The Phillies are in agreement on a minor league contract with veteran left-handed reliever Tony Watson, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com (via Twitter). He’ll be in Major League Spring Training and compete for a bullpen job.
Watson, a client of the Boras Corporation, would earn $3MM if he makes the big league roster, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports (Twitter link). As with fellow Phillies non-roster invitee Brandon Kintzler, that $3MM sum represents a relatively large potential salary for a minor league signee. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale further adds that Watson could earn an additional $1MM via incentives.
There’s been some surprise that Watson settled for a minor league arrangement after the veteran lefty notched a tidy 2.50 ERA in 18 innings with the Giants last year and generally pitched well for them. However, Watson’s fastball velocity plummeted by more than three miles per hour in 2020, dropping from just over 93 mph to 89.9 mph. Watson still managed a strong 12.9 percent swinging-strike rate and a career-high 40.6 percent opponents’ chase rate, but the velo dip for a pitcher in his mid-30s was likely something of a concern for interested parties.
It’s not the first time that Watson’s market (or lack thereof) has been a source of some surprise. Watson had a $2.5MM player option with the Giants last offseason that seemed like a no-brainer to decline, but he instead reworked that contract and took a one-year, $3MM deal with the Giants in early November rather than actually exploring the market. Given a solid 2018-19 showing in San Francisco (3.30 ERA, 23 K%, 5.3 BB%) and a generally thin market for lefty relief, that decision was also rather unexpected.
It’s possible that, like Kintzler, Watson had some smaller Major League offers but chose to bet on himself with a non-guaranteed deal and the appeal of a potentially more lucrative base salary. Regardless of the market factors that led to today’s agreement, it looks to be a nice pickup for a Phillies club in desperate need of a bullpen makeover. Watson has a long track record of success, pitching 10 years at the MLB level with a composite 2.80 ERA and only one single-season ERA north of 4.00 (4.17 in 2019). He’s worked as both a closer and a setup man, and unlike many lefties he doesn’t carry a sizable platoon split.
Since naming Dave Dombrowski president of baseball operations, the Phillies have signed Archie Bradley, traded for Jose Alvarado and brought in Watson, Kintzler, Hector Rondon and Neftali Feliz on non-guaranteed deals. On the starting staff, they’ve signed both Chase Anderson and Matt Moore as back-of-the-rotation options while inking Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell to minor league deals. At the very least, the Phils should have a deeper staff — starters and relievers alike — than in 2020.