They were cutting it close to the 11:59pm lockout, but the Phillies made their first free-agent signing off the offseason, and it’s a good one.
The Phils have agreed to a deal with right-handed reliever Corey Knebel to a one year contract, the team announced Wednesday afternoon. The deal is pending a physical, of course.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to break the news.
Knebel, 30, is expected to work the back end of the Phillies’ bullpen, maybe even getting time as closer. He saved 39 games and racked up 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings for Milwaukee while making the National League All-Star team in 2017.
The bullpen has obviously been a major problem for the Phillies the last two seasons. It debatably kept them out of the playoffs both years. The 2020 club recorded a bullpen ERA of 7.06, the highest ever in a major-league season, though that season was just 60 games. The 2021 bullpen tied a major-league record with 34 blown saves.
Phillies’ president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made improving the bullpen his top offseason priority. Even with Knebel on board, Dombrowski is expected to continue to seek upgrades and perhaps a top closer. All-Star Craig Kimbrel of the Chicago White Sox remains available for a trade. The Phillies had interest in him before the Chicago Cubs traded him to the west-side of the city last summer.
Knebel essentially replaces Hector Neris, who signed with the Houston Astros. The Phils had interest in bringing Neris back as a setup man before he signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Astros.
The Phillies are depending on Knebel being healthy after a couple of seasons that were impacted by injury. He had Tommy John surgery in 2019, made it back with the Brewers in 2020, and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last winter. He pitched in 27 games for the Dodgers in 2021 and had a 2.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He missed three months with a lat strain but finished the season healthy. He allowed just five hits and one run while striking out 13 and walking just three in 10 1/3 innings in September.
The agreement with Knebel comes as the game prepares for a potential work stoppage that would put a freeze on all transactions. The collective bargaining agreement between MLB owners and the players association expires late Wednesday night and owners are expected to impose a lockout that will stop teams from conducting business on the big-league level.
I must say, this is a big and good move for the Phils. There’ll hopefully be more to come prior the the blackout, and even after.