The Phillies do not know what they have in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation in 2021.
Will Spencer Howard stay healthy after experiencing shoulder issues in back-to-back years? Will he take a step forward after a shaky rookie season?
Will Vince Velasquez still be in this rotation to start the season? The days of wondering if things could fall into place for him “this year” are over. He’s not really an enigma anymore. There's now a sample size of more than 100 starts and 550 innings in which his ERA is 10 percent worse than the league average and the trends have been constant: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, lots of pitches, lots of homers. That’s who he’s been. To expect anything else is unrealistically optimistic. That doesn’t mean Velasquez will never have a good season, it’s just unwise to rely on it or expect it.
One of the back-end starting pitchers who could've been a fit for the Phillies was free agent Jose Ureña, the 29-year-old right-hander who’s pitched nearly 600 innings for the Marlins since 2015. He was non-tendered last month.
According to Jon Heyman, the Phillies were one of the bidders for Ureña, who signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Tigers on Wednesday.
The Tigers probably offered Ureña a better opportunity to start games than did the Phillies. Here, he may have had to win a job in spring training. In Detroit, he’s a near-lock to crack the starting staff.
Ureña was solid in 2017 and 2018, going 23-19 with a 3.90 ERA. His control has always been erratic and he’s struggled the last two seasons with a 5.25 ERA. In 2020, he struck out a career-low 5.8 per nine innings and walked a career-high 5.0. He’s also twice led the majors in hit batsmen.
The question with any back-end starting pitcher the Phillies consider has to be: Is he better than Velasquez? If the answer is yes, it’s worth it. Beyond the 4 and 5 spots, the Phillies also have little starting pitching depth, which was glaring this summer when they had to utilize more bullpen games than they’d have liked.
Ureña coming off the board isn’t a big deal. For a few million bucks there are a bunch of back-end rotation candidates in free agency like Gio Gonzalez, Mike Fiers, Trevor Williams, Alex Wood, Ivan Nova, Rick Porcello, Julio Teheran, Chase Anderson and J.A. Happ.