Phillies Should Keep Young Starting Pitcher Vince Velasquez

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Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Vince Velasquez (28) throws a warm up pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Vince Velasquez (28) throws a warm up pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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At the trade deadline and again in the offseason, rumors have swirled about the Phillies dealing young starter Vince Velasquez. However, there is much more value in keeping Velasquez than trading him.

The Phillies are still nowhere close to being done their rebuild after finishing ten games below .500 in 2016. When teams are rebuilding, talented players they have at the major-league level often turn into prospect talent to fill the farm system. The Phillies did this with Cole Hamels, and now rumors are swirling about Vince Velasquez.

At the trade deadline this year, the Texas Rangers inquired about Velasquez according to Jim Morosi of MLB.com and later were “pretty deep” in talks with the Phillies per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. More recently, MLB.com’s Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki said the team will be “open-minded” about a trade for Velasquez again this offseason.

While I agree with Zolecki that the Phillies should be open-minded about listening to trades for players, they shouldn’t be hasty to unload the talent they have at the major-leagues. Velasquez is a dynamic pitcher that the team may not be able to recoup if they trade him.

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Next year alone, the rotation could end being a patchwork of veterans and fill-in starters. Velasquez and rotation partner Jerad Eickhoff are the only starters I feel 100% comfortable penciling into the rotation right now. Both Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin are battling back from injury and are questionable to be ready when the season starts. The team needs Velasquez in the rotation next year if for nothing else than to eat innings.

A trade for Velasquez could strip the team of a dominant pitcher. While Nola is an effective starter, he is a finesse pitcher. Meanwhile, Velasquez can dominate opposing hitters. He generated swinging strikes 11.2% of the time this season, ranking 22nd among all MLB pitchers with 130 or more innings. Velasquez finished above Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and New York’s Masahiro Tanaka.

Velasquez finished the year with 152 strikeouts in 131 innings. His 27.6% strikeout rate was tenth among all major-league pitchers with 100 or more innings, sandwiched between Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks and Danny Salazar of the Indians. Outside of Nola, I can’t think of a Phillies pitcher who can create that many strikeouts.

In addition, few, if any, pitchers in the Phillies system match the powerful arsenal Velasquez posses. This season, Velasquez’s four-seam fastball averaged 94.7 miles per hour and topped out at 99 at one point according to Brooks Baseball. His fastball was the 12th-most valuable among all pitchers in the MLB with 130 or more innings.

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Along with his fastball, Velasquez has an above-average slider (0.22 corrected value according to Fangraphs) and a curve that “has a sharp downward bite and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves” according to Brooks Baseball.

With two above-average breaking balls and a changeup that was considered his best secondary pitch as a prospect according to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, Velasquez has an arsenal unparalleled by any pitcher the Phillies have now.

The only pitcher I can think of that could rival Velasquez’s arsenal is Franklyn Kilome, who is still in Low-A and could easily bottom out for all the potential he has. Unless the front office can get a pitcher back in a hypothetical trade that has the arsenal Velasquez has, the team is better off keeping him in the fold.

It isn’t hard to see the Phillies contending for the playoffs in the next couple seasons, and Velasquez will still be a low-cost option in the rotation. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2018 season and a free agent until after the 2021 season. Velasquez will turn 26 in 2018 and 29 in 2021. Velasquez earned $500,000 this year; he was worth $17.6 million according to Fangraphs. If that trend continues, the club will get much more value than any upper-level pitcher they pick up in free agency.

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Any trade the Phillies would make for Vince Velasquez would have to parallel the haul they got for Cole Hamels. They would be hard-pressed to replace Velasquez through the farm system or free agency. The team would be better off keeping Velasquez and developing him further into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

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