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Fixing the Phillies: Back of the rotation

The Phillies need some starting pitching help ASAP.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

After an off-season in which the Phillies added Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and David Robertson, it’s clear the team is still in need of help. This weekend’s frustrating series loss to the Braves in Atlanta showed the Phils’ desperate need for starting pitching, and there are other areas of the team could use an upgrade as well.

There may not be any way for the Phillies to fix all their problems. If Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta don’t become a stabilizing force at the top of the rotation, the 2019 season might be a lost season anyway. And there is no free agent like Pedro Martinez sitting on the sidelines to take the pressure off the rotation like in 2009 when Cole Hamels had his struggles. Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are gone. So if the Phils are going to get better, it’s going to be through the trade market.

The most acute problem is in the starting rotation. After last night’s rainout against the Nationals, the Phillies need a starter for both Thursday and Friday. Obviously, Matt Klentak should not rush to do a deal just to fill those holes, but the team has needed at least one starter for the rotation, if not two, for a while anyway.

So today, I take a look at some back-of-the-rotation starting pitchers that could help stabilize the staff.

Tanner Roark - Reds

In 14 starts (74.1 innings) for Cincinnati, he has a 3.63 ERA and a 3.31 FIP, good for a 1.9 fWAR this season. He’s seen his strikeout rate jump from 19.2% to 22.9%, although his walk rate has jumped a bit, too. The big key is a huge drop in his home run rate. Over the last two seasons he’d given up 1.14 and 1.20 HR/9, respectively, but this year it’s down to 0.61. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, making $10 million this year, but the prospect cost to acquire him should be doable.

Sonny Gray - Reds

Gray has also been good for the Reds, with a 3.77 ERA and a 3.23 FIP in 14 starts (71.2 innings). He also has a 1.9 fWAR and is whiffing 26.7% of hitters, up from 21.1% last season, and he’s kept the ball in the yard, giving up 0.75 HR/9 this season. Hitters are also batting a meager .224 against him. Gray might cost less in prospects because he is owed another $30.5 million from 2020-22 ($10.16 million per season), which could be perfect for the Phils.

Andrew Cashner - Orioles

In three out of the last four seasons, Cashner has struggled. His 4.48 ERA and a 4.76 FIP are an improvement over last year, but it’s hard to get much worse than the 5.29 ERA he had for the O’s in 2018. He only strikes out 16.2 batters per nine and he gives up a bunch of dingers, 1.30 HR/9. He’s signed for $8 million this season and $10 million in 2020, so it wouldn’t cost the Phils much of anything to sign the veteran right-hander in terms of prospects, but that’s a lot of cash to choke down for a pitcher of middling ability. Would he be an upgrade over Vince Velasquez? Probably not.

Dylan Bundy - Orioles

Everyone has been waiting for Bundy to break out and it’s almost certainly not going to happen. But after a nightmarish 2018 in which he made 31 starts and posted a 5.45 ERA, the 26-year-old is doing a bit better this season. In 14 starts (75.0 innings) he has a 4.44 ERA and a 4.94 FIP, with a 24.2% strikeout rate and an 8.1% walk rate. It’s possible getting him out of the AL East and into the National League will help him, and you’re taking a chance that there is some untapped upside in the kid, but his 1.80 HR/9 is still garish.

Jeff Samardzija - Giants

Samardzija’s stuff is fading as he ages (now 34), with an average fastball velocity of 91.7 mph this year. Last year it was 92.3 mph and in ‘17 it was 94.3 mph. That’s a precipitous drop. The Phils already don’t have enough bat-missers, and while his 19.6% strikeout rate is better than last year’s 14.5%, it’s still not good. His 3.96 ERA is OK but a 4.72 FIP tells you he probably isn’t pitching quite that well. He’s also due $18 million in 2020, so unless the Phillies are desperate, even bringing Samardzija aboard for minimal prospect cost doesn’t make much sense.

Mike Leake - Mariners

There’s nothing exciting about Mike Leake and there never will be. But he is the quintessential No. 5 starter. Here are his ERAs since becoming a full-time starter in 2010: 4.23, 3.86, 4.58, 3.37, 3.70, 3.70, 4.69, 3.92, 4.36, and 4.14 this season. His fWAR totals: 0.7, 1.3, 1.2, 2.3, 2.4, 1.6, 2.4, 3.0, 2.3, and 0.3 so far this year. But for a team looking to limit their home run exposure, he may be the wrong choice. Leake has given up a league-leading 22 bombs, with a 2.07 HR/9 that is second most among qualified starters. He also leads the AL in walks per nine (1.5 BB/9), a number that would certainly make the Phils nervous. Leake is under contract for $16 million this season and $15 million in 2020, with a $5 million buyout in 2021, so he’s not cheap either, although the Phils wouldn’t have to part with a top prospect as a result.

Aaron Sanchez - Blue Jays

Once a top starting pitcher in the American League (he went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 2016), Sanchez has struggled mightily as a starter this year. In 15 trips to the mound he’s allowed a 5.04 ERA and a 5.18 FIP, and has given up 1.20 HR/9. He also has a way-too-high 12.6% walk rate and is whiffing just 19.1% of hitters. In each of the last three seasons, Sanchez has had an ERA north of 5.00, so any team trading for him is hoping his blister issues are behind him and that, at 26 years old, he’ll rediscover the form he displayed three years ago. He’s also arbitration eligible for the next two seasons, so the Phils would have some team control if they believe enough in his stuff.

Anibal Sanchez - Nationals

If Washington falls out of the race, they could move the 35-year-old right-hander, who continues to pitch effectively in his 14th season in the big leagues. In 13 starts he has a 3.84 ERA and a 4.53 FIP, with opponents hitting just .236 against him. His 20.4% strikeout rate is down from 24.4% last year and his walk rate is up from 7.6% to 9.7%, but all his other numbers look fine. He’s also signed through next season at a reasonable $7 million, with a $6 million buyout for 2021 that the team would almost certainly exercise. The Phils and Nats have made deals for players like this before, so an inter-divisional trade is not out of the question.

Homer Bailey - Royals

The 33-year-old righty isn’t going to throw any more no-hitters anytime soon, but he’s having a decent season for Kansas City, if you look at the peripherals. The 5.37 ERA is terrible, but his 4.30 FIP indicates he’s been a bit unlucky, his strikeout rate has jumped from 15.2% last year to 20.8% this year, and his K/9 has skyrocketed from 6.35 to 8.19. He’s managed to keep the ball in the yard too, giving up just 1.07 HR/9 on the season, although hitters are batting .260 against him. The Dodgers are paying almost the entirety of his salary this year, and he becomes a free agent this season, so money-wise, he’s literally free.

Danny Duffy - Royals

Duffy is a left-hander, so already he provides a better option than what the Phils have in the No. 5 spot, but Duffy’s name may be better than the actual pitcher at this point. In 10 starts (54.1 innings) he has a 4.64 ERA and a 4.24 FIP, with a 19.7% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate. And if you think he’s going to give left-handers trouble, you should note he has allowed a .320/.443/.480 slash line against left-handers this season. He’s also under contract at $15.25 million next year and $15.5 million in 2021.

Up Next: Front-of-the-rotation starters