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Phillies Winter Meetings: How do they improve the starting pitching?

On Episode 166 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis reflects on the Winter Meetings and the next task at hand, improving the starting rotation.

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Divisional Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

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Now that the Manny Machado stuff is in the rear view mirror (for now), and the Winter Meetings are in the books, the Phillies are left to ponder what’s next.

They acquired two quality relief pitchers in Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter this week, giving them a deep ‘pen that will hopefully cover up some of the warts that were exposed by the Phils’ starting rotation last season. Too many times pitchers like Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez were approaching 100 pitches in the 5th inning, leaving the Phillies with a lot of substandard options that early in the game.

No more. The additions of Neshek and Hunter, as outlined by Ethan Witte here, have greatly improved the bullpen for 2018. But the team has not given up in their pursuit of improving that rotation.

The only question is... how are they going to do it?

The Phillies were linked to free agent starter Jake Arrieta this week, in a laughable attempt by Arrieta’s agent to use the media and the Phils to drum up some interest in his client. While Arrieta will be a viable option for someone, general manager Matt Klentak has said time and again that the time is not right for the team to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into a starting pitcher on the wrong side of 30.

Heck, there may never be a good time to do that.

So it would seem the free agent options at the top of the market, Arrieta and Yu Darvish, are non-starters. It also appears the Phillies have no stomach (and rightfully so) to give up a second and fifth-round pick as a penalty for signing mid-tier free agents Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, both of whom were given qualifying offers that they refused.

Tyler Chatwood would have been an excellent arm to pursue, but he chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs last week. How cliche, Tyler.

Could they be interested in trading for aging veteran Zach Greinke, who was terrific last year but is 34 years old and still has another four years and approximately $125 million on his deal with the Diamondbacks? Does that fit the Phillies’ current window? It doesn’t seem to.

The Phils have also not been linked to any of the young, controllable starters that are reportedly available for the right (i.e. incredibly “steep”) price, such as Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, Tampa’s Chris Archer, and Detroit’s Michael Fulmer. All three of those pitchers would cost a ton in terms of prospects, and it seems clear Klentak isn’t ready to jump into those waters just yet.

There are a ton of question marks in the rotation right now. We know Aaron Nola is good, a potential All-Star and maybe one of the 10 best pitchers in the National League right now. But what is Jerad Eickhoff? Was 2017 just a down year because of injuries? Is he any good? What about Velasquez? Is he headed for the bullpen this year? What about Zach Eflin? Nick Pivetta? Ben Lively? Are any of these guys worth keeping around?

As I mentioned on a previous podcast, Baltimore’s Chris Tillman is a name to keep an ear out for this offseason. He was brutal last year, with a 7.84 ERA in 93 innings, giving up 12.1 hits per nine innings and a whopping 24 homers. However, from 2012-16, he put up a 3.81 ERA in 143 starts, including a 16-6 campaign in 2016 with an ERA of 3.77. He could be a potential reclamation project. Also, there’s former San Diego starter Jhoulys Chacin, who was very good for the Padres last year. He went 13-10 with a 3.89 ERA and struck out 7.6 batters per nine in 32 starts (180.1 innings).

These are the types of pitchers you could see the Phils chase after over the next few weeks.

Joining me on Episode 166 of The Felske Files is The Athletic’s Meghan Montemurro, who was in Orlando for the Winter Meetings. We discuss the latest Manny Machado rumors, the signings of Neshek and Hunter, and how the Phillies will look to solve their starting pitching problems.