Many question marks surround the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen this winter, and Héctor Neris is one of them, as the club's longest tenured player is a free agent.
However, Neris has gone on record saying that he would like to return to the only team he's been a part of during his eight-year MLB career.
"Yeah, it's the team that I grew up with," he told The Athletic's Matt Gelb prior to the 2021 season's conclusion. "It's the team that knows me. I have been available all the time."
Neris long fulfilled the role of closer for the Phillies, but this year, that all changed for the 32-year-old. He was demoted from the role in late-June, and since became a set-up/middle innings man for the Phillies in the second-half.
The Phillies quickly learned that this where Neris should have been all along, as he thrived in his new role. Neris pitched to the likes of a 2.51 ERA, and picked up 59 strikeouts in 43 IP, with opponents posting just a .586 OPS against him to finish off the season.
President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski noticed Neris' improvement, telling NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, "He pitched well for us. We'd prefer to bring him back as a non-ninth-inning guy," he said. "That would be our hope. He's open to that. Ideally, he'd love to return, but I know once a player becomes a free agent, anything can happen."
Overall, he finished 2021 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.170 WHIP, 12 saves, and 98 strikeouts in 74.1 IP. Neris also reached a milestone for his career and cemented his name in Phillies history forever when he picked up his 520th strikeout in relief on Oct. 3, surpassing Ron Reed for the most all-time for the franchise.
With so many uncertainties surrounding the bullpen, it would be foolish of the Phillies to not bring Neris back. He's been a key piece in the Philadelphia bullpen for the better part of eight seasons, appearing in 405 games, 407.2 innings, all culminating in a 3.42 ERA.
The Phillies are working to improve their bullpen, and while they are expected to make a splash in free agency to do so, ridding of Neris won't help their cause. Rather, it would leave a hole in a bullpen with so many already.
Electing to bring him back on a low AAV, multi-year deal as a middle innings reliever, and to provide some veteran leadership in the bullpen would be the smart move by the Phillies.
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