Well, it seems pretty clear that, barring a drastic reduction in their prices, the starting pitchers on the free agent market will not be wearing Phillies pinstripes in 2018.
Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn are all long-shots to join this baseball team anytime soon, which means that if the Phils are going to improve a starting rotation that was tied for 21st in MLB with a 4.80 ERA last season, they’re going to have to make a trade.
The good news is there appears to be a number of available starting arms available. But at what cost? With the addition of Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins’ pending move to the outfield full-time, the Phillies have the ammunition to go out and get someone, but probably won’t pay through the nose for one, either.
For my money, there are 10 potential starters on the trade market that could interest the Phils. Some of them are young, some are not. Some have a bunch of years of team control left, some do not. But all would help the team for the next one or two years at least.
Here is how I rank them in terms of fit for the Phillies.
Marcus Stroman - Blue Jays
Pros: He’s just 26 years old and is the best pitcher among this group. Stroman posted a 6.0 rWAR last season in 201 innings, going 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA. He finished 8th in the AL Cy Young voting and, for what it’s worth, won a Gold Glove for Toronto. He’s also been very durable over the last two seasons, clearing 200 innings in each.
Cons: He’s not a dominant strikeout artist, with 164 Ks in 201 innings last year, and while clearing 200 innings each of the last two seasons shows he’s been durable, it also raises concern that he won’t continue to be durable with that kind of usage.
Contract: He cannot become a free agent until after the 2020 season, and will see a raise this year from the $3.4 million he earned last season.
Analysis: He’s the guy I’d want, but he’s also the guy that would cost the most.
Gerrit Cole - Pirates
Pros: Cole was a legitimate ace for Pittsburgh as a 24-year-old back in 2015 when he put up an rWAR of 4.5 and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting, with a 2.60 ERA in 208 innings. He remained healthy last year, making a league-leading 33 starts for the Pirates, totaling 203 innings. He’s also perhaps the second-best strikeout guy among the crew, with a strikeout percentage of 23.1%. He is also just 27 years old.
Cons: Unfortunately, Cole was not terribly effective last season. He went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, a FIP of 4.08 and a DRA (deserved run average) of 4.15. He gave up 31 home runs last season, just shy of one per game, and his home run per fly ball rate jumped from 6.8% in ‘16 to 15.9% last season.
Contract: He only has two years of team control left and can become a free agent after the 2019 season. He will see a raise from the $3.75 million he got last year.
Analysis: The Phils would need to agree to a contract extension for this to make sense, and, along with Stroman, probably has the best chance of winning a Cy Young Award among the young starters here. It also seems as though the Yankees have zeroed in on Cole as their guy.
Danny Duffy - Royals
Pros: Duffy is a solid and consistent pitcher and is still just 29 years old. He went 9-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 24 starts last year, striking out 130 and walking 41 in 146.1 innings. He’s also a left-handed pitcher, something the Phillies have not had since the end of 2016. He also has the flexibility to pitch in the bullpen, should that become necessary for some reason.
Cons: Duffy has never pitched more than 179.2 innings in a season (2016, when he went 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA), and has alternated between relieving and starting every year except last year. He’s also slightly older than Stroman or Cole, although not by a lot.
Contract: It’s a very favorable team contract, with four more years left on the deal. He’ll earn $14 million in 2018, $15.25 million in 2019 and ‘20, and $15.5 million in 2021.
Analysis: His contract takes him right through his prime, his age-33 season, which is perfect for the Phils. He’ll also cost a bit less in terms of prospects, given he’s a bit older and is more like a low-end No. 2/high-end No. 3 starting pitcher, but it would likely cost the Phillies some folks they’d miss. But Duffy would definitely improve the rotation.
Chris Archer - Rays
Pros: Archer has been extremely reliable over the last four years, making at least 32 starts a season since 2014, with three straight seasons over 200 innings pitched. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2013, finished 5th in the Cy Young voting in 2015, and is a two-time All-Star, including last season when he made an AL-best 34 starts and struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings. He’s the best pure strikeout pitcher here, with 249 Ks last season.
Cons: Archer has struggled to keep his ERA under control the last two years, with a 4.07 ERA last season and a 4.02 ERA in ‘16. He uncorked a league-worst 15 wild pitches and surrendered 27 homers last season after giving up 30 the year before. He also lost a league-high 19 games in 2016 (although pitcher losses can largely be thrown away).
Contract: Archer is under contract for another four years, through his age-33 season. He can become a free agent after 2021, and is slated to make a mere $30.25 million over that span.
Analysis: Although his ERA was high the last two seasons, his FIPs were much lower, 3.81 in 2016 and 3.40 last year, and his DRA in 2016 was 3.17 and 3.30 last year. He was also unlucky in 2017, giving up a BABIP of .325, higher than the league average of .299. His peripherals look a lot better than the baseball card numbers, and he’s under team control for a long time at a cheap price. He’ll cost a lot in terms of prospects, though. Still, he’d be worth the gamble.
Michael Fulmer - Tigers
Pros: He’ll be 25 in March and was Rookie of the Year two years ago. He was an All-Star last year. He is 21-19 with a 3.45 ERA in 51 career starts and has had an fWAR of 3.0 and 3.5 the last two seasons. Fulmer is a ground ball machine, generating a 49.2% ground-ball rate last year that was tied for 12th-highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 160 IP. Hitters just can’t square him up, as he’s given up a lifetime .234 batting average against.
Cons: He’s not a big strikeout guy and doesn’t miss a ton of bats. He was placed on the disabled list and missed all of September after undergoing ulnar nerve transposition surgery. He also missed time back in 2013 when he was with the Mets due to bicep tendinitis and a torn meniscus. He’s also likely to cost the most in prospects, perhaps two of the Phillies three or four best, and two others.
Contract: He made just over $550,000 last year and is under team control through the year 2022, his age-29 season. It is an incredibly team-friendly contract.
Analysis: Fulmer’s injury history and contract mean it would be extremely painful for the Phils to give up the pieces necessary to trade for him. Sure, the team could try to take one of Detroit’s high-priced veterans off their hands as part of the deal, but for Fulmer, Detroit is going to want the very best prospects a team has to offer. If taking on the contract of Jordan Zimmermann means getting Fulmer for lesser prospects, I’m all for it.
Patrick Corbin - Diamondbacks
Pros: Corbin is an effective left-handed starter that is probably on the same level as Nola, and has the added benefit of being a southpaw. He pitched 189.2 innings, his most since 2013, and averaged 8.49 K/9 while walking just 2.89 per nine innings. After a slow first half (4.71 ERA in 101.1 IP) he performed much better in the second half (3.26 ERA in 88.1 IP), and was worth 3.1 rWAR last season. He will be just 28 years old next season.
Cons: He got hit around a bit last year, putting up a 4.03 ERA, a 4.08 FIP and a DRA of 4.60. He struggled against right-handed hitters last season (.289/.348/.482 in 145.2 IP) and allowed 20 of his 26 bombs to them.
Contract: He can be a free agent after the 2018 season. He’s in his last year of arbitration, and will see a raise from his $3.95 million salary last year.
Analysis: Corbin had a ground ball rate of 50.4% last year, 8th-highest among qualified MLB starters, a good thing for prospective Citizens Bank Park pitchers. When he’s getting grounders, he’s effective, but the fact he can be a free agent after the season likely strikes him off the list unless he’s willing to sign an extension. If the Phils can negotiate something, then it’s something they should consider.
Jake Odorizzi - Rays
Pros: Odorizzi turns 28 in March and has been a consistent, if unspectacular No. 3 starter for Tampa the last four years. He strikes out a decent amount of guys (7.97 K/9 last season), and opponents batted a ridiculously low .216 against him in 2017.
Cons: In 28 starts last year he managed to log a mere 143.1 innings, his lowest total over the last four years. He had an ERA of 4.14 in ‘17 and a FIP that made you think he got to that number by luck, 5.43. His DRA of 4.70 was in the middle, probably a better gauge of the type of pitcher he was. He also gave up 30 homers last season.
Contract: He’s under team control, going through the arbitration process through the 2019 season. He will see a raise from the $4.1 million salary he earned last year.
Analysis: This is not the droid you’re looking for.
Zack Greinke - Diamondbacks
Pros: Well, he was awesome last year. Greinke put up a 6.3 rWAR thanks to a 3.20 ERA that was a massive bounce back from the 4.37 ERA he had the year before. His strikeouts were way up, his walks were down, and he finished 4th in last year’s Cy Young voting.
Cons: He’s 34 years old and his contract is onerous. He’s likely to decline within the next year or two, as well.
Contract: Another four years and $126.5 million.
Analysis: There’s no doubt Greinke would make the Phillies much better right now. He’s a true ace. But why trade for four years of Greinke, a contract that takes you through his age-38 season, when you could just sign Darvish to a five or six-year deal that takes you through his age-36 or 37 season? Also, Greinke will require some prospects or young players heading to Arizona in return. If you think Greinke will age well, he could be worth the risk, depending on the cost in prospects.
J.A. Happ - Blue Jays
Pros: Happ has been incredibly productive in his time away from Philadelphia. Last year he went 10-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 145.1 innings, striking out 8.8 batters per nine. This comes one season after he finished 6th in the AL Cy Young voting and won 20 games with Toronto. J.A. Happ has logged 1353 career innings and 228 starts. Quite an impressive career. He’s also left-handed, again, something the Phillies could use in their rotation.
Cons: He’s going to be 35 next year and he’s on the last year of his deal.
Contract: Signed through the 2018 season at $13 million.
Analysis: If the Blue Jays decide to enter rebuild mode and trade Stroman, it would make sense for them to move Happ, too. He’s a free agent after the season and is still a pretty damn good pitcher. The younger starters above are all guys you’d want to control for multiple years, but for Happ, you’d just be getting someone for the rotation in 2018. He probably wouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects.
Cole Hamels - Rangers
Pros: He’s left-handed, has playoff experience, and until last season was one of the most consistent and durable performers in baseball.
Cons: The numbers all around were worse for Cole last season. He put up an ERA of 4.20, his highest since his weird 2009 season (4.32), a FIP of 4.62 and a DRA of 4.49. His strikeout rate fell off a cliff (23.6% to 17.1%) and he landed on the DL last year for two months with an oblique injury. He also turns 34 just after Christmas.
Contract: Signed for the next two seasons at $44.5 million.
Analysis: Trading for Hamels won’t happen over the winter. Texas is still trying to re-sign Darvish and, if they do, will try to reload for one more run. If you trade for him now, he doing so strictly for nostalgic reasons. But if he regains his form, he’s a potential top-of-the-rotation ace again. It’s like Hamels wouldn’t be moved until the trade deadline at the earliest.