This offseason free agency period has been, quite possibly, the strangest in recent memory. The process of free agency is to, get this, sign free agents. It’s an unbelievably simple concept, yet teams have been gun shy this winter to pull the trigger on some of the biggest names available. J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, and Eric Hosmer all are still without employment, yet guys like Howie Kendrick and Anthony Swarzak have found new, or the same, homes for the 2018 season.
So why is the market still wide open? Are GM’s so hesitant to make moves because they don’t want to make the next $200 million mistake? Are they individually waiting each other out to the point that the well has become overflowing with talent, as the waters are still ripe for fishing? Whatever it may be, there are still a ton of names with plenty of accomplishments available for hire for the 2018 season.
The pecking order of hot landing spots for the upcoming season is fairly obvious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those teams are willing to divvy up the money and spend cash free handedly. Teams are entrenched in this waiting period, and that allows for clubs with money to burn the opportunity to jump in a become free agency warriors. Take the Brewers, for example. In the span of 24 hours, Milwaukee acquired two starting outfielders to create an utter log jam, as Christian Yellich and Lorenzo Cain will be added to the fold in 2018 that already includes Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana. Cain got a fat $80 million deal over the next five seasons, and Yellich comes via trade with the tanking Miami Marlins for a slew of prospect.
With a wait and see mentality in the market, it’s a perfect time for the Phillies to strike one more time before the offseason comes to a close. After acquiring Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter the past three months, the Phillies still have plenty of available money to spend on one more piece to provide veteran leadership and a possible spark to the 25-man roster in 2018.While the team isn’t ready to compete just yet, another piece would make them a far more viable darkhorse option this season for a sneaky Wild Card run. And in the realest sense, that piece needs to be another starting pitcher.
Let’s take a look at a couple of option left on the market for the Phillies to snatch up to add to the rotation for 2018.
Of course, Jake Arrieta headlines this list. It’s a total go-for-broke move that could potentially pay off for the Phillies in the “now”. Arrieta will be a 32-year-old right hander with over 1100 innings pitched by the time the 2018 season starts, but that doesn’t mean he’s trending as far down as people want to believe.
Arrieta had a career year in 2015, going 22-6 while posting 1.77 ERA on his way to winning the Cy Young Award. The next two seasons to follow weren’t nearly as formidable, and many viewed 2015 as a flash in the pan. But, frankly, they were just a return toward the mean, and not poor seasons. The walk totals were up, as Arrieta struggled with control moreso than in 2015, but the numbers weren’t nearly as staggeringly bad as people believe. He’s won 32 games over the last two seasons, posting a 3.30 ERA in the process. The hit totals have remained relatively stagnant over the last three seasons, while the strikeout totals have dropped in each of the last three years.
The Phillies are well aware they likely will not be getting 2015 Jake Arrieta, but under the assumption that the Phillies staff posted a combined 4.55 ERA in 2017, with Aaron Nola as the lone sub-4.00 ERA starting pitcher, why wouldn’t the team bring in a bonafide ace to headman the staff in 2018. Even if you get a similar line to 2017, where Arrieta went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA, aren’t you upgrading? Spend the money, get the results. Arrieta would instantly become the team’s Opening Day starter and provide a much more formidable one-two punch with Aaron Nola than Nola and Jerad Eickhoff could provide.
Okay, let’s come back into the realm of more realistic, now, and turn our attention to a 30-year-old pitcher who somehow overnight jumped into his 30’s. What I mean by that is I’ve always considered Alex Cobb a young, mid-20’s type pitcher who now, all of the sudden, is 30-years-old. And that’s been a deterrent for many teams this offseason, becoming a key reason as to why Cobb hasn’t been signed yet. After back-to-back stellar campaigns for Cobb in 2013 and 2014, in which he won 21 games and posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each season, Cobb suffered a UCL tear and underwent Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss all of 2015.
2016 was a dreadful return season for Cobb, starting just five games after his return from surgery with no success. The righty lasted just 22 innings in those five starts, going 1-2 with an ERA of 8.59. He allowed 39 baserunners over that stretch, as well. Cobb changed his repertoire of pitches in 2016, and began to see improved results. He finished 12-10, but his ERA fell to a very manageable 3.66, respectable numbers for a guy coming off Tommy John and having to face the dreaded AL East offenses. His WHIP dropped by half a point, his outings were longer, and Cobb limited the long ball percentage in 2017.
Signing Cobb would certainly come with its risks, but also could provide a solid reward in the form of a capable number two arm. Much like Arrieta-Nola would improve the top end of the rotation, so would Nola-Cobb. The top end reward isn’t as precise as it would be with Arrieta, but the payout will also be less. Arrieta will likely call for $18-20 million a year, while Cobb would cost the Phillies in the $8-10 million a year range.
Talk about taking a shot in the dark. The Phillies would be taking a massive gamble by giving Tillman a Major League contract. After a productive two seasons from 2013-2014, years in which Tillman was elected to his only All Star Game, the righty’s numbers have been all over the place just like his pitch location. Tillman posted mid-3.00 ERAs in both of those seasons, but followed them up with a poor 2015 and a disastrous 2017. In 2015, Tillman won just 50 percent of his decisions and posted a 4.99 ERA. His WHIP rose that season due to an increase in walks that became the norm over the next two years.
While 2016 saw a slight return to normalcy for Tillman, who pitched to a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA, the following year was a utter mess. Tillman went 1-7 in 19 starts, posting a 7.84 ERA. His control issues were evident, as he walked 51 batters in 93 innings pitched, a near five walks per nine innings clip, the worst of his Major League career. But despite pitching so poorly in 2017, I think Tillman could be one of those reclamation projects we see each season. Every year, there is a pitcher who was left for dead brought back to life a season later with a change of scenery and pitching coach. Think Francisco Liriano in his first season in Pittsburgh in 2013 or Rich Hill with the Dodgers the last two seasons.
Tillman could be a big upside guy for extremely cheap. A $4-6 million contract is about the max Tillman is going to get in 2018 if he wants a big league deal, and the Phillies clearly have that kind of money to spend. If he doesn’t work out, it won’t break the budget. If he does pan out, you could have the next great reclamation project on your hands. Tillman is at least worth a flyer.
Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports