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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Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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