PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies continued to bolster their bullpen Saturday, acquiring two-time All-Star Gregory Soto from the Tigers in a five-player deal.
In addition to Soto, Philadelphia will receive infielder Kody Clemens in exchange for outfielder Matt Vierling, utility player Nick Maton and catcher Donny Sands (the Phillies’ No. 21 prospect according to MLB Pipeline).
“We like the players we deliver. It was not easy for us; everyone contributed last year, particularly Vierling and Maton,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “But we felt an opportunity to add another back-end arm that we really like a lot, that we also have control over for at least three years, which was a deal that would help us improve going into the season. .”
Soto, who had a 3.28 ERA and racked up 30 saves for the Tigers last season, is one of the hardest-throwing lefties in the majors. His four-seam fastball averaged 98.7 mph last season, making it the second-fastest qualified pitch by any lefty, trailing only new teammate Jose Alvarado’s sinker (99.6 mph).
Those two left-handed flamethrowers will share the bullpen with right-hander Seranthony Dominguez, who averaged 98.2 mph with his sinker and 97.6 mph with his four-seamer.
The move to acquire Soto also comes just two days after the club introduced veteran right-hander Craig Kimbrel, who ranks seventh all-time with 394 career saves. But before signing Kimbrel, the Phillies made sure he agreed with manager Rob Thomson’s preferred approach of not having a set closer.
Although the Phillies didn’t have that same luxury with Soto, since they couldn’t reach him directly until the trade was official, they were able to get in touch with the lefty, who is currently pitching in the Dominican Republic, via WhatsApp shortly after complete the deal.
“He was delighted to join us. I think when people look at our baseball club now, and they look at the arms that we have, they’re happy to contribute to the back end,” Dombrowski said. “He’s going to pitch significant innings in significant games.”
Soto certainly adds to that group, although he tends to make things interesting. The 27-year-old, who will be controlled by the team through 2025, has averaged 5.3 walks per nine innings during his four-year career, including 5.1 last season. His strikeout rate also dropped from 29.6 percent in 2020 and 27.5 percent in 2021 to 22.8 percent in 2022. He also allowed an average exit velocity of 91.4 mph, the sixth-highest mark ever. of 358 qualified pitchers.
Still, Soto believes he will help a Phillies bullpen that, while intensified during the club’s 2022 NL pennant race, had a 3.97 overall ERA last season. That ranked 18th in the majors, but it was a slight step up from 2021 (4.39 ERA, 19) and a drastic improvement from the disastrous 2020 season (5.14, 27).
The relief staff shone when Thomson first took over after the Phillies parted ways with Joe Girardi on June 3. At the time, Philadelphia’s bullpen had a 4.10 ERA, which ranked 21st in the majors. From then until the end of July, the ‘pen posted a 3.51 ERA, good for the eighth-best mark in MLB. As the team battled injuries down the stretch, relievers posted a 4.99 ERA in August and a 4.62 mark in September.
However, when the Phillies leaned more into their high-leverage arms in the postseason, the ‘pen responded with a 2.62 ERA in 68 2/3 innings.
Although David Robertson (signed with Mets), Zach Eflin (Rays) and Brad Hand (free agent) are gone, the Phillies have replenished the group with Soto, Kimbrel, Matt Strahm and Erich Uelmen, who was acquired from the Cubs on Wednesday.
“When you have pitching depth, you can never have enough,” Dombrowski said. “I talked to Rob Thomson a lot about it before we made the deal, the pros and cons, and again, even though he liked the players we traded, he thought having the ability to rest some of his tough pitching or back-end-types of type and still having other types of people who can do that the next day was very important to him.”
As for the other pieces in Soto’s deal, Vierling, despite serving as the Phillies’ starting center fielder for a stint last season, was relegated to platoon appearances against left-handed pitching after the trade deadline. changes from the acquisition of outfielder Brandon Marsh.
Maton, meanwhile, provided valuable innings in August and September as the Phillies dealt with key injuries down the stretch. Naturally an infielder, he made 10 appearances each in the corner outfield spot to replace Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, while also making appearances at second, third and shortstop.
Clemens, the son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, provided similar versatility in Detroit last season. The 26-year-old appeared at first base, second base, third base and left field, and even made seven pitching appearances, all while slashing .145/.197/.308 in 127 plate appearances following his League debut. MLB in May. 31 last season.