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Why NOW is the time for the Phillies to pursue free agent pitching

On Episode 151 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis breaks down why this winter may be the best time for the Phillies to invest in pitching.

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Episode 151 of The Felske Files is brought to you by Anthony Arot and The Nash Wealth Management Group! Check them out here!

I’m all for being patient. In fact, most Phillies fans are, too. They have been patient. This rebuild hasn’t been a lot of fun until just recently, but now, at last, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.

The Phillies are two games under .500 since the All-Star break. They’re scoring a run per game more in the second half than they did in the first half. They had a 3.19 ERA in the 10-game homestand that wrapped up with a near-four game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. All the young players did well. It was fun.

The Phils have an offense that appears loaded with pretty good players, but it’s clear upgrades are needed for the starting rotation. After Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, who we assume is going to come back healthy and, hopefully, effective next year, the team is looking at another season of Vince Velasquez and a ton of question marks.

There are some who don’t think the time is right for the Phillies to invest in that pitching right now. After all, the team isn’t likely ready for a playoff run next season, and the general consensus is that the team will really open its wallet after the 2018 season, when the fabled free agent class of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson is here.

And while there are a bunch of good position players who will be available, what about the pitching? Folks, it’s entirely possible this winter’s crop of starters is much better than the one that is two winters away.

This year, there are two top-of-the-rotation arms, in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Both carry a high probability of not being effective through the duration of their contracts, and both will likely cost a lot in terms of money and years. But in the near-term, they’re really good. Darvish has struggled a bit since coming to the Dodgers, but there can be a lot of reasons for that. And after a slow start, Arrieta is cruising once again (1.58 ERA in 59 IP in the second half).

The mid-range options of Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are waters the Phils absolutely should be wading into, along with intriguing Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood, who will be just 28 and is a season removed from a sub-4 ERA pitching in Coors. Getting anyone out of the thin air of Denver should do them wonders.

As for post-2018, the big names everyone thought would force a feeding frenzy likely won’t. Dallas Keuchel is a nice pitcher, but is inconsistent and needs to be perfect in order to be effective. He’s not the “ace” pitcher you wait around for. Matt Harvey is done. Like, finished. David Price is a reliever right now, having a terrible season in Boston.

And of course, there’s Clayton Kershaw, who could opt out of his contract with Los Angeles. There’s no doubt he’s the best pitcher in the game, and the Phillies would be fools not to be in on him. But that’s only if he’s healthy, and Kershaw has missed major chunks of the last two seasons with back problems. Those are not the kind of injuries that go away as a pitcher ages.

Do you want to shell out $200 million to a pitcher with a history of missing a month or more with back problems? I don’t.

Certainly, all of the starting pitchers who will hit free agency a year from now have another season to be better. And all pitchers are injury risks, some more than others. But at the moment, this winter’s crop looks far more interesting, and that doesn’t even factor in the possibility of trading for a young, controllable starter, either.

On Episode 151 of The Felske Files podcast, I talked about this, as well as the fascinating and fun series against the Dodgers, and my conversation with Tyler Kepner, national baseball writer for The New York Times, in which we discuss the need to extend netting around baseball, the pennant races, and Rhys Hoskins.

Also, some thoughts about two Friends of the Podcast, Meghan Montemurro and Kevin Cooney, both of whom lost their jobs over the last couple weeks.

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