The Philadelphia Phillies obtained lefty reliever Gregory Soto from the Detroit Tigers on Saturday as part of a five-player swap. The teams announced the deal on Saturday afternoon, with the Phillies netting Soto and infielder Kody Clemens in exchange for outfielder Matt Vierling, utility player Nick Maton, and catcher Donny Sands.
Soto, 28 years old next month, spent most of the last two seasons serving as Detroit’s closer. Overall, he amassed a 3.34 ERA (121 ERA+) and a 1.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with that figure weighed down by his wildness. Indeed, Soto’s walk rate during the 2021-22 seasons (13.7 percent) ranks as the second highest among the 22 pitchers with at least 30 saves in that span; only Aroldis Chapman, currently a free agent, walked a higher share of batters.
Nevertheless, the Phillies likely found Soto intriguing in part because of his combination of stuff and deception. He averaged over 98 mph on his fastball last season. He throws from an unusual release point, too, one that sees him get deep extension from a lower arm slot. That combination no doubt helps to explain why he’s punched out more than a batter per inning for his career.
Soto is under team control through the 2025 season, making him a potential long-term fit, so far as relief options go.
Soto is the third notable addition the Phillies have made to their bullpen this winter. Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld had previously signed Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel. The latter’s arrival led Dombrowski to suggest the Phillies would likely enter the season with a closer-by-committee approach.
“Not to say [Kimbrel] won’t close games or saying that can’t happen, but it was important to discuss beforehand,” Dombrowski told MLB.com. “We feel like we have the makings of a real good bullpen. We have quite a few guys who can pitch with a one-run lead late in the game, which we think is extremely important.”
It’s unclear if the Phillies will change their philosophy with Soto in tow. It seems more likely that manager Rob Thomson enters the season with an intend to mix and match based on matchup and availability.
Clemens, 26, is best known for being one of Roger’s sons. He made his big-league debut last season, hitting .145/.197/.308 (45 OPS+) during a 56-game sample that saw him strike out 25 more times than he walked. Clemens has shown good raw power from the left side in the minors, but his propensity for whiffing limits his offensive ceiling. He figures to see action as a reserve bat.
The Tigers, for their part, received in return three hitters who should see big-league action during the 2023 season.
Vierling, 26, is the most accomplished of the trio. He’s batted .260/.309/.374 (91 OPS+) in 151 big-league games over the last two seasons while seeing most of his action in center field. The Tigers ostensibly view Vierling as an upside play based on how hard he strikes the ball. Last season, his exit velocity ranked in the 86th percentile in average and in the 82nd percentile in maximum, suggesting there’s more juice in his bat than his slash line indicates.
Maton, 25, had an impressive 34-game run with the Phillies last season, boosting his career slash line to .254/.330/.434 (109 OPS+) in 216 trips to the plate. Beware that Maton does swing and miss a lot for a player without big-time power production. To wit, his whiff rate in 2022 was 35.4 percent, or well above the league-average mark of 24.7 percent.
Sands, 26, appeared in three games last season with the big-league club. In 57 Triple-A games, he hit .309/.413/.428 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. The Tigers do have two other catchers, Eric Haase and Jake Rogers, on their 40-player roster, suggesting Sands might open the year in the minors if the Tigers don’t make another trade or suffer an injury before the season begins.