With no perfect option available, the Phillies will need to compromise when they sign a free agent starter. How should they make that choice?
With the departure of Jake Arrieta, the Phillies will need to add at least one starting pitcher this offseason. The top starter on the market is Trevor Bauer, but the Phillies have expressed no interest in signing him so far. That’s unsurprising because if the Phillies do spend big money on a star free agent, it’s going to be J.T. Realmuto. Unfortunately though, after Bauer, there is a steep drop off in the talent available.
What the Phillies really need is a reliable number three starter to slot in behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. However, that kind of player simply isn’t available this offseason. There are plenty of intriguing options, but all of them come with some cause for concern. That means the Phillies will need to compromise, and the way I see it, there are three clear ways they can do so:
- Take a gamble on an injury-prone pitcher with star potential, like Corey Kluber or James Paxton.
- Sign a reliable innings eater with a low ceiling, like José Quintana or Masahiro Tanaka.
- Go after an older starter who still has good stuff but will always be risky because of his age, like Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ.
Option #1: Take a gamble on an injury-prone pitcher with star potential
Players: Corey Kluber, James Paxton
Pros: If the Phillies want to contend next season while also reducing their payroll, this is their best shot. Kluber and Paxton are proven aces, but they’ll both have to sign cheap deals this offseason because they missed 2020 with injuries. If the Phillies sign one of them and he manages to stay healthy, they could have one of the best rotations in baseball.
Cons: Both players missed almost all of 2020 with injuries, and both are on the wrong side of 30, so it’s hard to know what kind of pitchers they will be next year. While Paxton is a perennial injury-risk, Kluber was once a reliable workhorse who has been sidelined for almost two full seasons now.
Option #2: Sign a reliable innings eater with a low ceiling
Players: José Quintana, Masahiro Tanaka
Pros: The Phillies pitching staff already has its fair share of question marks, so the team could use another guy they can really count on. Plus, if any of the starters get injured we may have to deal with Vince Velasquez in the rotation again, and I don’t want to have to do that.
A move like this would also indirectly help the bullpen. The Phillies can rely on Quintana or Tanaka to make 30 starts next year and average about 6 innings per game. This means the team would need to rely on fewer innings pitched from their relievers.
Cons: What the Phillies really need is a number three starter, and these guys are more like number four starters at this point in their careers. Signing one of them means the Phillies will be really counting on either Zach Eflin or Spencer Howard to step up next season and pitch like a true number three.
Option #3: Go after one of the older free agent starters (who just so happen to be former Phillies!)
Players: Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ
Pros: Hamels and Happ have both shown the ability to pitch like number three starters into their mid-thirties. That’s why they have higher upside than Quintana and Tanaka, even though they both struggled last season. However, the most obvious “pro” for both of these guys is that they’re former Phillies. It would be so much more fun to watch one of them pitch in the postseason than another veteran starter.
Cons: Hamels will be 37 next year. J.A. Happ will be 38. At that age, there will always be concerns about a pitcher’s ability to remain healthy and effective. Furthermore, as exciting as it would be to watch these guys succeed for the Phillies, it would be equally heartbreaking to watch them fail.
So which of these paths should the Phillies take? I’m honestly not sure. In my heart, I want to see a reunion with a former Phil. My gut says to go big and sign one of the potential aces. But the voice in the back of my head is telling me that the safest choice is the smartest choice.
Which option do you think the Phillies should pursue? Is there a fourth option I didn’t consider? Leave a reply and let me know!
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire