ORLANDO, Fla. — Throughout this entire offseason, Phillies officials have privately said that they will not be players for top free-agent starting pitchers seeking long contracts and huge paydays.
It's not that the Phillies can't do it. This is the same ownership group that signed free agent Cliff Lee to a mega-deal a few years ago, the same ownership group that gave Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard huge extensions.
Money is not an issue for this team.
The Phillies will spend big again someday soon — GM Matt Klentak talked about that Monday — but the time is not right, at least when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers on the other side of age 30 whose impressive career track records have included some recent blips in performance and the occasional health concern.
Back in October, club president Andy MacPhail talked about the downside of signing these types of pitchers and the dangers of paying for what he called "past performance." He went on to stress something that he has stressed since he arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 — the need to develop your own pitchers.
Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are the top two starting pitchers on this winter's free-agent market. Both are over the age of 30. Both are seeking big-money, long-term deals. Phillies officials, while expressing respect for both pitchers, have privately rejected the idea of pursuing either this winter.
And, yet, on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday, a breathless rumor surfaced that the Phillies were considering Arrieta. A Phillies official privately scoffed at the rumor, which surfaced a day after ESPN reported that Arrieta was seeking a deal of $180 million to $200 million.
Again, it's not that the Phillies can't afford Arrieta. It's that his age — he'll pitch at 32 next season — does not make him a great fit for a young Phillies team that still has miles to go on its development curve.
"There will come a time when we are one piece away and that one piece is a fill in the blank — starting pitcher, closer, cleanup hitter — and in that moment, when we feel that we are one piece away, or two pieces away, that's when we open up the wallet and we go do what we need to do," Klentak said Monday.
Now, if the Baltimore Orioles are serious about trading Manny Machado this winter, we expect the Phillies to be right in it. They love Machado and his age — 25 — fits nicely into the Phillies' plan of developing a young core. It's extremely doubtful that the Phillies would give up Sixto Sanchez or Scott Kingery, but they'd listen on other players, provided they could get Machado signed to an extension.
The Phillies are looking to add starting pitching this winter and they have lots of money. So linking Arrieta to the Phillies makes sense, especially for those interested in driving up his market. We don’t doubt that Arrieta's name may have come up in passing in conversations between the Phillies and his agent, Scott Boras. Maybe that qualifies as "considering." But this is a deal that ain't happening.