The Phillies are in win-now mode, but does that mean going all-in on a free agent pitcher this year?
The Phillies have been connected to nearly every big-name free agent this offseason, including most of the starting pitchers available. While pitching carried the Phillies through the first half of last season the young arms fell apart in September, resulting in an 80-82 season.
Adding an established starting pitcher is on the wish list of most fans and the front office, but is this the year to go all in on a starting pitcher? Is there actually someone worth giving a $100 million contract this offseason?
The top five names available this offseason are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Nathan Eovaldi. Between the five of them, there are three World Series rings and a Cy Young.
Former general manager Jim Bowden, now of The Athletic (subscription required), has no starting pitchers getting a $100 million contract this offseason. One of the big arms (most likely Corbin) could hit the nine-figure mark once bids start coming in.
Keuchel has been a workhorse and once thought to be a guy who could break the bank this offseason, but he hasn’t put up staggering numbers since winning the Cy Young in 2015. He’s now 31-years-old and coming off a league-high 34 starts.
There isn’t truly a number one pitcher available this offseason that the Phillies should overpay for.
However, when the 2020 offseason comes about, teams around baseball will be opening up their checkbooks.
Here are a couple of the starters available next offseason: Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Cole Hamels.
All five of those pitchers are better than the top five available this offseason, and the Phillies might consider holding off paying Corbin, Keuchel, Ryu or any other starting pitcher this year.
The Phillies might be better off paying someone like J.A. Happ, a solid starter and former Phillie, for one year and paying for a bigger fish next offseason.
Happ nearly won Rookie of the Year for Philadelphia in 2009 and was traded to Houston in the Roy Oswalt deal. He’s a steady arm who has bounced around the league since coming up, but he’s finished the last five years with double-digit wins.
A veteran like Happ could be a welcomed voice in the clubhouse and for the young crop of starting pitchers behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.
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Bowden thinks Happ could get a two-year deal worth $30 million this offseason and Spotrac thinks the lefty could make about $13 million per year, slightly less than Bowden’s projection. Happ would be a solid, affordable number three pitcher who wouldn’t cost the team prospects like James Paxton or Robbie Ray.
It’s not the overly exciting move, but with the future in mind, this could be the smartest move for Matt Klentak to make.
A starting rotation starting with Nola, Arrieta, and Happ capped off with some combination of Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Enyel De Los Santos, Vince Velasquez, and Ranger Suarez is manageable.
Right now I give Pivetta and Velasquez the upper hand to make the starting rotation. Eickhoff and Eflin are either moved to the bullpen or traded at some point to add more bats, while De Los Santos and Suarez develop in Lehigh Valley.
Next offseason the Phillies can dip their toes into the big-name starters with some miles left like Cole, Bumgarner, and Sale. Of those three I think Bumgarner is the most realistic choice. Cole and Sale are playing for contending teams, while Bumgarner is currently on a rebuilding club.
A reunion with Hamels has been discussed among the fans, but he’ll be 36-years-old on opening day in 2020. Verlander will be 37 and he seems happy in Houston after years with Detroit.
Waiting for a class with Sale, Bumgarner, and Cole is risky, but the Phillies are smart and know that while they are playoff contenders in 2019, they likely aren’t World Series bound. Signing a middle of the rotation guy like Happ makes this team better but also keeps them in position to make a big move next year.