Continuing our construction of the Phillies’ holiday wish list, I think the starting pitcher position is the least talked about position of need for the 2022 season and beyond. Zack Wheeler (who should have won the Cy Young IMO) and Ranger Suarez (who dominated all season long in his amoeba-like role) propped up the SP numbers for the Phillies as a unit, finishing 7th in Wins Above Average in the league. However, there are deeper problems to consider throughout the rotation.
Aaron Nola had arguably the worst year of his career, posting an ERA of 4.63 over 180 innings (I know ERA isn’t everything, but everyone’s eyeballs knew something was off). Zach Eflin continues to display a lack of durability, having yet another season of < 25 starts and < 130 innings pitched (has only 1 such season in his career). And for the 5th spot…Kyle Gibson burnt out hard after the trade (8 HR/39 ERs in 11 PHI starts), Vinny Velo/Chase Anderson/Matt Moore never even got going, and Spencer Howard was shipped out after not living up to the hype.
So who should the Phillies be entertaining for their rotation? Here are just a handful of names that they should consider.
Starting Pitching Options
Top of my list – Zach Davies.
The 28 y/o right-hander got roughed up last year in Chicago, that is for sure. But prior to that, Davies was trending upward for the Brewers and was a stabilizing inning-eater in the Padres rotation. That is something the Phillies desperately need. Digging deeper into his numbers, while he mightily struggled at Wrigley (21 HR in 18 starts), he pitched much better on the road (4 HRs in 11 starts).
Davies also pitched significantly better before the Cubs decided to send away all of their best players, with a 3.76-difference in ERA 1st to 2nd half of the season. As much as we all can sit at home and say “it shouldn’t matter,” “they get paid to play,” etc., playing in that kind of environment has to take its toll. I think Davies would be a great addition at a reasonable price, who brings a winning-culture experience to the clubhouse (on teams in the playoffs 3 out of the last 4 years).
An interesting/surprising target would be 31 y/o LH Yusei Kikuchi. The most important thing about him – he’s a left-handed starter. The Phillies have been dying for a capable lefty starter for years, dating back to Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. While I would like to see how Matthew Boyd (formerly of Detroit) would handle pitching for a contender, Kikuchi has nasty stuff (9+ SO per 9 the last 2 seasons) and is coming off his first All-Star appearance. While he struggled in the 2nd half of the year, he comes in with a wealth of pitching experience in Japan (113 starts, 1168+ IP), which would be a steadying presence in the rotation.
If the Phillies are going to break the luxury tax for a starter, Carlos Rodón is the obvious choice. He is the best remaining free agent starter, coming off the best year of his career, who was also drafted to be the stud he was last year (3rd overall in 2014).
Rodón’s numbers speak for themselves, given that he finished 5th in the AL Cy Young, and having 3 potential Cy Young candidates on the roster would give Phillies’ fans flashbacks to the Four Horseman. However, there is still some reservation about Rodón, given that this is his first taste of season-long success, and it was one of several seasons that had Rodón missing time with injury. There’s no doubt he’s talented, but there is considerable risk with investing in Rodón.
I said in my article looking at outfielders that there would be a pitcher that might upset people, and that’s because he faced the Phillies 25 times as an Atlanta Brave – Julio Teheran. Teheran has a lot of experience in Philadelphia and has pitched well in the past at Citizens Bank Park.
Also, excluding 2020 (contracted COVID) and 2021 (pitched 1 game), Teheran has had a very successful career, with 30+ starts and 170+ innings in 7 straight seasons from 2013 through 2019. The missing element of this rotation is stability, given that the Phillies shuffled through 7 starters after Wheeler and Nola. Teheran can provide that if he is back to being healthy. Plus, he wouldn’t really cost much, coming out of a season where he only pitched once.
I won’t give a player prediction here, because pitching is a crapshoot. However, I will say I definitely believe that the Phillies will go after 1 or 2 mid-level players like Davies and Teheran. Going after Rodón would only make sense if they were going to just blow up the luxury tax, which the Phillies have made known that they won’t. Next, I’ll go through the next biggest area of need for the Phillies – end of game pitching. They’ve already made one big signing in Knebel, but they’re going to need more than that to fix their current bullpen issues.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire