There are two elements to the Phillies’ offseason: The pursuit of megastars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and the pursuit of anyone else.
That “anyone else” specifically refers to additional starting pitching and bullpen help. So far this offseason, despite the Phillies’ well-known desire to add a lefty starter to an all-righty rotation and a lefty reliever to the bullpen, they’ve missed out on Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Andrew Miller.
With Corbin, it was understandable. Six years and $144 million would have been a humongous investment for a team better served to allocate that money to a player who makes a difference more than once every fifth day. It was a logical deal for the Nationals, who replace some of Harper’s production and get to say to their fan base, “Hey, we didn’t keep Bryce but here’s a consolation prize.”
The Phillies clearly did not feel Happ was a meaningful enough upgrade to commit three years to. And from Happ’s perspective, the Yankees were a better fit in terms of immediate contention for a 36-year-old pitcher.
The Miller non-signing was confusing. The Phillies heavily pursued him and it seemed like a deal was close to being done, only for Miller to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Cardinals. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a third-year vesting option. The no-trade clause was important to Miller after he was dealt following his last contract.
The third-year vesting option and no-trade clause couldn’t have been dealbreakers for the Phillies. If they were, it’s strange. If the third year vests, it means Miller has stayed healthy and productive. And it’s not as if trading him would’ve been a necessity if things went south.
The Phillies must not have felt totally comfortable with Miller’s health. He spent much of 2018 on the DL with three different injuries and was not his typical dominant self. The previous four years, Miller was perhaps the best reliever in all of baseball.
He would have made a ton of sense for the Phillies and for Gabe Kapler, who likes using his best relievers in the highest-leverage situation, regardless of inning. That is the optimal way to use Miller, who has the stamina to get five or six outs when needed.
Now, the Phillies’ best lefty option in the bullpen is Zach Britton, who they’ve wanted for a while. Britton would still be a big upgrade to this bullpen, but it will cost a pretty penny. Why would Scott Boras seek anything less for Britton than Miller received?
In terms of starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel is still out there, but he’s trending down. Do you really want to be paying Keuchel and Jake Arrieta — two groundballers who miss few bats — a combined $42-45 million the next two years?
Fair or not, the “stupid money” comments from Phillies owner John Middleton placed even more pressure on the front office than anticipated. And while Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen are good additions, the Phils cannot expect to realistically push for 90 wins with their current rotation and bullpen, unless major strides are made by pitchers who were inconsistent in 2018.
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