Seattle Mariners: Sign or Decline — David Phelps
By Ty Gonzalez
Remember David Phelps? The 31-year-old reliever is one of the Mariners’ very few impending free agents and it may be in their best interest to bring him back.
Going into the 2018 season, the Mariners were expecting Phelps to be a major piece in their bullpen, potentially slotting in between Nick Vincent and Juan Nicasio. The prospect of having those three set up Edwin Díaz was exciting, giving us hope for a bullpen worthy of rivalling that of the 2014 Mariners.
On March 21, however, Phelps was diagnosed with a torn right ulnar collateral ligament, forcing him to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. This set the stage for the Mariners to look outside of the organization for bullpen help and eventually acquire Álex Colomé from the Tampa Bay Rays in May.
With the injury occurring back in Spring Training, Phelps should be able to make his return to the mound sometime in the first half of the 2019 MLB season. Therefore, he’s a viable bounce-back candidate that should come relatively cheap and is worth an opportunity to re-sign.
One of the bigger concerns about pitchers that undergo Tommy John is how it will ultimately affect their velocity and ability to throw their breaking balls. Phelps is a five-pitch pitcher, using everything in his wheelhouse relatively evenly, including his cutter and slider. Phelps has heavily relied on both pitches late in counts, so it’ll be interesting to how the injury affects his approach moving forward.
Interestingly enough, Phelps’ velocity on all five of his pitches significantly went up in 2016 and stayed there through the course of 2017. For example, his cutter averaged at 85.3 MPH in 2013, which shot all the way up to a 90.8 average four years later. When his velocity was lower in the early 2010s, he still had his fair share of success on the mound, still averaging roughly 1.0 fWAR a season.
What this tells me is that, if his velocity does take a hit, he at least has experience pitching successfully with less heat. As age begins to play a factor in pitchers’ careers, and the natural wear-and-tear of their arm sets in, they have to adapt and get creative to stay successful at the Major League level. In Phelps, you have a pitcher that’s had to be creative from the jump due to a lack of velocity, which is fairly encouraging.
The Mariners acquired Phelps for a whopping four prospects, including top-10 farmhand Brayan Hernandez. For that price, it’d be tough for the Mariners to simply bite the bullet on Phelps and move forward without him, and there really is no reason for them to do so. Phelps has a solid chance of bouncing back this year and could be a solid stash piece, especially if the team chooses to non-tender Nick Vincent.
Sign or Decline? Sign.
Prediction: One-year, $2.5 million deal.