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Why the Phillies aren’t likely to trade for a starting pitcher

On Episode 171 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis examines why any starting pitching help is more likely to come in the form of a free agent, not a trade.

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Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Ever since the Phillies signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year contract (the $60 million deal is still the richest free agent deal so far this off-season) and pushed Rhys Hoskins out to left field full-time, the expectation was that the team would move one of their surplus outfielders in a trade before the start of the season.

A deal would make sense. Odubel Herrera is a former All-Star and is signed to a very team-friendly contract. Aaron Altherr, while injury-prone, has shown to be a powerful hitter who can play good defense. And Nick Williams added a much-needed spark to the lineup last year, although his strikeout and walk numbers are concerning.

Why wouldn’t one of those players help land the Phillies an impact starting pitcher? They’re young, talented, under team control for years, and cheap. Who wouldn’t want that?

Unfortunately, the slower-than-normal Hot Stove season, and the availability of other free agent outfielders still on the market, could keep the Phils from working out a deal for a starter, using one of their outfielders as the main piece.

On Episode 171 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis talks about a piece out this week by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who threw some cold water on the Phils’ trade hopes.

The Phillies, actively pursuing strating pitching in both the trade and free agent markets, recognize they might need to settle for a one-year alternative if they cannot find a long-term solution at an acceptable price.

In a perfect world, the Phillies would make any of their outfielders besides Rhys Hoskins the centerpiece of a trade for a controllable young starter. But Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr are not the types of players who will lead a package for an impact starter, and teams are not eager to acquire them when the free agent market might yield bargains.

One of those “bargains” is now off the market, with the New York Mets signing Jay Bruce to a three-year, $31 million deal. But Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Seth Smith, John Jaso, Cameron Maybin and others are all still available and could be had on cheap one or two-year deals. Teams looking for a bigger upgrade can still sign J.D. Martinez or Lorenzo Cain.

And it’s not helping that players like Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen are still hanging out on the market. As a result, Rosenthal said a free agent might be more likely, but only under certain circumstances.

A top free agent starter would become more viable for the Phillies if he was willing to accept a high average annual value over a shorter term, the pitching equivalent of Carlos Santana’s three-year, $60 million contract...

...what if the Phillies tried to entice Arrieta with an offer of, say, three years, $90 million? Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, is not going to settle for such a deal in early January. But an increasing number of executives believe that, in a depressed market, unexpected opportunities might emerge.

Arrieta’s name has been linked to the Phillies by a few national writers, but only in a situation where it becomes advantageous for the Phils (i.e., a three-year deal or less). Yu Darvish is expected to get a much larger deal than Arrieta (Darvish requires no draft pick compensation), but the Phils aren’t mentioned as a possible landing spot for him.

Or are they? #MysteryTeam

Seriously though, it’s becoming more likely that, as Rosenthal mentioned, the Phils will be wading into the one-year bin once again, signing a veteran like John Lackey, Ricky Nolasco, Jason Vargas, or Jaime Garcia on a deal for 2018. Sure, a deal for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb would make a lot of sense, but it would seem there are contenders out there that would need them more.

I don’t know how the Phillies are going to add to their starting rotation. But the closer the off-season turns into pitchers and catcher reporting to Clearwater, the less likely it is the Phils will be able to craft a trade that brings them the young, controllable starter we all want.