Did Matt Klentak speak too soon when he indicated the Phillies are unlikely to pursue a starting pitcher ahead of the trade deadline?
Since the GM's comments on Friday, the Phillies have watched Nick Pivetta have another rough outing, pushing his ERA to 6.60 since June 1. They watched Zach Eflin, in his return from a brief DL stint caused by a blister, fail to make it out of the third inning Monday night against the Dodgers' tough lineup.
In between was a dominant start from Vince Velasquez, but it's fair to wonder if the Phils' rotation will hold up and keep the team in contention over these final 63 games.
"Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," Klentak said Friday. "We're very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we're hopeful that that's going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid."
The starting pitching trade market is not strong. There's Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, who have both struggled of late. There's Matt Harvey, the returning Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn ... not many meaningful upgrades out there.
On Monday, MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the Nationals and Rangers have discussed a Hamels trade. Washington is one of nine teams to which Hamels cannot block a trade.
Hamels has also been connected to the Phillies, and Todd Zolecki reported that the Phils did have a scout in Texas Monday for Hamels' start against the Athletics. Said scout might not have been impressed by the A's jumping on Hamels for seven runs and two homers in five innings.
It's going to be tough, though, for any team to feel great about sending prospect(s) to Texas for Hamels right now. Entering Monday night, he had allowed 30 runs in his last 37 innings. He's allowed a ton of home runs — 21 in 109 innings — and Hamels' 1.34 WHIP is higher than everyone in the Phillies' rotation.
There's also the matter of Hamels' remaining contract. He has a $20 million club option next season that can be bought out for $6 million. So if a team acquires him ahead of the deadline, it will either be committing itself to a high salary for a mid-rotation piece, or it'll be spending $6 million in addition to Hamels' 2018 money just to get out of the deal after the season.
Happ over Hamels
If the Phillies do pursue a starting pitcher, Happ makes more sense. He's averaged just 4 1/3 innings per start in July but he's still capable of pitching well and deep into games.
Happ's calling card over the years has been his deceptiveness. His arm slot is high, near his left ear, which creates deceptive velocity for the hitter because they're not seeing the ball until the last possible second. It's a major reason why Happ has been able to strike out 130 batters in 114 innings this season despite throwing his fastball in the 90-to-92 mph range.
Happ is a free agent after the season, but Toronto will still seek a solid return for him because he might be the best starter on the trade market.
The Blue Jays have several players who could help the Phillies. There's the reported interest in Curtis Granderson, who would be a big boost to a weak bench. Yangervis Solarte is a switch-hitting infielder with pop who can play second base and third base, and though he's started only 17 games at shortstop the last two seasons, it's not like the Phillies have gotten exceptional defense from that position this season anyway.
Josh Donaldson is the biggest name of the bunch, but he seems like more of an August trade candidate because he's still not back from the calf injury that has cost him most of the season.