Yu Darvish

Even with Jake Arrieta, Phillies still have enormous flexibility

Even with Jake Arrieta, Phillies still have enormous flexibility

Here's the thing about that vaunted 2018-19 MLB free-agent class you've been hearing about for years: There's no elite pitcher who would have been realistically available for the Phillies to sign.

Clayton Kershaw is a safe bet to opt out of the final two years of his deal, but given the Phillies' disinterest in signing a pitcher to a long-, long-term deal — along with their interest in Manny Machado — Kershaw was never realistic here.

Which is why the Phillies had to add starting pitching help this offseason when seemingly everything played to their favor. It was why, when Jake Arrieta continued to linger in free agency in early March, the Phillies had to step up and get the deal done.

Next year's payroll
Arrieta's contract, according to Jon Heyman, pays $30 million in Year 1, $25 million in Year 2, $20 million in Year 3. It makes sense to frontload the contract because the Phillies have so few dollars committed in 2019.

Even after signing Arrieta for $25 million per year, Carlos Santana for $20 million per year and throwing a combined $35 million to Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter over the next two seasons, the Phillies still have less than $70 million in guaranteed commitments for next year's team.

Now, that doesn't include the raises for keepers like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Hector Neris, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Luis Garcia, etc. 

Perhaps not every player from that group is still a Phillie 12 months now, but their relative cheapness is what prompted a team that wasn't totally sure what it was going to do this offseason to sign one of the two best starting pitchers on the market. 

Aside from that veteran free-agent quartet, pretty much every Phillies player who matters is making less than $7 million per season. And then you have the super-cheap guys like Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford and Williams, who all have under a year of service time.

It's kind of similar to what the Eagles are doing with Carson Wentz: Filling out the team around him while Wentz is still on his inexpensive rookie deal.

What Arrieta accomplishes
Aside from what Arrieta is able to contribute on the field this season, his presence on the Phillies will make someone like Machado take the Phils more seriously next winter. If nothing goes catastrophically wrong injury-wise this season, free agents will look at the Phils as a young team with some key vets that could be on the brink of taking the next step toward 90 or so wins.

And the beauty of the ways the Phillies have methodically rebuilt to this point is that even after making two free-agent splashes, they could still sign someone like Machado next offseason, and perhaps even sign another high-priced free agent, and they'd still be about $30 million under their 2014 payroll. (That was their last-gasp, A.J. Burnett-Marlon Byrd offseason.)

As Arrieta stayed unsigned, this move just made more and more sense for the Phillies every day. Had Arrieta, at the same age, been a free agent last year or the year before, he'd have gotten that five-year-plus deal. It was only two offseasons ago that Jordan Zimmermann, for example, got $110 million.

The Phils waited, waited, waited, and got a more team-friendly deal than the one Arrieta's old team, the Cubs, signed Yu Darvish to. They may have gotten the better pitcher as well.

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price, he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.

Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta no longer unrealistic for Phillies

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Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta no longer unrealistic for Phillies

We know the Phillies have money to spend.

We know they do their due diligence with most/all notable names on the free-agent and trade markets.

We know that they're enticed by next winter's free-agent class, which includes the big names like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, potentially Clayton Kershaw.

And we know that rarely are there such things as bad one-year deals.

The Phillies have been in touch with the representatives of Yu Darvish and "most high-profile free agents," The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Wednesday.

It goes along with the thinking reported here that the Phils would not be interested in a multi-year megadeal for a star but would consider a short-term contract if the player lingers long enough in free agency.

"Unlikely Phils would be high bidder, but if player fell into their range — preferably short-term — they might jump," Rosenthal wrote.

The Phils have kept tabs on the starting pitching market all winter, just in case (see story).

The Phillies' current projected payroll for 2018 is around $64 million. Even by adding a pitcher like Darvish or Jake Arrieta to a one-year deal worth, say, $25 million, the Phils still wouldn't have an egregiously high payroll. In fact, they'd still have one of the 10 lowest projected payrolls. It would make them a whole lot more competitive in 2018 and perhaps more intriguing to next year's class. 

For Darvish or Arrieta, the appeal would be a high one-year salary and the ability to retest free agency in a year, when their value is likely higher. Darvish had an ugly World Series with the Dodgers, while Arrieta had a 3.53 ERA after posting a 2.42 ERA the previous three seasons.

Staying in the NL would make sense for both if they want to reestablish some more value. 

There are definitely many ballparks more pitcher-friendly than Citizens Bank Park, but will one of those NL teams with a spacious park have enough money and enough interest in Darvish or Arrieta? The Brewers, for example, have been connected to Darvish but Miller Park is homer-friendly with a great batter's eye.

When the offseason began, there seemed to be a zero-percent chance the Phils ended up with a free-agent ace. The odds are still long, but the more time that goes by, the more likely the starting pitching market gets to a place in which they feel comfortable enough to pounce.