Crashbag Vol. 35: The Rotation, Prospects, and Seasons

Lets jump right in.

@stee_jobs: what’s the 2018 starting rotation (include possible free agents)

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, the rotation is not exactly an area of strength heading into 2018. We know (barring injury) that Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez will be back. There had been some thought that Velasquez, after another inconsistent and injury-riddled season, would enter 2018 in the bullpen, but based on the Phillies public comments, they plan to give him another shot to stick in the rotation. We’ll assume that happens. If I’m the Phillies, I hope to sign or trade for a young controllable mid-rotation starter and let the dregs of the 2017 rotation compete for the fifth starter role. Let’s take a look at free agents who fit or exceed the “mid-rotation starter” mold. I’m assuming the Phillies won’t want anyone on the downside of their career, so I took out anyone over 32 years old. I’m using the list of 2017-2018 free agents on MLBTradeRumors, so if I missed anyone, it’s all their fault.

The Really Good Pitchers

I’d just like to begin by saying that I don’t think the Phillies will go after a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. They have all the money in the world; they certainly could, but I think they’d like to wait until the 2018-2019 offseason, when they have a better idea of their competitive timetable and a better idea of what they’ve got in their organization. I’m not ruling it out, but I’d be surprised.

Yu Darvish – RHP, 31 and Jake Arrieta – RHP, 31

Arrieta and Darvish are both capable of leading the staff, as they bring top-of-the-rotation stuff, playoff experience, and a history of success. Darvish has only made two playoff starts, but that figures to change this season. He’s allowed quite a few home runs this year, but his velocity is still high, and he’s still the guy that wowed the world with this gif. Arrieta may never again reach the heights of his 2014-2015 where he produced 12.3 fWAR, a 2.31 FIP, and a Cy Young Award, but he’s still a damn good pitcher. His velocity is down sharply this year, which is a concern. I’d be slightly more hesitant to back up the proverbial Brinks truck for Arrieta, but either pitcher should be a stud for the next few years. The problem is that the Phillies might not be ready to compete in the next few years.

The Bounce-Back Candidates

Johnny Cueto – (can opt out of his contract with the Giants) RHP, 31, Masahiro Tanaka (can opt out of his contract with the Yankees) RHP, 28, Lance Lynn – RHP, 30

All three of these guys have career FIPs around the 3.50 mark, but have produced FIPs north of 4.40 this year. Lynn has outperformed his FIP, but the rest have ERAs in the same range as their FIPs. All of these guys will still command significant salary, but the upside is worth the bet. Lynn and Cueto have slightly diminished velocities this year that may belie some of their struggles, but Tanaka’s velocity is actually up slightly on his career average.

Injured and struggling, Cueto figures to forego the opt-out and collect the remaining $84 million on his contract, but Tanaka, three years younger and due $17 million less, might opt out. He’s been much better in the second half. Tanaka is the best bet to perform like a number 1 starter, and accordingly, he’ll cost the signing team the most. Lynn fits the mid-rotation mold much better than both Cueto and Tanaka, who could be considered frontline starters. After three years of home run rates below 7.7%, Lynn has fallen victim to the juiced ball with his HR% nearly doubling this year.

Of this group I’d try to sign Tanaka, as he brings the upside of an Arrieta or Darvish, but is three years younger and will likely cost less. Free agents aren’t the only option, though.

@LONG_DRIVE: who would be your #1 young controllable pitcher you’d try to trade for this offseason

Let’s start this off by assuming the package for a starting pitcher would be centered around either Scott Kingery or Cesar Hernandez, as one of them has to go. The more likely is Hernandez.

The default answer to this question over the past few years has been Gerrit Cole. He was amazing in 2015, and good every other year, but he’s only got 2 years of team control after this one. I don’t think we can really call him “controllable” anymore, unless he agreed to an extension as part of the deal. Carlos Martinez also fit that mold, but the Cardinals extended him before the season, and the Cardinals have Kolten Wong doing an adequate job at second base and signed through 2020 with a team option for 2021. Luis Severino is another appealing option, as he’s really broken out this year after a tough 2016. However, the Yankees don’t seem likely to trade him, and they have Starlin Castro at second base.

The most interesting name to me is the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer. He’s been great in his first two years, pitching 317.1 innings with a 3.68 FIP. While he doesn’t strike a ton of batters out, he throws hard and limits walks, home runs, and hard contact. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, and he’s 24 years old, same as Aaron Nola. Also, the Tigers are not good and may be looking to rebuild. They may want to rebuild around their young ace, so perhaps he’s not even available.

But if the Tigers were to make Fulmer available, they’d likely prefer a package around Kingery, as it would signal a rebuild that may have already begun in July. Ian Kinsler has a team option after this season that could be declined, and there are no second basemen on their FanGraphs top 19 prospects list or the midseason update, paving the way for them to acquire a second baseman of the future. Kingery himself certainly wouldn’t be enough though; the cost would be extremely high, and the Tigers would be right to demand a king’s ransom. Fulmer is one of the best young pitchers in the game.

So to answer that question from before, if I’m the Phillies GM, the rotation in 2018 is: Nola, Tanaka/Fulmer, Eickhoff, Velasquez, and, say, Mark Leiter Jr.

@RobertDalton52: September call ups, who get the call? Would they add Kingery to 40 man despite the fact they do not have to this offseason?

Kingery has been tearing up Triple-A pitching for 250 PAs this year after absolutely shredding double-A for the first half of the season. I have to imagine that, barring injury, Kingery will make his major league debut around the 2018 Super 2 deadline at the very latest. I guess there’s a chance they wait until the trade deadline as they look to offload Cesar Hernandez, but something tells me Cesar will get traded this offseason.

At any rate, the only downside to adding Kingery to the 40-man (and perhaps I’m missing something) is that Kingery could take a slot that might otherwise go to a Rule 5 draft-eligible player, of which the Phillies have several. This could all be resolved in the offseason when several 40-man roster players will vacate their spots via free agency (Kim, Nava, Blanco) or trade (Galvis, Hernandez, Joseph), but it’s definitely a consideration.

Because I’m not aware enough of the relative strengths of Phillies prospects as it relates to the 40-man roster crunch, I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say, adding Kingery carries a slight risk. There’s still a decent chance we see a bit of him down the stretch, but I’d say it’s less than 50/50.

J.P. Crawford, though, is likely going to be our 2018 Opening Day shortstop. I expect we’ll be seeing him sooner rather than later. We’ll probably also see some guys who already spent time with the Phillies, like Cam Perkins or Brock Stassi. And while Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr aren’t really September call-ups, I expect they’ll be off the DL early in the month as well. We’ll probably see a couple pitchers, but frankly none have made strong impressions.

@vgp100: With a healthy Herrera and Altherr is this actually a good offense?

Let’s check out the lineup, along with their 2017 wRC+ and their FanGraphs projection

C: Alfaro – 109 wRC+ in 2017/66 wRC+ projection

1B: Hoskins – 208/127

2B: Hernandez – 107/95

SS: Galvis – 81/76

3B: Franco – 70/96

OF: Williams – 118/85

OF: Herrera – 105/98

OF: Altherr – 130/95

So if these players can keep up their 2017 production, we have 3 well above average hitters, 3 slightly above average hitters, and two black holes. It’s not the Astros, but if you average the numbers (lazy, I know), you get 116, which would be second best in baseball. Maybe that’s the first indication that you shouldn’t expect them all to keep this up.

A much soberer projection (but hey, you’d be drunk too if you watched the Phillies all season) sees the Phillies average wRC+ between 92 and 93, which would put them around 20th in the Majors, still better than the 87 the Phillies have put up this season. I have a few thoughts on these projections though

  • 66 for Alfaro, yeesh.
  • 127 for HOFskins is a reasonable expectation, but my heart believes he’s the second coming of Barry Bonds
  • Despite two and three full seasons respectively of above average hitting, Hernandez and Herrera are considered below average hitters by the projections. I’m skeptical of this.
  • I’m even more skeptical of Franco’s 96 wRC+ projection.
  • These projections don’t know that Altherr’s 2016 was marred by the wrist injury.

To answer the question, it will certainly be an improvement. I’d consider it good if JP Crawford replaced Galvis and a weather vane with a baseball bat taped to it replaced Franco. It gets pretty gusty down at Citizens Bank Park

@bxe1234 Dear Mike, what’s your favorite season?

Of the four seasons: Fall

Of The Four Seasons: “Who Loves You”

Seasoning: Garlic

Of Game of Thrones: 3

Phillies: 2008

Sixers: 2000-2001

Of The Simpsons: 8

Season Song: “Seasons” by Future Islands

Season to be over: hurricane (Sending positive thoughts to the areas affected by Harvey.)

Have a good weekend everybody!

 

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14 comments

  1. Romus

    September 01, 2017 02:21 PM

    Wow…the starting pitching staff for 2018 looks pretty bleak right now.
    Nola is a given…and then four ‘keep- our- fingers- crossed’ and hope they get to the 6th inning and also remain healthy guys.
    Perhaps promising guys as of late, like Tom Eshelman and Jose Taveras will also make their MLB debuts, or Drew Anderson comes on with more experience.

  2. Brad Engler

    September 01, 2017 03:09 PM

    Walk Like A Man or GTFO.

  3. Mike Fassano

    September 01, 2017 03:18 PM

    I like Fulmer a lot and think he’ll be a stud. Perhaps the tigers would be interested if we traded for Fulmer and Cabrera’s huge contract. Would Hernandez, Cozens, and a couple of million dollars in International money get it done?

  4. Mike Fassano

    September 01, 2017 03:31 PM

    We know that the Phillies have the money. Any chance that they sign Nicasio to an extension before the season ends?

    • ASK

      September 04, 2017 09:33 AM

      I would hope not unless they get a worthwhile discount. Nicasio’s career-low 2.79 ERA is in part due to the combination of a career-low BABIP, a career-high LOB% and a HR/FB% well below his career average. It was also achieved in Pittsburgh, a place where pitchers seem to go to resurrect their careers under Ray Searage, only to revert to form after leaving the Pirates. Add in the year-to-year variability of performance of relievers in general and I see no need to extend Nicasio…again unless he comes at a significant discount.

  5. Phil

    September 01, 2017 05:44 PM

    No mention of Sho Otani? 15 teams are interested and I have seen him pitch and hit and can attest to his skills.

    • Steve

      September 02, 2017 03:00 PM

      Otani would make sense. I dont see the advantage of trading for a TOR arm this offseason. Keep the young talent, buy a FA SP and just accept that he will be overpaid for the last 2/3 years of the deal. If we cant land a FA ace this off season or next, then explore a trade. Who from the 2018 starting 8 will be making more than 2mil? Probably only Herrera and whoever is at 3b. We can afford to pay for SP, and hopefully Sanchez, Kilome, etc are close to ready by the time the FA SPs start to decline.

  6. Major Malfunction

    September 02, 2017 08:36 AM

    Simpson’s Season 8 is certainly the best season. Mr Sparkle, Rodney Dangerfield, Pretzel Wagon, The Beer Baron, and Sherry Bobbins. That season was pure genius.

    • jeff

      September 02, 2017 03:38 PM

      Season 5 or GTFO. Deep Space Homer, Boy Scouts in Hood, and Cape Feare are the top 3 of a perfect season.

  7. Eddie

    September 02, 2017 08:08 PM

    IMO, the question of which pitcher to acquire hinges on more than just performance. Next years roster figures to be extremely young (I’m assuming Cesar and maybe Galvis are dealt), and if they bring in a big-name TOR arm, that guy is going to be a huge influence on the team.

    The nightmare scenario would be paying/trading for a guy like that and him causing problems if he’s 3.25 ERA, 5-10 W-L, and the team is on pace for another 90+ loss season. But if a guy like Lynn or Arrieta is really willing to embrace the Thome-like role of ace pitcher for a team full of youngsters that will likely not contend for a couple of years, I would absolutely back the money truck up for him.

    Front-load the contract to maintain flexibility. Middleton supposedly wants to keep payroll from being bottom of the league … with a lineup full of 23 year olds, you almost have to pay someone $30 million in 2018 to not be last.

    • Birdken

      September 03, 2017 08:56 AM

      I’d love to see them upgrade over Hellickson with a Kevin Millwood type acquisition to push everyone down a slot. Let the kids all battle for the 5 spot. If I were Klentak Id also take advantage of what looks like a pretty flooded market of bad 3 good 4 type SPs, and push the kids down a notch until they really have nothing left to prove in AAA. Lively is really the only guy that fits that description and he’s had mixed results at the ML level. Actually, Thompson had a pretty stellar AAA season but his stuff certainly didn’t translate to the ML level

      • Eddie

        September 03, 2017 10:21 AM

        Eh, disagree on the second part. A “bad 3 good 4 type” sounds to me like someone that’s gonna put up a 4.50 FIP or so … that really isn’t much of an upgrade from Lively, Leiter and Pivetta, especially if you operate under the assumption that young guys are more likely to improve than go backwards. Throw in the likely-not-good-but-young-enough-to bounce-back guys Eflin, Thompson and Anderson, add the possibility of Eshelman by midseason if not sooner … the team is swimming in young, cheap back end options.

        What they lack is that #1 or #2 that will, as you say, move everyone down a notch and be a core piece for the next 3-5 years. If they can get that, as I say, back the money truck up. But anything else, IMO, is just dicking around.

      • Steve

        September 03, 2017 11:45 AM

        Id be interested in Alex Cobb. Hes not an ace but he can be a 2/3 for another 4/5 years. Id also be interested in Kevin Gausman if the Os werent looking for a too big return

      • Eddie

        September 03, 2017 01:10 PM

        I’d be okay with Cobb if I thought he was going to get back to who he was pre-injury. But Cobb as he was this year — 6 K/9, FIP of 4.27, 92 mph sinker, 29 years old — to me, that’s just a guy. He probably projects to a 2.5 WAR player next year, compared to maybe 2.0 for Lively and Pivetta. That would be a meaningful difference if the team was in contention or even close to it, but they’re not. As it is, it just means the difference between winning 71 or 72 games next year. The young guys, you give them a chance, who knows maybe given the opportunity they start figuring some things out and develop into a real factor moving forward.

        Gausman is only 26, so he still has time to turn it around, but as you noted, it’s kind of a moot point.

        To me, Arrieta, if he accepts the situation he’d be stepping into, would be the perfect fit. He won’t be that 2015 guy ever again, but if he can just be the guy he was this year for 2-3 more seasons, he’d be a stabilizing force to build around.

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