PHILLIES: What If They DON’T Sign A Starting Pitcher?

Photo: Cheryl Pursell

It was Groundhog Day.

Someone on the Twitter Machine asked–probably rhetorically–what Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak was doing to mark the occasion.

Seeing the opportunity for a joke, I replied:  “He’ll come out of his office, and if he sees his shadow he’ll go back in and we’ll have six more weeks of him NOT signing a starting pitcher.”

Phillies Need a Pitcher

Reputable sources around Major League Baseball have reliably reported that the Phillies are in the market for a starting pitcher.  Blogs of all levels have accepted this information because it makes a world of sense.  The Phillies have Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez penciled in for the 2018 rotation.  Then, nothing written in pen or pencil.

Every team needs arms and needs innings.  Experienced starting pitchers are hard to come by–even more difficult if they’re good.  The first big name dropped the other day when Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs.  There’s a list of other free agent arms available, with nearly every single one connected to the Phillies in some way.  There have been a fair few articles (here’s a good one) listing the available names versus relative quality and desirability for the Phillies.

Follow The Money

One of the reasons the Phillies have been connected with virtually every single free agent starting pitchers–as well as position players, and aside from the obvious need–is that they are flush with cash.  Their payroll is low, they’re in a big market with a nice TV deal, and they have an owner who is not only willing to spend money but is anxious to do so, by all accounts.

Indeed, a few outlets have pointed out that the Phillies big off-season acquisition to date, Carlos Santana, received a contract which might have been a bit too rich versus some fictional perceived value chart.

However, the only way a “over pay” contract might hurt the Phillies is if the term is so long that it inhibits the team’s ability to make moves in the future.  And, at this point, that probably means the length of the deal.  Santana signed for three years, and I think the Phillies would be willing to go 2-3 years on just about any pitcher and at any non-ridiculous amount.  But the term and security demands the pitchers are making might not be making sense from a team-building perspective right now for the team from Philadelphia.

Another View

Recently, I wrote about the glut of pitchers who will be available to the IronPigs for their 2018 AAA campaign.  It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, as minor league squads go, and should make the team competitive all season long for new manager Gary Jones, even given the expected turnover we always see in the minor leagues.

So what happens if the Phillies don’t sign a free agent starter, as expected?  Yes, yes, as I said above, you always need arms and innings.  But, once you start scrolling down the list of available pitchers in the Crashburn article, don’t you get the feeling the Phillies might have that same quality in house?

In my article linked above, I had my focus on our “in house” guys for their perceived failure to step up and claim one of those starting positions.  But if the Phillies somehow get shut out of the market this pre-season, could they make a go with what they have?  Do they value these guys more than we do as fans?  Are they going to use an 8-man pen anyway?  It might be quality over quantity, but consider the following candidates for those two starting spots:

  1. Zach Eflin  I’m not sure if he’s fully healthy or not.  And I’m not confident in his ability to stay healthy, either.  However, he’s had maybe the most MLB success in this group.
  2. Nick Pivetta  Here as well as elsewhere, we’ve mentioned that he might be a candidate to move to the bullpen.  However, he might have the best raw stuff in this group and if you can protect him with a deep bullpen he could be the most effective.
  3. Jake Thompson  Some of the “advanced metrics” people like his stats a little bit.  He’s a determined guy and has been relatively healthy.  If they stop messing around with his delivery and give him a consistent chance, he may be able to contribute.  Like Pivetta, you may need to be ready with a reliever quickly.
  4. Ben Lively  All he does is win.  Seriously.  Put down the calculator for a second and give him a chance to win ballgames for you.
  5. Mark Leiter, Jr  I still kind of think of him as a bullpen guy.  But, he did do well in a few starts for the Phillies last season as well as the IronPigs.  He’s in the mix.
  6. Tom Eshelman  They say you need elite control if you don’t have super stuff.  Eshelman has elite control.  After last season, he’s earned the right to see how it plays in the Show.
  7. Jose Taveras  They moved him up the ranks pretty quickly last season, but he answered the call on every level.  He works quickly and throws strikes.  Like Eshelman, you won’t know how it plays on the next level without giving it a try.
  8. Drew Anderson  He hasn’t had a ton of time in AAA yet, but he may be ready for an MLB start sooner rather than later.  He’s 8th on this list for a reason, but has a 40-man spot and has been to the majors already.
  9. Enyel De Los Santos  He came over in the Galvis trade.  He’s young.  And he hasn’t been to AAA yet.  But with a half-season with the IronPigs he could be ready.
  10. Jacob Waguespack  He got a taste of AAA ball in the playoffs and performed well.  Like Enyel, he could be available late in the season.
  11. Cole Irvin  He hasn’t had a shot at AAA yet either, but he is a lefty and if you need one of those to start a few games, he could be that guy after the All Star Break.

A Whole Host of Problems

Of course, this whole plan has some risk.  First, the idea that you need only two guys at any given time is kind of naive on my part, right?  Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez aren’t going to make every single scheduled start this season, so in reality you have way more than two openings if you consider you probably need a starting pitcher depth chart of about 8 to begin the season.

Second, and while this is much more important to me than it is to the Phillies, you still need to fill starts and eat innings at the AAA level and deal with any injuries that might occur there.

Third, the idea that you could maybe go out and trade for a guy at the deadline if you think you’re within shouting distance of a Wild Card might not be as possible as you think.  Despite the relative depth of the Phillies minor league system, there aren’t a ton of trade-able guys that they Phillies would want to part with.  I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, and with the Phillies’ ability to pay salary as part of the trade it certainly might be done.  It’s just not likely or something you want to count on.

Here We Go

So in the end, yes, I still expect the Phillies to sign someone.  Maybe two.  Probably by the time I hit “Publish” on this post.  But it will be fun to watch regardless, and I’m looking forward to watching the 11 guys above get their opportunities, and see what they can do with them.

Wednesday:  Pitchers and Catchers, and regular reports from Clearwater

Saturday:  Barrel Aged Beer at IronPigs

Saturday 2/24:  “TicketPalooza” at Reading

Saturday 3/3:  “Pig Day” at IronPigs

Baseball season is coming and you can’t stop it.

See you at the park(s),


Categories: Kram's Korner - From the Club Level

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