Thursday evening, new management just two hours south of Philadelphia at Camden Yards made a transaction that shook the baseball world.
The Baltimore Orioles acquired Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever DL Hall and prospect Joey Ortiz, along with the 34th pick in the 2024 MLB Draft. Burnes, 29, is consistently listed among the best-starting pitchers in baseball, owning the second most strikeouts across all of Major League Baseball since 2020.
The Orioles, who boast one of the most exciting young cores in baseball, won 101 games in 2023. While there may have been concerns about the Orioles amongst their fan class due to the small-market nature of their team and being in one of the hardest divisions in the Major Leagues, fans are no doubt lauding this past week as one of their favorites between the news of team’s selling to new owners and now this blockbuster trade.
Meanwhile, if you take a trip two hours north on I-95, you will find yourself back in Philadelphia. Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has already made one serious move this offseason, signing Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million deal on November 19.
Now, as the calendar settles on February and pitchers and catchers are slated to report to Clearwater in less than two weeks, speculation continues as to whether or not the Phillies are going to add to their starting pitcher contingent before the season begins.
The Trade Market
Tyler Glasnow. Chris Sale. Corbin Burnes.
Three of the largest names in starting pitching all traded to different teams this offseason. Two of the best in their prime, plus an older legend now strained with an injury history. Regardless, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves, and the Baltimore Orioles have all now drastically improved their starting rotation via the trade market this offseason.
Is anyone left for the Phillies? There’s one name left, but it’s seemingly less likely he will be traded: Dylan Cease.
Cease, the 28-year-old mustachioed right-hander has been with the Chicago White Sox since they drafted him in the 6th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of high school.
Despite his never-ceasing efforts, Cease simply has not been surrounded by the pieces necessary with the White Sox to wage a consistent campaign for a World Series in the South Side. Since his promotion to the Majors in 2019, the White Sox have only managed a winning record twice, though they did make the playoffs on both occasions (2020 & 2021).
Given the timing of his rise into the Majors, Cease did not experience the fullness of the 162-game MLB season until 2021. Over the past three years, however, Cease has started 32 games per year, seldom missing a start. Factor in his career ERA of 3.83, and you have a young starting pitcher that would instantly make nearly every rotation in Major League Baseball better.
But a trade for Cease will likely require the largest bounty yet this offseason for a starting pitcher trade: his contract.
Dylan Cease is still on his rookie contract and will be retained by whichever team receives him through the 2025 season. So not only can a team retain Cease for two seasons right now, but they will also be paying him based on the arbitration scale: $8 million for 2024 and then whatever negotiation is made for 2025.
Given the rigidity of the current system, that means whatever team likely will be paying Cease less than $20 million over those two seasons unless another contract is drawn up.
Burnes, meanwhile, is a free agent after 2024 and will earn $15.6 million this season via arbitration. Glasnow signed a five-year contract immediately after being traded to Los Angeles but was in the last year of his contract.
The feeling on the market right now, per Jon Morosi, is that the White Sox will trade Cease, but possibly not until the Trade Deadline in July. The Phillies have a deep enough farm to make a stab at Cease if they are willing, but the market for Cease will be fierce. For now, only time will tell how it shakes out.
Phillies Free Agent Targets
If the Phillies are to reinforce their starting rotation this offseason, it seems more likely they do it via free agency than a trade. Many starting pitchers have already signed contracts with teams this offseason, ranging from Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to Kyle Gibson, Marcus Stroman, and Lance Lynn. But there are still several interesting names left on the board.
The last big name standing, of course, is Blake Snell. Snell, 31, has been reportedly on the hunt for a long-term contract with a team. Unfortunately, his injury history, combined with age and the current pitching market, has made it a tough storm for him to navigate.
Likely, if he gets the long-term contract he wants, he’ll either be based out of Anaheim or New York for the future. If the market continues to collapse, perhaps the Phillies swoop in and get him, but it currently seems unlikely Snell will emerge as a Phillies pitcher this offseason.
The Phillies were connected to Jordan Montgomery in early January; however, the market has not shifted much since that time. There are also potential other options left on the board, such as Brandon Woodruff, Zack Greinke, or former Phils Michael Lorenzen, Vince Velasquez, and Noah Syndergaard.
Thinking Outside the Box
There is one name out there in free agency that is getting next to zero attention, and for good reason. This pitcher, who has been with one team for the entirety of his career, now finds himself a free agent. The issue is he’s hurt.
His name? Clayton Kershaw.
The southpaw will likely find himself in the Hall of Fame one day, but currently, he is sitting on the outside with a damaged shoulder, hoping to return to the Big Leagues this summer. There would be no better storybook ending for Kershaw than to return to Los Angeles, but it does not seem realistic now that they are spoiled with Glasnow, Yamamoto, and the eventuality of Ohtani’s return to the mound.
For the Phillies, my proposition is simple: sign Kershaw to a contract for 2024 at approximately $10 million base. Backload the contract with performance-based incentives so that Kershaw can make more if he indeed makes a midseason return and has a mutual option built in for 2025 if both parties see a future together.
Kershaw gets a second chance for 2024 and at the very least, can contribute to a clubhouse set to return to the postseason. Meanwhile, the Phillies add a potential pitching depth chip to their arsenal later in the season.
The truth is, their starting rotation of Wheeler, Nola, Suarez, Sanchez, and Walker is serviceable. Adding in a piece like Kershaw hedges the Phillies’ bets for a potential injury in the rotation while not creating a personnel decision regarding who will or will not make the Opening Day roster.