Phillies

Phillies free-agent target: Stephen Strasburg

Phillies free-agent target: Stephen Strasburg

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on someone who has tormented the Phillies for years, power-armed right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

The vitals

Strasburg became a Washington Nationals building block when that team selected him first overall in the 2009 draft. A year later, the Nats picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall.

Strasburg’s talent has never been in dispute. He complements a power fastball with a killer arsenal of off-speed pitches. His issue has always been staying healthy.

In 2019, however, health was not an issue for Strasburg. He stayed on the field, made 33 starts and led the National League in innings (209) and wins (18). He followed that up with 36⅓ innings, 47 strikeouts (to four walks) and a 1.98 ERA in a postseason run that culminated with the Nationals’ winning the World Series. Strasburg was MVP.

Strasburg’s good health and strong season came at an opportune time as the 31-year-old had the right to opt out of the final four years of his seven-year contract and become a free agent. He walked away from $100 million but will surely cash a larger paycheck as he probably ranks second behind Gerrit Cole among pitchers on this free-agent market.

Why he fits

The Phillies say it's time to win and they're in need of a major upgrade in starting pitching. They need proven help at the back end of the rotation and a major difference maker at the top end. Strasburg would be an excellent addition to the top of the rotation, where he could pair with (and take some pressure off) Aaron Nola. The Phillies have already had contact with Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, this offseason. Boras represents several elite free agents, including Cole, and you can be sure the Phils have discussed all of them with him.

And another thing: If you can’t beat him, sign him. Strasburg is 14-2 with a 2.58 ERA and a 0.949 WHIP in 27 career starts against the Phillies. He is also 6-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Why he doesn’t fit

Well, there’s the health history. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery early in his career and he’s spent time on the injured list in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 with neck, elbow, back, shoulder and oblique issues. That could give the Phillies some pause — they’ve been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers in the past — but probably not enough to dissuade them from making a run at Strasburg. The Phils are pretty desperate for pitching and there’s immense pressure on the club to win now. 

Then there’s the matter of the incumbent Washington Nationals, who would like to keep Strasburg. They were already on the hook for four more years and $100 million. They could probably sweeten that by, say, $75 million, and retain the World Series MVP. In fact, with third baseman Anthony Rendon, yet another Boras guy, possibly headed out of the town, the Nats could be under some pressure to do that as they preserve what was the key to their World Series charge — their starting pitching staff.

The price tag

Strasburg was to average $25 million over the next four seasons. He’s coming off a season of health, dominance and a World Series MVP. With so many teams needing elite pitching, a six-year deal worth $180 million could be the ticket.

Scout’s take

“He’s a top of the rotation guy when he’s on the field like he was in 2014 and 2019. In other years, he’s missed a lot of starts with injuries and that has to be a concern as he gets older. But he’s always won games and that’s what it’s all about.”

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At the Yard podcast: Where will Didi Gregorius bat? Are Phillies done?

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At the Yard podcast: Where will Didi Gregorius bat? Are Phillies done?

Where will Didi Gregorius hit in the Phillies' order? How will the infield defense be aligned? Are the Phillies done? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discuss on Wednesday's At the Yard podcast.

• Surprised it was a 1-year deal?

• Why a 1-year deal carries so much value for the Phillies.

• Will Kingery play 2B or 3B?

• Could Segura be dealt?

• Where might Didi bat in the order?

• An interesting Phillies-Yankees trade idea from Jim.

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Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Didi Gregorius is a fun addition for the Phillies. His personality and the joy he plays with will quickly make him a fan favorite. He'll improve the clubhouse dynamic and he'll improve the Phillies' infield defense and lineup.

At one year, what's not to like? It's a one-year, $14 million contract for Gregorius, according to Jim Salisbury, which gives the Phillies an entire year to figure out their infield. Where does Jean Segura fit? What about Scott Kingery? When will Alec Bohm be ready? Can Rhys Hoskins, the most important hitter of them all, turn it around in 2020?

By tying themselves to Didi for only one year, the Phillies can pivot quickly if this does not work out, or if a second base/third base combo of Jean Segura and Scott Kingery does not provide enough offense. Bohm is the other major factor in all of this — if his defense can hold at third base for even a few years during the early part of his career, and if his power and control of the strike zone can translate to the majors, he could be the run-producing five-hole hitter this Phillies team needs.

Before Bohm arrives, though, the question is whether the Phillies' eight projected everyday players represent a contending lineup. It will likely shake out like this. Focus more on the names than the batting order because of how many variations there could be:

1. Andrew McCutchen, LF (R)
2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
3. J.T. Realmuto, C (R)
4. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
5. Rhys Hoskins, 1B (R)
6. Jean Segura, 2B (R)
7. Scott Kingery, 3B (R)
8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

Given the current composition of the rest of the Phillies' roster, this looks like a mid-80s-win team at first glance. A team that projects for 85 to 87 wins with a chance to crack 90 if many things break right. 

If Hoskins rebounds. 

If Kingery becomes a valuable everyday offensive contributor. 

If McCutchen has a full season as productive as his pre-injury work in 2019. 

If the Aaron Nola-Zack Wheeler duo combines for 400 innings with an ERA in the low 3.00s.

If Bohm and Spencer Howard force the Phillies' hand by playing well.

If we see second-half Realmuto and Harper in 2020.

If Jake Arrieta can be more of a No. 3 than a No. 5.

If the Phillies find and settle on a reliable 8th inning-9th inning combination.

The Phillies are unquestionably better now than they were at the end of the 2019 season. Gregorius is a better and more impactful than the player he's basically replacing, Cesar Hernandez. Wheeler is the No. 2 starter the Phillies desperately needed. New manager Joe Girardi may be able to add a win or two here and there with good decision-making.

They are better. The question is how much better. Good enough to push the Nationals and Braves for the division? That would seem an optimistic viewpoint of this Phillies roster, but they can still tinker with their core throughout the offseason by adding another starting pitcher like Wade Miley, a high-upside reliever like Dellin Betances and another good hitter for the bench.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
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