Phillies

2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

The 2018 Red Sox went wire to wire and won the World Series. The 2019 Red Sox have a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs because of how brutal their starting rotation has been. 

A rotation that the Phillies and any other team in need of several starting pitchers should take note of.

The Red Sox allocated more than $90 million to their starting pitchers this season, the most in baseball in terms of total dollars and percentage of payroll dedicated to starting pitchers (40 percent).

They extended Chris Sale in March (five years, $145 million), just before his worst major-league season which is already over because of an elbow injury. Sale's deal kicks in next year, and the Red Sox won't admit it but they're almost certainly regretting it already.

They paid Nate Eovaldi $68 million this past offseason and have gotten nothing in return. Eovaldi, who received that contract only because of 22 dominant innings in the 2018 postseason, has been a disaster. Injuries have limited him to just 36⅓ innings and he has struggled as a starter and reliever to the tune of a 6.69 ERA.

Rick Porcello, in the last of a four-year, $82.5 million contract, won the Cy Young award in the first year of that deal and has been bad ever since. His ERA is 5.49 this season and is three percent below league-average the last three years. 

Boston doesn't win the 2018 World Series without David Price. But what if Price's contract, which pays him $96 million the next three seasons, along with the rest of these deals prevent the Red Sox from retaining Mookie Betts? Betts will want more money than Bryce Harper and deserves it. That situation will be interesting to monitor.

Going out and buying a rotation does not always work, and it almost never works long-term. Think about what happened with Roy Halladay. Two great years the Phillies probably would not trade for anything, then two rough years. Cliff Lee? Three very good years upon his return, then he was MIA the final two seasons.

Good pitchers are certainly worth a lot of money but it has to be the right pitcher and the right contract length. Gerrit Cole, a free agent this winter, could command $200 million and his market will be robust. Teams will be tantalized by his continued improvement and insane strikeout rate, which is the perfect way to combat the juiced ball.

But after Cole, no other pitcher on the free-agent market this winter can really be considered a "safe" bet. Confident in Madison Bumgarner the next four years? Cole Hamels the next two? Will a team have any idea which version of Zack Wheeler, Wade Miley, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi or Alex Wood they are getting?

Not to say the Phillies should avoid the starting pitching market. They cannot. It's not even an option. They need 60 percent of a starting rotation and probably more than that since few teams ever go through 162 games with the same five starters. 

But going out and spending $200 million on Cole, $40 million on Hamels and another $40 million or so on one of the mid-rotation pieces will not guarantee that the Phillies turn into a 95-win team in 2020. 

The Red Sox best starting pitcher this season has been Eduardo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, cost-controlled lefty they acquired from the Orioles at the 2014 trade deadline for a half-season of Andrew Miller. That's the kind of trade no team in the Orioles' position ever wants to make anymore, because the Rodriguezes of the world, if they pan out, become the most valuable pieces in baseball. Young, cheap arms without wear and tear who can approach 200 quality innings.

The Phillies need to find their Rodriguez — none of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin or Vince Velasquez turned into one — as much as they need to sign a recognizable name. Splurging on Cole seems unlikely only because the Phillies just committed more than $400 million last offseason and if they sign Cole, it would limit the number of times they can add another superstar during this window.

The Padres, who were just in town, had a couple intriguing arms the Phillies should (and probably will) call about this winter: lefty Joey Lucchesi and righty Dinelson Lamet. San Diego has a lot of young pitching but is in need of offense at positions other than first base, shortstop and third base. 

Pittsburgh's Joe Musgrove is another mid-rotation piece under cost control who could better help a team like the Phillies than the Pirates.

As thin as the Phillies are on pitchers, they must be creative this offseason, not just free-spending.

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Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday and it included six former Phillies of varying degrees of popularity. In fact, it's hard to even say which of the six is the most beloved in Philly. 

Bobby Abreu
Raul Ibanez
Cliff Lee
Scott Rolen
Curt Schilling
Billy Wagner

• At first glance, you might say Lee. He had great moments with the Phillies, memorable playoff games, and that low-key swag that drew fans to him. But things ended in a clunky way when he came back the second time. An elbow injury caused Lee to miss the final 1½ years of his contract and he was pretty much invisible during that time. He was also noticeably absent when the 2009 NL Championship team got together at Citizens Bank Park this past summer. The answer is still probably Lee, but it was a sour end for plenty of folks.

• Abreu is very well-respected around the game for being an ahead-of-his-time player with gaudy, well-rounded stats, but he was and still is polarizing around here. A portion of the fan base will always look at Abreu as an overrated compiler who was scared of walls. The other portion — it may be an even 50-50 split these days — appreciates the player Abreu was and realizes he'd be worth $200 million today.

• Phillies fans haven't forgotten Rolen's elite defense. Rolen was truly one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. But he orchestrated his way out of here and that is remembered equally, if not more so. 

• Schilling ... not delving into that one beyond an acknowledgment that his playoff performances were legendary, he had four excellent seasons and his post-playing career has been very strange.

• Ibañez was well-liked here and everywhere else he played. He may manage in the majors some day soon. He had an incredible first half in 2009, his first year with the Phillies, then was just slightly above average the rest of his three-year career with them.

• Phillies fans don't feel especially attached to Wagner, who was great here but lasted only two seasons. Unlike the other five on the list, Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Wagner was a more dominant reliever than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. He had six seasons with an ERA under 2.00. He saved 422 games. He could have hung around for three more seasons to hit the arbitrary number of 500, which would have made him a Hall of Famer. Instead, Wagner retired on his terms after posting a 1.43 ERA for the Braves in 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether Abreu, a first-time candidate, gets the groundswell of support we've seen in recent years with players like Tim Raines.

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Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on Zack Wheeler, a right-hander who is seen as having much untapped potential.

The vitals

The very talented Wheeler has a big fastball — his career-high 96.8-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors among starting pitchers in 2019 — and excellent breaking stuff, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from blossoming into a star. He is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA lifetime. He was the No. 6 overall pick by San Francisco in the 2009 draft. He was traded to the Mets two years later for Carlos Beltran, who is now the Mets' manager. Wheeler will turn 30 in May.

Why he fits

His career is trending upward and a team might be getting him just as he’s about to put it all together. Wheeler has been mostly healthy the last two seasons, going 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA in 60 starts. He has pitched 182⅓ and 195⅓ innings, respectively, the last two seasons, a good sign after struggling with injuries early in his career. In both 2018 and 2019, he was one of the best in baseball after the All-Star break, going a combined 14-3 with a 2.26 ERA.

Wheeler also reached a career high by throwing a first-pitch strike 65.8 percent of the time, a top-10 mark that placed him ahead of Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Given the supply and demand for starting pitching in the majors, Wheeler is headed for a big payday, but not as big as the top arms in this market. That might allow the Phils to spread around their dollars and fill multiple holes.

Why he doesn’t fit

From Charlie Morton in the starting rotation to David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter in the bullpen, the Phillies have been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers. Wheeler missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and 2016. He spent time on the injured list in 2017 and was briefly sidelined in 2019 with what was called shoulder fatigue. He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can't be ignored.

The Phillies need to be protective of their high draft picks. They would surrender a second-round pick for the right guy. The question remains: Is the inconsistent Wheeler the right guy? When push comes to shove, the Phils would probably do it.

The price tag

Some team is going to bet on Wheeler being ready to reel off several years of good health and effectiveness. The industry feel is that Wheeler could come in somewhere between the four-year, $68 million deal that Nathan Eovaldi got from Boston last year and the six-year, $140 million that Patrick Corbin got from Washington. In other words, he could be looking at a $100 million payday. 

Scout’s take

“The velocity is intriguing. My concern is he gets hit too hard for the kind of stuff he has. He’s had some health glitches so that makes it a risk for the kind of money he’s going to get. But the raw stuff and potential are definitely there. It just depends on a team’s willingness to risk.”

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