The Phillies waited until the day before the lockout to make their first free agent additions, but finally, they spent money. On Tuesday, the team agreed to deals with righthanded reliever Corey Knebel and utility man Johan Camargo.
Both were one-year deals, with Knebel guaranteed $10M and Camargo $1.4M. The two players will hope to help the bullpen and bench, respectively, the two weakest parts of the 2021 team. Let’s take a look at Knebel first.
An all-star in 2017, Knebel has dealt with his fair share of injuries the last four years. After an okay year in 2018, Knebel had Tommy John in March of 2019. He pitched 13.1 innings to a tune of a 6.08 ERA upon his return, and the Brewers traded him to LA last offseason. He missed almost four months this season, as well, with a right lat strain.
However, when he did pitch, he looked very similar to how he pitched in 2017. In 27 games, he pitched 25.2 innings with an ERA of 2.45. More importantly, he had a 29.7% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate, with dominant numbers against both right-handed and left-handed batters. His 96.4 average velocity was close to his pre-TJ average of 97.4, and an improvement from 94.4 the year prior.
Even his spin rate numbers rebounded, with his curve posting the highest spin rate numbers he produced in his career. He looks to be the leading candidate for the closer role, with Dave Dombrowski saying as much. While he won’t be promised anything, the $10M guarantee should tell fans how the team feels.
The buzzer beater of the night for the Phillies, Camargo will look to fortify the Phillies bench. It is not at all the sexy hitter everyone wants (more on that later), but Camargo will indeed fill a need on this roster. After a strong 2018 where he slashed .272/.349/.457 in 464 at-bats, Camargo has struggled since. Last season, he went hitless in his only 16 at-bats in the majors and the Braves nontendered him earlier this offseason.
Considered a plus defender by some metrics, Camargo has considerably more upside than Ronald Torreyes. Last season was forgettable, but he did hit .326/.401/.557 in Triple-A. He made $1.36M last year, so the $1.4M a slight raise, but nothing crazy. With a bounce back year, Camargo will certainly help a bench that could use it.
All in all, I like both moves for the Phillies. Both players fill needs for the Phillies and should be important contributors in the 2022 season. However, my concerns for the team still linger.
In a piece for The Athletic($), Matt Gelb used the phrase ‘finite budget’ when explaining the Phillies approach to the offseason. While the Mets are absolutely destroying the luxury tax, the Phillies are operating purposefully deliberate. We, as fans, have had this debate about the luxury tax for years. John Middleton has been apprehensive to cross it for years, and it seems like he still is.
However, with the Mets going on a spending spree and the Braves coming off a World Series, he might not have a choice.
The landscape in the division has drastically changed in the last month and a half, so the Phillies need to catch up. They have a lot more holes to fill, and with only ~$28M left before the luxury tax, I don’t know if they have enough resources to do so. They still need more depth in the bullpen and a middle of the order bat to protect Bryce.
Oh, and they still need someone to play centerfield.
It is definitely a start in the right direction, but more moves are needed to make this team competitive. If Middleton isn’t ready to spend the money, it is going to be another long, fruitless season for the Phils.
With the lockout in effect, they are going to have a break before they can make any more moves. Maybe, our owner can take the time to squeeze more money out of that ‘finite budget’.