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Three Options to Create Phillies’ Pitching Depth


Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the disheartening news this week that pitching prospects Adam Morgan and Shane Watson will miss most of 2014 after each had surgery, Phillies’ management find themselves without much in the way of starting pitching depth.

Only reaching full-A Lakewood last season, Watson would not have been a viable option in 2014 for a mid-season call up, so his injury will have largely a developmental impact.

Morgan, on the other hand, is the team’s most MLB-ready pitching prospect, and would have been one of the top call-up options in the event of any injuries.

The injury leaves the depth chart as follows: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Roberto Hernandez, Jonathan Pettibone, recently signed Jeff Manship, a stretched-out Ethan Martin, and top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle (who is still developing).

Yes, the odd reliever could start the occasional game, but there’s really not even nine viable starters on that list.

For instance, he’s got potential, but the Phillies really have no idea what they’ll get out of Gonzalez.

Additionally, Martin has much more value in the bullpen at this point, and Biddle isn’t fully developed.

What I’m saying is, a little breathing room would be nice.

Sure, it is possible the Phillies make a pass at a top free agent like Matt Garza or Masahiro Tanaka.

However, they seem content to not spend much for the rest of the offseason, and it just doesn’t make sense to blow your budget out of proportion because the 7th guy on the depth chart is injured.

What would be more likely is seeing the team sign one or two more veteran starters on minor league deals, with invites to Spring Training (like the Manship signing).

They won’t have the large commitments that chain them to the major league rotation, and would be largely incentive-based in nature.

Below are three possible, remaining free agent options who would satisfy this need.

Jair Jurrjens

Jair Jurrjens, former Braves and (briefly) Orioles starter, completely fell apart over the last two seasons. He’s a two-time All-Star, who pitched to a 3.34 ERA and 1.291 WHIP over four seasons with the Braves from 2008-2011.

Never a big SO pitcher, FIP has never liked him that much, with a 3.99/4.32 FIP/xFIP for his career – compared to his 3.63 ERA.

Recurrent knee injuries have hampered his abilities over the last three years, with 2012-2013 being tantamount to two lost seasons for the Curaçao native.

However, there’s always going to be that allure of the possibility of Jurrjens regaining his former glory, and CBS’s Al Melchior reports that he should be finally healthy before Spring Training after surgery this off-season.

If healthy, and capable of repeating any near his past peaks (like 2009: 2.60 ERA, 215 IP, 1.215 WHIP, 6.5 rWAR), he’d be a valuable signing on an incentive-laden deal.

It would just require an incredibly thorough knee physical, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since –

Oh, that soon? I guess Chase Utley‘s from 2 years ago. That’s not so dramatic.

John Lannan

Ok, ok. Hear me out. John Lannan had a bad season last year with the Phillies, which ended early due to injury. However, had he pitched somewhere else in 2013, Phillies fans might see him as a potential buy-low target.

Lannan’s still only a 29 year old starting pitcher, with a career 4.12 ERA, 1.432 WHIP and 858 IP to his name. He’s no All-Star, but if he’s expected to be AAA pitching depth, I’d go so far as to say he’s easily over-qualified.

Due to his lackluster stats, and rampant injuries last year, he might be at the point of looking for a minor league deal. If the team can get him, there’s a lot worse you could do with that role.

However, seeing as the Phillies are strapped related to injuries as is, unless his physical is spotless, I might not pull the trigger. The same asterisk applies to Jurrjens.

Jeff Francis

Oh, Jeff Francis. He’s a 33-year old starting pitcher of Colorado Rockies (and career 4.94 ERA) fame. He’s never thrived in the majors, largely because of his home stadium, and poor defense behind him.

In 2013 he pitched only 70.1 innings to a 6.27 ERA, and spent a lot of the time in AAA. He might have to accept a minor league deal to start the season.

Some more advanced statistics like him a little more than the traditional ones, however. His career FIP is 0.55 runs lower than his ERA, at 4.39. His xFIP is even slightly lower, at 4.34.

His 2013 numbers are even more exaggerated, when his 6.27 ERA is compared to his 4.54 FIP and 3.82 xFIP.

He’s healthy, and despite traditional metrics, has been worth 18.1 fWAR over 9 seasons in Colorado. That’s everyday regular levels.

As a guy who’s numbers have long been clouded by his home park, poor surrounding defense, and bad luck Francis would make a great buy-low candidate for the Phillies on a minor league deal.