Phillies

Phillies sound more likely to trade for starting pitchers than sign them

Phillies sound more likely to trade for starting pitchers than sign them

The Phillies went 35-35 in their final 70 games on the backs of a group of exciting young position players and an improved bullpen, so there's a growing perception that adding several starting pitchers to a rotation in shambles could inch the 2018 Phils closer to .500.

The Phillies, as of today, have just one starting pitcher they can feel good about heading into next season: Aaron Nola.

Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff had disappointing, injury-plagued seasons. Nick Pivetta showed flashes but also had the highest ERA in baseball at various points in September. Ben Lively had 10 quality starts in 15 tries, but when he was bad, he was really bad. 

There are some intriguing starting pitchers available in free agency this winter — Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb — but based on team president Andy MacPhail's comments Tuesday, it doesn't sound like the Phils will be spending for a starting pitcher in the first or even second tier this offseason.

"I would expect we’re going to have a relatively low payroll (in 2018)," MacPhail said. "I might be surprised. It’s [Matt Klentak's] job to stay open to other opportunities and if something comes up, we should jump on it."

The Phillies have just one player under contract in 2018: Odubel Herrera. After you account for all the arbitration raises and slight raises to players making close to the minimum, you get to a figure of about $30 million for a mostly-completed 25-man roster.

Now, "relatively low payroll" doesn't mean the Phils will stay at $30 million. Even if they increased it to, say, $75 million, that is still low relative to the rest of the league and certainly low compared to the $170 million or so they spent at the height of their contending phase.

But MacPhail doesn't sound like a man who wants the Phillies to pay for past performance.

"My philosophy hasn't changed," he said. "There are times when you're going to have to dive into that pool and just take a risk. But it's not my favorite place to be. 

"We get inundated with stories across the game about how everybody is looking for starting pitching. 'Just get two quality starters, and we'll be all set.' Well, you might as well look for a unicorn at the same time. It's tough. You don't want to be paying for past performance. That's often what you're confronted with — someone who has probably logged over 600 innings in the last three years and been a great pitcher and now we're on the wrong side of 30 and here we go."

There's a lot of merit to that last comment. In 2015, the Padres signed a 32-year-old James Shields to a four-year, $75 million contract. He had exceeded 200 innings in each of the prior eight seasons and put up No. 2 starter stats. 

What happened? All of those innings caught up to Shields, who lost velocity and has been a high-priced disaster for most of the contract, posting a 5.60 ERA in his last 54 starts. It's one of many, many, many recent examples.

You never want to be that team. You don't want to be the team that pays Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn — two consistent right-handers who've already had Tommy John surgery — $75 million to be lesser versions of themselves.

The more you read into MacPhail's comments Tuesday, the more likely it sounds that the Phillies trade for starting pitching rather than sign a few guys to deals averaging $15 million per year.

"This is as deep an organization that I’ve ever been associated with," MacPhail said of the Phils' farm system. "We don’t have some of the marquee names that other teams have but in terms of depth, I think we’re as good as there is in the game. ... 

"Is it possible that Matt uses those assets in the minor leagues to augment our major-league club in '18? I think the answer to that question is definitely we’d consider it. The minor leagues are there to populate your major-league club, and it can happen a couple different ways. They can come up and play or you can turn them in for what is more known assets. ...

"Most of you guys have written about how the '18 (free-agent) class is a little on the light side, all the big guns come out in '19. It may well be that teams that want to compete in that '19 arena shed some salary that we won't anticipate right now in '18. So we have to keep our eye out for that, as well."

The caliber of starting pitcher the Phillies can find on the trade market depends on who they're willing to move. Freddy Galvis, as impressive as he is defensively, will not bring back a good, young starting pitcher. Galvis just isn't enough of a difference-maker, and he's a free agent after 2018.

Cesar Hernandez? That should get some talks started. Hernandez has been remarkably consistent the last two seasons, hitting .294 with a .371 OBP in 2016 and .294 with a .373 OBP in 2017. There was trade interest in Hernandez last winter and there will be more this winter, with the Phillies likely listening more intently now that they know more about Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford.

Packaging Hernandez — or Maikel Franco, for that matter — with a prospect like Dylan Cozens could net the Phillies a younger pitcher with comparable skills to Cobb or Lynn but without the hefty price tag.

If the Phils dangle players like Nick Williams or Aaron Altherr, the starting pitching return could be even more impressive. Fans wouldn't like it, but trading an outfielder for a starting pitcher of similar value and then replacing that outfielder in free agency could turn out better than just signing a pitcher.

Take this hypothetical: The Phillies trade a nice prospect package including Williams to Tampa Bay for Chris Archer, then sign J.D. Martinez to play right field. Isn't a Phillies team with Martinez and Archer better than a Phillies team with Williams and Cobb? I'm not saying I think that's the absolute best idea, but the Phillies are admittedly in a position to listen to any possibility that comes their way.

"We need to stay open-minded," MacPhail said. "But, philosophically, it's not where I — you heard me drone on in spring training about pitching, pitching, pitching. Young pitching is at such a premium today. You need such a volume of it. You should always be focused on that."

Notice the word "young" preceding pitching. In this free-agent class, injured Michael Pineda is the only starting pitcher of note younger than 30.

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.