The Toronto Blue Jays have added David Phelps, a veteran reliever, to their 40-man roster, and he will likely occupy a premium spot in the Toronto bullpen this season. He was signed to a one-year contract with a club option for 2020. His contract is loaded with appearance incentives, many of which hinge upon his ability to finish games. He’s proven his ability to be a good to elite level bullpen arm over his seven-year career with the Yankees, Marlins, and Mariners, though he missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Obviously his health is a concern going into this year, but if he’s able to bounce back from the surgery and regain his form, I think he could be one of the Blue Jays’ strongest arms out of the bullpen.
Phelps owns a career ERA of 3.89 over 228 appearances, and over his last two years before the surgery, he posted ERAs of 2.28 over 86.2 innings through 64 games for the Marlins, and 3.40 over 55.2 innings through 54 games for the Marlins and Mariners. He’s proven his ability to strike out batters, posting K/9 rates of 11.8 and 10 in his last two seasons, though his walk rates climbed during those seasons. Phelps posted BB/9 rates of 3.9 and 4.2 in 2016 and 2017 respectively. It’s interesting to note that this rise occurred when he transitioned from primarily a starter to a bullpen arm.
The conjecture at this point seems to be whether or not Phelps will be ready for Opening Day. Even if he’s not quite up to speed by then, I expect him to be contributing to the back end of the bullpen throughout most of the season. Per Baseball Prospectus, he features a mid 90s fastball, a low 90s cutter, and a plus knuckle-curve. I expect Phelps, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes to combine for most of Toronto’s late inning set-up roles in front of Ken Giles. It also sounds like Phelps, along with Tepera, can bear the mantle of closer when Giles is unavailable.
This is a shrewd pick-up by the Blue Jays, reminiscent of the Joe Smith, or Seung-hwan Oh deals. Like Smith and Oh, Phelps is not a marquee bullpen name, but this is not the year for the Blue Jays to be pursuing the Craig Kimbrels of the world. Phelps is a seasoned veteran with good career numbers who can act as an anchor in a bullpen that will probably get used a lot this year. I hope the Blue Jays can pick up another bullpen arm or two similar to Phelps. An excess of good veteran relievers is a great problem to have going into spring training.
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