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Handicapping the Phillies' 2016 Rotation

It's September. There will be a few headlines to follow, but it's not too early to look ahead to 2016.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies' 2015 rotation has been marked, for the most part, by an inability to get opposing hitters out.

That's not something that should come as a surprise to many, seeing that "Phillies starting pitcher" was about as coveted a job in recent sports memory as "Raiders quarterback" or "LeBron James sidekick" heading into the year.

While the Four Aces storyline may be long in the rearview mirror at this point, the Phillies may be finally making some progress towards the future, even if the "Four Aces" now appears to be more like "Four #4 Starters."

There will come a time for the Phillies to make a big splash in free agency, and while it is doubtful to happen this December, there does appear to be some decent competition for rotation spots at the moment. That's even though this current crop appears, in the long term, to be more of back-of-the-rotation filler.

So what might a 2016 Phillies rotation look like? Who will be the Roberto Hernandez or Aaron Harang of 2016? Those questions will be answered in the coming months, but a little forecasting is in order.

Aaron Nola

Nola might not be the Phillies' ace in 2018 or 2019, but he'll likely head into next season as the guy getting the ball come Opening Day. It would be hard to imagine anyone else getting the call.

Nola has essentially been as advertised so far. Every rotation is going to need a young guy to come through and impress, and it's something the Phillies have sorely been lacking. There have been short successes with J.A. Happ, Vance Worley and David Buchanan to a mild extent last year, but nobody has truly stuck in the last half-decade or so.

Nola is 5-2 thus far in nine starts, and his numbers check out pretty well: 4.02 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 4.00 xFIP. His K/9 rate is 7.38 with a 2.35 BB/9 rate, and while it's cliche, he generally seems to "know how to pitch." Somewhere, Greg Maddux smiles when people say that phrase.

You'd like to see Nola bring the ground ball rate up a bit, but outside of that he's done everything you could possibly expect him to do so far. He can blame Domonic Brown for jacking up that ERA this past week.

Jerad Eickhoff

This is somewhat hard to believe, but Eickhoff is the second surest bet at the moment to make the 2016 rotation.

Eickhoff has only started three games, so we don't have a whole lot to go off of at the moment, but he seems to have a fluid delivery, the fastball is sitting around 91 MPH, and the slider seems to be his second best pitch at the moment. At least, it's the pitch he's thrown most often besides the fastball.

The curveball and slider are developing, and that's something that he'll be working on this off-season with Bob McClure (if there aren't any coaching changes).

Again, there's not a whole lot to go off of with Eickhoff so far, but you have to like that he's walked just four batters in his first 19 innings, and he does have 15 strikeouts. Keep those numbers up and at the very least Eickhoff is a solid #4 starter down the road.

Matt Harrison

IF IF IF IF IF IF IF Matt Harrison is healthy, then he'll certainly get a shot in the Phillies' rotation. Yes, that's a lot of ifs.

Back when the Phillies acquired Harrison in the deal, I wrote this, which still sums things up:

The last part of the deal is Harrison, the oft-injured lefty who has worked in just nine games over the last three seasons for the Rangers. There is a good chance this could be a total sunk cost, but the Phillies might just be hoping that he could be flipped in the near future to acquire more prospects. The chances of him being here as a long-term option are quite slim.

Almost immediately after Harrison was acquired, he went on the disabled list. Whether it's a gut feeling, a random inclination or just what's been reported so far, I'm far more than 75% sure at the moment that Harrison is never going to pitch for the Phillies. He'll have to do a lot to prove otherwise.

Of course, there are those big "ifs" above. There's still a somewhat reasonable chance to believe Harrison will be in the rotation, so he is worth mentioning, but nobody should get their hopes up for him next spring. That being said, with the current state of the Phillies' rotation, we're slotting him in here, because that's what forecasting is for.

Adam Morgan

Age can be a funny thing. Eickhoff has come into the Phillies' rotation and looks like the "hot young prospect", but in reality, Eickhoff is already 25. Morgan seems like he's been in the Phillies' minor league system for 15 years and he's just a few months older than Eickhoff.

So, maybe Morgan has just started to put things together, but his strikeout rate will be the one thing that could hold him back from having a long Major League career. Out of everyone mentioned in this projected rotation thus far, Morgan's actually been the guy Phillies fans have seen the most of this year. (Unless, of course, you are a hardcore minor league fan and went to every Nola start in Reading and Lehigh Valley.)

Morgan has started 12 games, but has just 35 strikeouts in 67 innings, for a 4.70 K/9 rate. That makes Kyle Kendrick look like Randy Johnson. Morgan's followed that with a sterling 1.88 BB/9 rate, so it hasn't been all that bad. But a .256 BABIP seems unsustainable, and he's getting grounders just 28.6% of the time.

You could make the case that he's only been truly "shelled" in two of his 12 starts, so he has that going for him. September will be important for Morgan. If he struggles, his spot would be far from a lock.

The Free Agent

There are so many ways this offseason could go. We've heard Andy MacPhail is a patient guy, and that he'd generally follow the Pat Gillick school of free agent starting pitcher contracts, otherwise known as "don't go more than 3 years."

It would be fun to see the Phillies swing for the fences in free agency, but expectations are pretty low for that happening. There will be some big names out there, of course, but it's not likely the Phillies come away with Price, Cueto, Samardzija or Greinke (who has an opt-out clause).

The question, though, will be whether the Phillies play it safe with a one-year deal floated out to a few different guys, or if they get somewhat creative and try to find a three-year deal for someone that the Phillies feel helps them go for it in 2017.

So, who might some of these options be? We'll run through some potential hurlers, in brief.

Brandon Beachy

Beachy's still just 29, but has bounced back and forth between AAA and MLB. His best year was 2011 which is a bit of a concern, but he could be a reclamation project.

Brandon Morrow

It's hard not to like Morrow's raw stuff. A personal favorite that never panned out, Morrow is ending this year on the disabled list. He's started just 21 games (28 appearances) over the last three years.

Chris Young

Princeton grad, decent numbers in 2015, and has been working out of Royals bullpen lately. Just sort of seems like a Phillies signing, no?

The Past, the Present, and Hopefully Not Future

The list of one-year contact type guys is a pretty amazing who's who of current and former Phillies: Chad Billingsley, Joe Blanton, A.J. Burnett (retirement likely), J.A. Happ, Aaron Harang, Kyle Kendrick and Jerome Williams. We'll go ahead and hope that the Phillies sign none of them.

Brett Anderson

If the Phillies want to go big for that aforementioned long-term deal, Anderson could be an option. He has a 3.43 ERA in 26 starts with the Dodgers this season, and may actually get more money than someone like Samardzija at this point. He will turn 28 in February.

There are other names that could fit into this three-year deal realm. Doug Fister will be available. Jordan Zimmermann, too. Scott Kazmir will be out there. But the Phillies don't really seem in a position to sign any of those guys at the moment. That said, if they do, Anderson would be my front-runner.