Relief Issues

Now that the Phillies are all but done in 2012, there isn't much left to talk about. There are no trades that can make, no minor leaguers to call up, nothing that they can do to help get themselves back in the race. At this point, all they can do is play all nine innings, and all we can do is try to enjoy it.

Or, if you're like me, you can play Monday morning quarterback and criticize their off-season moves in a vain attempt to try to figure out where it all went wrong. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it.

The biggest splash of the off-season for the Phillies was also their first...and their worst, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four year deal worth $50 million. Even for Ruben Amaro, who is no stranger to big money deals for pitchers, this was a bit extreme, especially when the team already had a boat load of money committed to the roster for 2012.

But that's been Amaro's MO. Instead of going for a cheaper option that would have been just as valuable – Joe Nathan, for instance – he made a splash and went for the best on the market, even when it wasn't really needed.

As a result, Amaro tied up a good chunk of change in one relief pitcher while the rest of the bullpen suffered. It was unlikely that Antonio Bastardo would repeat his 2011 success, and Jose Contreras was a long shot to remain healthy. That left youngsters like Michael Stutes, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer and Joe Savery to carry the load in the middle innings. Naturally, relying on young, unproven arms didn't turn out so well, and veterans like Chad Qualls offered little to no help in the late innings.

That's not to say that Papelbon isn't a great relief pitcher, or that the team's struggles are his fault. He's been awesome this season, with 23 saves and a 3.14 ERA. But when you are an aging team with a huge payroll, the last place you need to commit a done of dollars is to one relief pitcher, especially when you had need elsewhere. If the Phillies wanted to spread that money out amongst three or four pitchers, that's quite another story because they'd be evenly distributing the pitching talent in the late innings. Instead, the Phillies have one of the worst bullpens in the National League, where they rank near the bottom of the league in both blown saves and in runs allowed per game.

But when you willingly commit that much money to a player that is going to appear in about 4% of the innings over the course of the year, you are asking for trouble. Unless, of course, money is not an issue. But as the Phillies have demonstrated, that is not the case, as they are looking to (and already have) trade away effective players in order to free up salary.

Sure, you can talk about the Ryan Howard deal or the Cliff Lee deal and the Cole Hamels deal all you want, but at least those guys will at least see more playing time and have a larger impact on the success of the team.

It's academic, really, because look how much good a pitcher like Papelbon does when he barely gets any playing time? He is only useful to Charlie Manuel when he has the lead, and this year, that hasn't been a lot.

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