Jake Arrieta

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price, he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.

Will a mystery guest join Phillies' rotation?

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Will a mystery guest join Phillies' rotation?

The mitts will start popping Wednesday morning when Phillies pitchers and catchers assemble for their first official workout of the spring on the emerald fields of Carpenter Complex in Clearwater.

The group of candidates vying for spots in the starting rotation will look familiar. While the club made upgrades in the lineup (Carlos Santana) and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), the rotation went untouched.

Aaron Nola comes into camp deserving to be Gabe Kapler's first opening day starter. Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin will be looking to bounce back from late-season health issues, and Nick Pivetta, Jake Thompson and Ben Lively will try to build on valuable experience gained last season. Strike-throwing Tom Eshelman, the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year in 2017, will be someone to watch, as will other prospects, including Drew Anderson and Jose Taveras.

Now, will there be a mystery guest coming to camp?

Quite possibly.

As new manager Kapler said last month, general manager Matt Klentak "is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective. That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation."

Klentak has talked all winter about his desire to add a starting pitcher, but he has made no promises and his quest has come with qualifiers. He has been leery of the price tags attached to top free agents (especially in length of contract) and trade candidates (quality of prospects needed to acquire). Also, Klentak, still steward of a rebuild, has had to balance his desire to add a pitcher with the need to make sure there are innings and opportunities for the current group of young pitchers to improve and reach their potential.

The glacial free-agent pitching market finally began to thaw over the weekend with Yu Darvish reaching agreement on a six-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Jason Vargas, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman and others should begin to follow as camps get set to open.

The Phillies have long been speculated as a potential landing spot for Arrieta, mostly because they have deep pockets, loads of room in their budget and a need for a starting pitcher. But Arrieta will turn 32 in March and the Phils are of no mind to go six years for a pitcher that age. If Arrieta decides to go for a shorter, one- or two-year deal then quickly head back out on the free-agent market, the Phils might strike. However, the competition for Arrieta on a short-term deal would be significant and logic dictates he would want to sign with a contender under those terms, not a team in a rebuild.

So, if an addition is made, it seems more likely that it would come from the second tier of available pitchers.

A general manager's quest to upgrade his starting rotation is neverending. That's how important starting pitching is. Klentak's short-term quest to upgrade the staff will intensify in July if his upgraded offense and bullpen has the Phillies poking around wild-card contention.

In the meantime, the Phillies go into camp with what looks like a cast of mid-rotation starters.

Nola leads the group after resoundingly answering health (elbow) concerns in 2017. Not only did the 24-year-old right-hander check out physically, he also took a step forward in his performance and became the reliable starter the team projected him to be when it selected him seventh overall in the 2014 draft.

Nola struck out 9.88 batters per nine innings and his 3.54 ERA in 27 starts ranked 20th in the majors. He delivered 12 ultra-quality starts — seven innings or more, two or fewer earned runs. Only Clayton Kershaw (16) and Max Scherzer (14) had more.

While Nola progressed, the balance of the rotation had ups and downs as the staff pitched to a 4.80 ERA (21st in the majors) and allowed an .806 OPS (fourth from the bottom) to opposing hitters.

Pivetta showed big strikeout stuff despite not consistently pitching deep into games. Eickhoff, Velasquez and Eflin struggled with inconsistency and ended the season on the disabled list. The team hopes these pitchers, all now healthy, will step forward this season. For Eickhoff, it's a matter of regaining the health and mechanics that helped him lead the staff with a 3.65 ERA in 2016. For Eflin, it's a matter of staying healthy after a series of issues. Health is also an issue for the electric-armed Velasquez, but so is focus and economy of pitches. 

Given the value placed on starting pitching, it is understandable that the team has been patient in trying to develop the 25-year-old Velasquez. But the time could come, maybe this season, when continued struggles lead to a shift to the bullpen. That certainly could be an intriguing option for Velasquez, though the team hopes it never comes to pass.
The Phillies head into spring training with a new pitching coach as Rick Kranitz has moved up from the assistant's role to replace Bob McClure. Chris Young and former big-league pitcher Jim Gott have joined the staff as assistant pitching coach and bullpen coach, respectively. The Phillies are clearly throwing some depth of instructive personnel at their pitchers.

Hey, it all starts with the pitching and that all starts Wednesday in Clearwater.

Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta no longer unrealistic for Phillies

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Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta no longer unrealistic for Phillies

We know the Phillies have money to spend.

We know they do their due diligence with most/all notable names on the free-agent and trade markets.

We know that they're enticed by next winter's free-agent class, which includes the big names like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, potentially Clayton Kershaw.

And we know that rarely are there such things as bad one-year deals.

The Phillies have been in touch with the representatives of Yu Darvish and "most high-profile free agents," The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday.

It goes along with the thinking reported here that the Phils would not be interested in a multi-year megadeal for a star but would consider a short-term contract if the player lingers long enough in free agency.

"Unlikely Phils would be high bidder, but if player fell into their range — preferably short-term — they might jump," Rosenthal wrote.

The Phils have kept tabs on the starting pitching market all winter, just in case (see story).

The Phillies' current projected payroll for 2018 is around $64 million. Even by adding a pitcher like Darvish or Jake Arrieta to a one-year deal worth, say, $25 million, the Phils still wouldn't have an egregiously high payroll. In fact, they'd still have one of the 10 lowest projected payrolls. It would make them a whole lot more competitive in 2018 and perhaps more intriguing to next year's class. 

For Darvish or Arrieta, the appeal would be a high one-year salary and the ability to retest free agency in a year, when their value is likely higher. Darvish had an ugly World Series with the Dodgers, while Arrieta had a 3.53 ERA after posting a 2.42 ERA the previous three seasons.

Staying in the NL would make sense for both if they want to reestablish some more value. 

There are definitely many ballparks more pitcher-friendly than Citizens Bank Park, but will one of those NL teams with a spacious park have enough money and enough interest in Darvish or Arrieta? The Brewers, for example, have been connected to Darvish but Miller Park is homer-friendly with a great batter's eye.

When the offseason began, there seemed to be a zero-percent chance the Phils ended up with a free-agent ace. The odds are still long, but the more time that goes by, the more likely the starting pitching market gets to a place in which they feel comfortable enough to pounce.