Free Agency Primer: Which Starting Pitcher should the Phillies target?

MLB: SEP 30 NL Wild Card Series – Reds at Braves
ATLANTA, GA Ð SEPTEMBER 30: Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) looks in for the sign during the National League Wild Card Series game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves on September 30th, 2020 at Truist Park in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

Amazingly, a season that was once in severe jeopardy to even occur has come and gone. Phillies fans watched as playoff hopes slipped away, but for many, it was a season of excitement. After a vaunted battle between the league’s top two teams in the World Series ended with the Dodgers’ clinching a championship over the Rays, we can all turn our attention to the offseason ahead.

Dozens of big leaguers are now free agents in search of a new contract, and, for some, a new home. Chief among the litter being the Phillies’ very own J.T Realmuto, respectively.

Players will not be able to come to terms on a new deal for another five days, but there will be tons of phone calling and paper-pushing going on behind the scenes as teams ready themselves for a pandemic-impacted free agency period.

There are far too many intriguing free-agent options to review in one article, so I will begin this series by putting a spotlight on the starting pitching market- an area the Phillies should be eager to improve in.

Without any further adieu, I introduce the Phillies free agent primer:

Big name targets for the Phillies

Trevor Bauer

With the exception of J.T Realmuto, Bauer may be the crown jewel of the entire offseason. Despite playing in a shortened season, the competitive right-hander appeared to be in midseason condition all season.

In his second campaign with the Reds, Bauer recorded an insanely impressive 1.73 ERA across 73 innings of work (11 starts) and led the team to their first playoff berth since 2013.

Though the team didn’t have quite enough to advance beyond the first round, it was to no fault of Bauer, as he allowed just two hits and recorded 12 punchouts in his lone playoff start this year.

A bit of a journeyman already, Bauer would be suiting up for the fourth different franchise in his young career should he opt to leave Cincy. Given that he prefers one-year deals over multi-year pacts in order to maximize his earnings, he just may be on his way out of the door as the Reds don’t seem thrilled with the prospect of renegotiating his deal annually.

Whatever the case, however, the Phillies should be one of the first clubs Bauer and his reps hear from when free agency begins.

Marcus Stroman

Although he hasn’t pitched in roughly a year after deciding to opt-out of the virus-impacted MLB season, Stroman still makes a ton of sense as a potential Phillies target.

Not only would the team be taking a vital piece away from the rival Mets, but the Phils would also be bolstering their lackluster starting rotation.

Stroman, who won’t turn 30 until next May, is a former all-star and gold-glover with plenty of juice. He competes every time he steps on the mound and his price tag won’t be nearly as exorbitant as Bauer.

He may not set the world on fire, but he would be a great option to slot in the rotation after Nola and Wheeler.

Taijuan Walker

Hampered by a severe elbow injury, Walker was limited to just 14 innings in 2018 and 2019. Down on his luck and seemingly on his way out of the league, the former first-round pick joined the Seattle Mariners on a one-year pact to re-establish his value a bit.

Walker quickly proved that betting on himself was a worthy cause, as he posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 50 strikeouts in 53 1⁄3 innings with Seattle and Toronto.

Though his impressive efforts should generate a larger deal than the mere $2M he signed for last year, Walker should still be a relatively cheap add for the Phils should they pursue him.

Kevin Gausman

Another former first-rounder, Gausman has struggled to stay afloat in the majors since being drafted fourth overall in 2012.

Known best for his strikeout ability, Gausman, 29, will likely be looking for what may very well be his last long-term contract this offseason.

On the heels of a 3.62 ERA season in which he recorded 79 strikeouts in 59 2⁄3 innings, the Phillies would be wise to at least kick the tires on him. At worst, he could serve as the strikeout king that the Phils desperately wanted Vince Velasquez to be.

Masahiro Tanaka

Things haven’t always been pretty for the veteran Tanaka but he is a solid starter with a wealth of playoff experience that should intrigue the Phillies.

Through seven big league seasons, all with the Yankees, Tanaka carries a career 3.74 ERA to go along with a 78-46 record. Not bad, as the kids say.

Like several others on this list, Tanaka is likely in search of his last multi-year pact as well and though his age- he turns 32 next week- may scare some teams off a bit, he should at least be on the Phillies radar.

Buy-Low Options

Drew Smyly

How about the return of a familiar face? Smyly, who pitched for the Phillies in 2019, quietly enjoyed a decent campaign with the Giants last year. Through seven starts, the southpaw starter recorded a 3.42 ERA, keeping his team in ball games along the way. He would be a cheap flier and a much needed lefty arm to tack on the back rotation in Philly.

Robbie Ray

Once an all-star with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017, things have been downhill for Ray ever since. Last season was his fourth straight 4.00+ ERA campaign and the second consecutive season in which he started less than ten games.

Still, though, his strikeout numbers continue to impress and with such a desperate need for a left-handed starter, the Phillies likely could land Ray on a minor-league deal with a spring training invite.

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire