Monday is the MLB trade deadline and Tuesday is the first day of September, a month when the Phillies play five doubleheaders.
The schedule will force the Phillies to use a sixth starter, Vince Velasquez, for most of the month. There is at least one instance, on Sept. 15, when they'll even need a seventh starter unless they pitch someone on short rest or go with a bullpen game after a week of three doubleheaders.
The Phillies lack starting pitching depth beyond their six: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Jake Arrieta, Spencer Howard and Velasquez.
Ranger Suarez has started in the past and could start in the future, but this summer he'll be limited to 30 or so pitches in his appearances, manager Joe Girardi said this week.
The only other starting pitching option on the 40-man roster is Cole Irvin, who's been hit hard in three relief appearances this season.
Trading for a starting pitcher would make a lot of sense for the Phillies by Monday's 4 p.m. deadline. An inexpensive rental could alleviate the burden of so many doubleheaders, but a better starter under team control beyond 2020 could also fit with Arrieta a free agent after the season.
At the very least, they could use an extra arm to avoid one or two bullpen games and to perhaps give a taxed starter an extra day toward the end of the season. There is also the injury risk. If the Phillies suffer an injury in their rotation in September without having added a reinforcement in August, things could get dicey.
Every dollar matters at this trade deadline because teams have lost so much money in 2020. The Phillies, in particular, are less than a million dollars away from the luxury tax threshold. They're not going to exceed the tax for two starts of a mediocre pitcher. They'd likely seek cash in a deal for a cheap rental, parting with a slightly better minor-leaguer to do so.
There are several different tiers of starting pitchers available via trade ...
Mike Minor (Tex) Kevin Gausman (SF) Robbie Ray (Ari) Julio Teheran (LAA) Martin Perez (Bos)
• Minor has not pitched well this season but has the best recent track record of the five. He was 26-18 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 60 starts with Texas the last two seasons. The year before, he had a 2.55 ERA in 65 relief appearances with the Royals.
The veteran left-hander has a 5.60 ERA in seven starts this season with a strikeout per inning. He's made three good starts and four bad ones. He held the Dodgers scoreless for six innings in his last outing Friday. He is owed approximately $1.75 million after the deadline. It's unclear if the Phillies are on his 10-team no-trade list.
• Gausman is a sell-high as far as rentals go because of his exceptional strikeout and walk numbers (48 K, 8 BB in 35⅔ innings) and the number of teams buying. The prorated version of his 2020 salary pays him approximately $1.67 million after the trade deadline.
• Ray is an option for teams as a starter or reliever and the Phils could use another lefty in the bullpen, as Jim Salisbury wrote here. It's been a while since he's pitched well, though. Ray has allowed 27 earned runs and walked 31 batters in 31 innings, leading the NL in the first category and the majors in the second.
• Teheran has a 9.17 ERA in 17⅔ with the Angels. He signed a one-year, $9 million deal with them after nine seasons with the Braves. Teheran's fastball averages 89 mph but it did in 2018 and 2019 as well, when he was a serviceable mid-rotation piece for the Braves with a 3.88 ERA in 64 starts. He's owed the same amount as Gausman.
• Perez is an average, contact-based lefty with a 4.72 career ERA in 962 innings. The Red Sox are one of the few teams clearly in sell mode right now. You'd think if the Phillies were interested in him they'd have inquired when dealing for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.
Young and controllable
• Joe Musgrove is an interesting pitcher at this deadline. He's a big 6-foot-5 righty for the Pirates who is sort of similar to Zach Eflin. He doesn't walk many batters, gets groundballs at a decent clip and has some athleticism.
Musgrove's four-seam fastball is in the 92-94 range, he also sinks it and cuts it and has a slider, curveball and changeup. When he's going well, he's efficient and can last deep into games, such as last April when he opened with a 1.54 in six starts. When he's hittable, he's very hittable. He has a 4.41 ERA in 300 innings with Pittsburgh.
Musgrove, 27, is under team control for two seasons beyond 2020. He's owed a little over $500,000 after the deadline this year. He's currently on the injured list but is expected back soon and is a pitcher who could move by Monday.
• Dylan Bundy of the Angels is an even likelier trade candidate. He has a 2.47 ERA in seven starts with 47 K's in 44 innings. He's doing something he's never been able to do and that's avoid home runs. He's given up just four this season after allowing 70 the previous two. Many teams are after him.
Tops on the market
The top target on the market is probably Lance Lynn, a throwback workhorse who was excellent after April last season and has been one of the two or three best pitchers in baseball in 2020. Lynn throws his fastball a ton, hits spots, grinds through games and looks like he must lose five pounds per start.
Lynn's contract is one of the biggest bargains in baseball. He was set to make $10 million this season. The 2020 conversion is $3.7 million, of which about half would be owed. He is due $8 million in 2021, the final year of his deal.
The Padres and Blue Jays are reportedly after Lynn. Most teams with a chance and a desire to win it all this season should be. He will cost a ton. It's more than the Phillies would be willing to part with because their window is not just these next 18 months. There will likely be better uses of their top prospects in trade than a 33-year-old bulldog you'd have for only a year and a month.
Difficult salaries to move
Johnny Cueto is a big name but it's hard to see a team biting. He'll be owed about $3.9 million this season, $21 million in 2021 and there's a $5 million buyout of his 2022 club option. An acquiring team, if it absorbs the contract, would be on the hook for about $30 million for a year and a month of Cueto. Way, way, way too much. He's made only 20 starts the last three seasons because of injuries and has a 4.40 ERA since 2017.
The Giants would need to assume most of Cueto's remaining salary to get anything of note in return. If they're willing to eat as much money as the Mariners did with Jay Bruce, for example, than Cueto could make sense for the Phillies as an Arrieta replacement next season. That's pretty much it, though. Same goes for Baltimore's Alex Cobb, who is owed $15 million next season.