It is assumed the Phillies will enter the season with a seven-man bullpen, and five of those seven spots will be filled by Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst and Justin De Fratus. Will the sixth and seventh relievers be in-house options, or could the Phils again look to free agency?
Based on comments made by Ruben Amaro at Adams' introductory press conference about back-end replacements in the case of bullpen injuries, it appears Phillippe Aumont will get a healthy look to make the Opening Day roster. Aumont impressed after coming up in late August last season, entering 12 of his 18 games with the score within two runs and notching five holds and two saves.
If Aumont earns spot No. 6, the last spot in the 'pen could go to one of three types of players: a farmhand with upside like Jake Diekman, a long man like Raul Valdes or a reliever the Phillies sign.
The Phils look like they have enough bullpen depth after adding Adams, but a glance at the remaining free agents shows that the deepest crop remains relief pitchers. Many have been snatched up, but plenty of effective veteran relievers are still unsigned.
Some make no logical sense for the Phillies, such as Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde, Brian Wilson, Francisco Cordero and Francisco Rodriguez. All of those pitchers are looking for spots they won't find in this bullpen.
But the next tier down -- Kyle Farnsworth, J.P. Howell, Mike Gonzalez, Kyle McClellan, Bobby Jenks, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Manny Parra and Rafael Perez -- includes several players worth taking a look at.
It's been noted here several times over the last two weeks that with so few corner outfield options remaining, the best way to further improve this Phillies team might be to add to the bullpen. But seeing as there is essentially just one or two spots up for grabs and the Phils feel extremely comfortable with their late-inning guys, it might also be an unnecessary allocation of the team's last remaining dollars under the luxury tax threshold. The Phils' current payroll is in the $152-155 million range. The tax threshold is $178 million, but a team must be below about $167 million because player bonuses and benefits count toward the end-of-season tax number.
If it costs more than $2-3 million on a one-year deal, the Phillies will be limiting their potential to make in-season trades while staying comfortably under the tax, and it would be for a player who might not be a meaningful upgrade.