With talks on the 2020 Major League Baseball season underway, the goal appears to be starting a regular season schedule in early July. Due to the season being pushed back several months from its original start date in late March, there is now an increased opportunity for players who were originally supposed to be unavailable until mid-season or beyond. Phillies reliever David Robertson is one of those players. Could Robertson now actually be ready to go for Opening Day or soon after?
Prior to injuring his elbow last April 14, Robertson had been healthy throughout his entire 11-year career. The right-hander made at least 60 appearances in each of the prior nine seasons. If he does not return to the field this season, the injury and surgery mean that he will almost certainly finish his Phillies career with just those seven total games in uniform.
Robertson turned 35 years of age in early April, almost exactly a year after the injury. The proposed 2020 mid-season mark would fall just after the one year anniversary of his TJ surgery. Should the season actually start in early July there is now the chance he could be ready to go. If he’s not ready that soon Robertson could certainly be back for a Phillies postseason push.
“Robertson underwent Tommy John surgery back in August of 2019, so his goal of being back halfway through the campaign may have always been overly ambitious. Still, if the season extends into October and beyond, there’s a much greater chance of the veteran making an impact than had previously seemed possible. Robertson has thrown just 6.2 innings for the Phillies since signing a two-year, $23 million deal with the team prior to the 2019 campaign, but he has 137 career saves to his name and could potentially add a handful more if and when he returns.”
What would his role look like? The Phillies would monitor how his pitches look once he is able to start throwing and goes through some type of spring training-like process. If Hector Neris is looking sharp as the team’s closer, Robertson could become a key veteran setup option in the set-up innings. If he remains healthy and effective, Robertson could conceivably take on at least a co-closer role at some point.
Robertson spent his first seven big-league seasons with the New York Yankees, including winning a World Series over the Phillies as a member of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen in 2009. He went on to become one of the most effect relievers in the American League and made the AL All-Star team in 2011.
Reaching free agency, Robertson signed with the Chicago White Sox in 2015. After pitching with them for parts of three seasons, the Chisox dealt him back to the Yankees as part of a seven-player/prospect deal near the 2017 trade deadline. He spent the next season-and-a-half back in the Bronx before again becoming a free agent and joining the Phillies.
Over the seven games with the Phillies before going down, Robertson wasn’t looking or performing as we would have expected. He had a 5.40 ERA and had allowed eight hits and four runs over his 6.2 innings with six strikeouts, six walks, and a .296 batting average against. Those numbers likely reflect that he was already pitching through discomfort.
Just a year earlier in his final go-around with the Yankees, Robertson had enjoyed yet another in a string of excellent seasons. The combination of his lengthy record of health and strong performances as well as his continued recent seasons success, along with the Phillies readiness to step up and contend, were the key reasons that the club signed him to begin the 2019 campaign.
Robertson has a career 2.90 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP. In addition to that previous iron man status, that’s what the Phillies were looking to get when inking him. The team holds a club option in Robertson’s contract at $12 million for 2021.
While it seems unlikely they would exercise such an option for an aging closer coming off Tommy John surgery, the decision could come down to how healthy he looks and whether the team feels ready to be a serious contender.
Getting Robertson back to make any real difference in a 2020 season appeared a longshot at best prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. Now it is at least possible that the Phillies could get some actual benefit out of their investment in his right arm.