They may be close to finding one.
According to a December 23 report by Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia, the Phillies have an agreement with a free agent reliever whom they believe can help bolster their bullpen. A source cited in the report wouldn't divulge the name of the pitcher, and if there's a deal in place, it would be pending a physical, which won't be administered until the first week of January.
Over the past few weeks, the Phillies have turned their gaze to "low-risk, high-reward" relievers with previous experience as closers, including right-handers Danys Baez and Mike MacDougal. Either would help satisfy the Phillies' need for a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever who is capable of filling in for closer Brad Lidge.
The Phillies had targeted free agent right-hander Brandon Lyon, but he signed a three-year, $15 million contract with Houston. They also had interest in right-hander Fernando Rodney, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Angels. With their payroll inching toward $140 million, the Phillies likely couldn't have afforded Lyon or Rodney.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal that the team has moved away from re-signing right-hander Chan Ho Park, who rejected a one-year, $3 million offer. The Phillies and Park disagree over his value and his role. Park prefers to sign with a team that will give him a chance to start. The Phillies view him exclusively as a reliever.
And while the Phillies have flirted with John Smoltz, they reportedly have concerns about his health history. Matt Capps and Bob Howry, two relievers in whom the Phils were interested, signed contracts during the final days of December.
So, who's left?
Baez, 32, was 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 59 games last season for Baltimore after missing 2008 while recovering from elbow surgery. But he also has 114 career saves and pitched for manager Charlie Manuel with Cleveland in 2001-02. After making $5.5 million last season, he almost certainly will take a pay cut and a short-term contract.
MacDougal, 32, wasn't tendered a contract by the Nationals despite posting a 3.60 ERA and 20 saves in 52 appearances last season. MacDougal, designated for assignment earlier in the season by the White Sox, has 70 career saves.
Previous experience as a closer is important to the Phillies because Lidge will be recovering from offseason elbow surgery. Left-hander J.C. Romero also underwent elbow surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season.