Phillies trade for a reliever with a big arm — and some fine print


Dave Dombrowski's first trade as Phillies head of baseball operations addresses an area that needs lots of help.

Dombrowski picked up hard-throwing left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal on Tuesday. The Phillies sent reliever Garrett Cleavinger to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, in turn, are sending infielder Dillon Paulson and a player to be named later to the Rays.

Cleavinger, a 26-year-old reliever, was added to the Phillies' 40-man roster last winter and made one appearance with the team last season. He was initially acquired from Baltimore for Jeremy Hellickson in July 2017.

In four seasons with the Rays, Alvarado, 25, appeared in 149 games, posted a 3.46 ERA and struck out 27.9 percent of the batters he faced. If he pitches like that for the Phillies, he will offer immediate improvement to what was the worst bullpen in the majors in 2020. 

But Alvarado comes with health question marks. He was on the injured list twice in 2019, first with a right oblique strain and later with inflammation in his left elbow. In 2020, he was limited to just nine regular-season games because of left shoulder inflammation. He pitched in two postseason games for the Rays but ultimately was left off their World Series roster.

In addition to his history of arm trouble, Alvarado has control issues. He has averaged 4.8 walks per nine innings in his career.

Alvarado is known for his power, two-seam fastball. The pitch averaged 97.2 mph in 2020 — plenty firm, but notably down from 98.5 mph in 2019.

Alvarado is 6-2 and 245 pounds. He has experience working late in games in high-leverage situations and will be able to complement right-hander Hector Neris in that area. His best season was 2018 when he pitched in 70 games for Tampa Bay and had a 2.39 ERA while striking out over 11 batters per nine innings.

The Rays are in serious cost-cutting mode. Earlier this week, they traded ace left-hander Blake Snell to San Diego. Alvarado is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time and is projected to make just over $1 million in 2021.

Upon joining the Phillies earlier this month, Dombrowski promised to be aggressive in filling holes in the bullpen. There will likely be more additions to the unit as the offseason continues to unfold. There has to be. As it stands now, the Phillies' bullpen projects to consist of Neris, Alvarado and long man David Hale, all veterans, and the relatively inexperienced trio of Connor Brogdon, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez.

Phillies relievers in 2020 had a combined ERA of 7.06 and opposing hitters feasted to the tune of a .315 batting average and a .946 OPS, both the highest marks in the majors. The bullpen's poor performance was the major reason the Phillies failed to make the playoffs, even in an expanded eight-team National League field, for a ninth straight season and that led to ownership blowing up the front office and eventually hiring Dombrowski.

In addition to improving the bullpen, Dombrowski needs to add a catcher. The team remains in contact with J.T. Realmuto and hopes to re-sign him, but that pursuit could extend well into the winter as Realmuto shops himself to a number of teams.

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