The Phillies are giving Vince Velasquez another chance.
The team tendered the enigmatic right-hander a 2021 contract on Wednesday night. Had the Phillies passed on tendering Velasquez a contract, he would have become a free agent.
Velasquez was the biggest question mark among six remaining arbitration-eligible Phillies who could have become free agents if they weren’t tendered a contract by Wednesday night’s 8 p.m. deadline.
In addition to Velasquez, the Phillies tendered a contract to first baseman Rhys Hoskins.
The other four remaining arbitration-eligible players all reached agreement with the club on one-year contracts for 2021.
Reliever Hector Neris signed for $5 million.
Pitcher Zach Eflin signed for $4.45 million.
Pitcher David Hale signed for $850,000.
And catcher Andrew Knapp signed for $1.1 million.
Hoskins, who is represented by power agent Scott Boras, was slated to make $605,000 before the pandemic hit in 2020. Regardless of whether he makes it to an arbitration hearing or not, he will be looking at a nice raise in 2021, something that could possibly top $4 million.
Velasquez, 28, was acquired from Houston in former general manager Matt Klentak’s first big trade back in December 2015. In his second start with the club, the power-armed pitcher thrilled Phillies fans with a dazzling three-hit, no-walk, 16-strikeout shutout of the San Diego Padres on April 14, 2016. However, over the remainder of that season, as well as the next four, Velasquez failed to put together any level of consistency. He had trouble commanding the strike zone, keeping his pitch count in check, getting beyond the middle innings and, ultimately, hanging on to his job in the rotation. In his five seasons with the Phils, he is 27-34 with a 4.76 ERA. He has averaged under five innings in 106 career big-league starts.
With teams all over baseball looking to cut costs after suffering pandemic-related revenue losses in 2020, it had been widely speculated the Phillies might part ways with Velasquez, who, in his third and final year of arbitration, projects to make upward of $4 million in 2021.
Some teams did make budget cuts. The Cubs did not tender a contract to slugger Kyle Schwarber, making him a free agent. The Braves non-tendered Adam Duvall and the Reds did not offer contracts to reliever Archie Bradley and catcher Curt Casali, two players who could interest the Phillies.
In all, 59 players became free agents because they were not tendered deals.
In deciding to retain Velasquez – at least for now as he can still be traded – the Phillies admitted a few things:
First, they have not given up the hope that the pitcher can still harness his ability and put together some consistency. It has been suggested that new pitching coach Caleb Cotham might be able to get through to Velasquez, but is a new voice really what the pitcher needs when the Phillies have had four different pitching coaches over the last four seasons?
Second, the state of starting pitching in the game, at least at the back end of rotations, is such that Velasquez is probably just as good as what is available on the market at a similar price.
And third, the state of the Phillies’ starting pitching depth is so poor that the club was really forced into giving Velasquez another shot. With Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Eflin, the Phils are in good shape in the top three spots in their rotation, but there’s a huge drop off after that. Projected No. 4 man Spencer Howard struggled as a rookie in 2020 and missed time for the second straight season with shoulder tightness. The “waves” of starting pitching that Klentak talked about building when he was hired in October 2015 have not materialized and no one has come up and made Velasquez expendable.
The Phillies can agree on deals with Velasquez or Hoskins at any time. If an agreement can’t be reached, salaries will be determined in an arbitration hearing in February.