Prior to the collective bargaining agreement expiring and Major League Baseball officially instituting a lockout at midnight last night, the Philadelphia Phillies made their first significant offseason move. The club signed reliever Corey Knebel from the Los Angeles Dodgers to a one-year, $10 million contract.
It had been reported all week that Philadelphia was in "serious" and "advanced" discussions with the right-hander, but the deal became official yesterday afternoon. With Héctor Neris' departure and other current bullpen options being limited, all signs pointed to Philadelphia acquiring their new closer in Knebel.
And you would be right.
"We think he can close games," Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told NBCSP's Jim Salisbury. "We did not promise him that. But we think he has the stuff and the makeup to do it and that's [what] we would envision him being for us."
Knebel has previous experience in the closer's role. In 2017 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, he appeared in 76 games, converting 39 saves in 45 opportunities, with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings, all culminating in an impressive 1.78 ERA. He also made his first All-Star Game appearance that season. 2018 wasn't the strong showing 2017 was, but Knebel still picked up 16 saves and posted a 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
In 2019, Knebel missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery, but attempted a comeback with the Brewers in 2020 to no avail. He appeared in 15 games during the shortened season, pitching to a 6.08 ERA. He was then traded to the Dodgers that offseason, and in 2021, pitched 25.2 innings, with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.45 ERA in a set-up role.
Dombrowski seems to be confident that Knebel can resemble that of his former self with Philadelphia. "Our scouts saw him [in 2021] and all of his stuff matches up to what it was in the past," Dombrowski said. "He's got an above-average fastball, an above-average breaking ball, and the demeanor on the mound."
Knebel wants to prove to the Phillies that he can be an effective closer again, hence only the one-year deal, as opposed to two. "He said he'd rather sign a one-year deal to show people that he's a dominant closer again," said Dombrowski.
It looks like the Phillies have found their closer for 2022. But Dombrowski said Philadelphia will continue to assess their options once they are able to again. "We're going to continue to explore and see what makes sense for us as we go through the wintertime," he said. "We've got a guy that we think will close games for us and that's a big start. But we'll continue to explore out there as we'll continue to explore at other positions, too."
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