offseason, the Phillies signed Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek to free-agent contracts worth more than $34 million guaranteed. (The pair combined for just 95 innings due to injury, but were effective when they did pitch.) So far this year, the Phillies are taking a different approach: adding veteran relievers in trades.

Earlier in the week, the Phillies acquired Juan Nicasio and James Pazos as part of the Jean Segura trade. On Thursday, they sent Luis Garcia to the Los Angeles Angels for Jose Alvarez:

Garcia was part of a Phillies bullpen that ranked in the bottom half of the majors in ERA. He contributed to that standing, posting a 6.07 mark in 46 innings. Clearly, Matt Klentak and company wanted to surround youngsters Seranthony Dominguez and Victor Arano with a better supporting cast — and it seems like they’re doing a decent job of achieving that goal.

Pazos isn’t as good as his 2.88 ERA last season suggests. Rather, he’s a one-trick pony who used his fastball more than 90 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. There’s nothing wrong with that when it works — and it did — but there is other reason for concern. Pazos saw his average velocity dip from 95 mph at the beginning of the season down to around 93 mph as the season wore on. He has the kind of short, deceptive arm action that scouts tend to associate with enhanced injury risk. Do note: there’s no real science behind that assertion. If Pazos is healthy and his fastball is working, he could slot in as an effective seventh-inning type or middle reliever — perhaps for as long as the four seasons of team control he has remaining.

Nicasio was included in the Segura deal as financial ballast. He’s owed more than $9 million in the final year of his two-year contract, and he just authored one of the most polarizing relief seasons the league has seen in a while. From a surface-level perspective, he stunk. But his 6.00 ERA wasn’t supported by his peripherals; he struck out more than a batter per inning, and recorded more than 10 punch-outs per walk issued. Unlike Pazos, Nicasio’s velocity ramped up as the season beat on, too, increasing from 93 mph to the 94-95 mph range thereafter. Ball-tracking data suggests he did give up harder contact than he had in previous seasons, and that his pitches were lifted more often — not due to a change in pitch selection but rather usage, as he became more dependent on elevating his fastball, leading to more balls in the air. Perhaps the Phillies will ask him to return to his old, groundball-seeking ways. If so, a bounce-back may be in order.

Then there’s the newest addition, Alvarez. An effective left-on-left option for years, last season saw him post a career-best ERA+ (153) and do his best work ever against righties, albeit in a 99-at-bat sample. In an ideal world, there’d be something to hold up as a reason for the change. It doesn’t seem like there is, however. He didn’t craft a new pitch, or devise a new strategy. He seemingly did the same thing in the same way and saw markedly improved results. Maybe there’s something we’re not seeing that explains the difference, but our guess is that he’ll go back to being an effective lefty specialist more so than a two-way threat — and that the Phillies will be OK with that over the two seasons of team control he has remaining.

As you can see, there’s risk and reward with each of the additions. If the Phillies get lucky, it’s possible they needed two setup-caliber relievers and a capable left-on-left options. If they don’t, they still might land an effective reliever or two at minimal cost.

Building a good bullpen often seems like the hardest or easiest thing in the world, depending on the team. We’ll see which one applies to the Phillies once the season begins, but for now credit them with adding talent at a relatively low cost.


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