The Phillies Need to Acquire Another Starting Pitcher

Yu Darvish just received a 6 year contract from the Cubs. Darvish is the first of the major free agent starting pitchers to sign, leaving Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn all currently unsigned. All three of them rejected their qualifying offers and with Darvish getting below anticipated market, but not dramatically so, they should all get paid close to market. Right now the Phillies are projecting a rotation of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively.

The Cost:

Darvish is getting $21M a season with $25M a year possible with near impossible incentives. Based on history, Scott Boras will want to get his client (Arrieta) the best in some way either in guaranteed money or guaranteed money a year. given that $100M is a nice round number, Boras could get $22M for Arrieta for 5 years at a total contract of $110M and call it a win. Based on the Darvish contract, it is hard to see Arrieta really going below 5/$100M on his contract. Based on history we expect Cobb and Lynn to get somewhere between $16M and $20M a year. If we say 4 years on those deals, we get deals that are probably 4/$72M or 5/$80M assuming a higher AAV on the shorter deal.

The Phillies currently have a payroll against the luxury tax of under $70M and if we just view that as a cash allocation because of the front loaded deals to Santana, Neshek, and Hunter, the Phillies are still under $80M in financial outlay. They have the money to sign multiple players and right now they don’t have any major upcoming free agents for another 4 years.

As for the qualifying offer, the cost would be the Phillies’ 3rd round pick because they already surrendered their 2nd round pick to sign Carlos Santana. They would not lose any more international signing pool money. Historically the Phillies 3rd round pick ends up towards the back of my top 30. It is a halfway decent prospect, but not a prospect that anyone would be sad to see traded for a solid major league reliever or as the 4th piece in a trade for a SP.

The Projections:

Both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus (PECOTA)  have the Phillies projected at 78 wins. Projection systems by their nature are conservative, so rather than compare to the past, I want to compare to other teams. In Fangraph’s metrics, the Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers are projected for large division leads, the Phillies are not catching the Nationals. If we look at just the Wild Card, the Mets, Brewers, Giants, Cardinals, and Rockies are all projected for 82 to 84 wins. That puts the Phillies at 4 to 6 games of “true” talent behind the wild card. PECOTA has a similar gap with the Diamondbacks projected at 86 wins, but the rest of the wild card contenders projecting out at 84 wins at the high end.

The Current State:

Here is the Phillies projected rotation and spot starters from the two projection sources.

Fangraphs PECOTA
Opening Day Rotation
Aaron Nola 180 3.77 3.9 168 3.46 3.2
Jerad Eickhoff 159 4.94 1.2 142 4.45 1
Vince Velasquez 122 4.65 1.3 127 4.05 1.5
Nick Pivetta 157 4.56 1.8 126 4.54 0.7
Ben Lively 93 5.32 0.3 126 5.08 -0.1
Spot Starters
Mark Leiter Jr 110 4.76 1.1 80 4.94 0.1
Jake Thompson 45 5.45 0.1 80 4.62 0.4
Zach Eflin 28 5.25 0.1 64 5.29 -0.2

At best the Phillies are getting nothing out of their 5th starter, and at worst they are getting a minor negative. It doesn’t get much better when going deeper in the 6th-8th starters. Fangraphs likes Leiter and PECOTA likes Thompson to some extent, but neither is going to carry a rotation. No matter how you slice it, any pitching upgrade is an upgrade on zero. That isn’t really the end of it either. Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff are coming off of injury. Given his history, Velasquez is probably not going to put up 122 innings of mediocre baseball. He is likely to put up 120-150 of pretty good baseball or 60 of terrible baseball. He is running out of time to be a starting pitcher or much of anything for the Phillies, but if he goes down you are dipping into that thin spot starter pool. This means that even if the Phillies were to acquire another starter, there is enough injury and regression risk in their existing group of pitchers to open up innings for some of their marginal starters looking for innings.

What Does An Upgrade Get?

The answer is probably 2-3 wins. Arrieta put up about 2-2.5 wins in a down year last year. If you get Cy Young level Arrieta you are probably a playoff team on that alone. If you get 2016 Arrieta that is probably a 3-4 win upgrade. Lynn and Cobb are 2-3 win pitches with about 4 wins as their ceiling. But ideally you are looking at about 180 innings of 3 WAR pitcher from either of them in 2018. That doesn’t put the Phillies in a Wild Card spot on it’s own, but it does get them in striking range and it insulates them some from their own depth issues. A 1-3 win gap from a Wild Card starts to allow for luck in wins, players beating projection, and midseason trades to propel the team forward.

What is the Alternative?

The Phillies could just run out what they have, finish close to .500 call it a success and try to use all of their money to make a big leap next year.

There is always a trade, but right now it looks like Jake Odorizzi is the only SP that is in their price range (the Archer price continues to be enormous). Odorizzi is the same type of pitcher as Lynn or Cobb, just cheaper. It also appears he would cost a significant piece.

There are some free agent alternatives:

  • Jaime Garcia – Garcia is probably good for wins of value and won’t cost very much. He also is a huge injury risk. Probably doable on a 1 or 2 year contract. Makes sense as a second SP acquisition.
  • John Lackey – Lackey looked finished last year and is probably a below average pitcher now.
  • Jason Vargas – If you believe in DRA (3.83), then Vargas might be the bargain of the offseason, but he is also 35 and his ERA (4.16) and FIP (4.64) disagree about how good he actually is.
  • Andrew Cashner – Andrew Cashner put up a 3.40 ERA last year. He also walked 64 and struck out 86 in 166.2 innings, and had a 4.58 FIP and 4.81 DRA. He is almost certainly the pitcher he was in 2015 and 2016 and not the one he was in 2017.
  • Chris Tillman – Until last year, Tillman had pitched at least 170 innings for the past 4 seasons. FIP didn’t love him, but he was a consistently solid pitcher. He also put up a 7.84 ERA in 93 innings last year.

There are more starters on the market, but when we start talking Jeremy Hellickson it is fair to ask if they are actually an upgrade.

What Should they do?

The Phillies have already made a sizable financial investment this offseason. Those moves have made the competitive, but not a contender. Any signing would be an upgrade on their #5 starter, but by swinging for one of the top 3 starters, the Phillies could move themselves into the Wild Card conversation. Without making a move, the Phillies waste their early offseason signings.

Leave a Reply



  1. Paul

    February 12, 2018 04:35 PM

    “Without making a move, the Phillies waste their early offseason signings.”

    This is the key. Why spend so much money on quality veteran relievers, and a quality bat, if you ignore the rotation? Makes no sense.

    Great article. Thanks!

    • Andrew R.

      February 12, 2018 06:38 PM

      Exactly! Pony up the extra cash ($6M per year) and get Arrieta. He provides the biggest boost as well as the highest upside. Our farm will still be stacked, go for it!

      • Steve

        February 12, 2018 07:13 PM

        Arrieta wants years and money. I want no parts of Jake after 2020. I’d rather give him 3 years 90 mil than 5 years 125.
        I would gladly give Cobb 16/year for 4 years. He may be in decline by the 3rd or 4th year but by then one of Sixto, Kilome, Medina should be close to ready and honestly 16 mil isnt as paralyzing as 25+

      • awh

        February 12, 2018 09:58 PM

        I’m with you, Steve. I want no parts of Arrieta at longer than 3 years. Were I MacKlentak I might even consider 3/81 or 3/84 to keep is short, but I don’t think Arrieta/Boras would take that.

        If you give Arrieta 5 or more years, IMHO the back end of the contract will be a dead money drag on payroll at exactly the time the money would be better spent on someone else.

        I actually want no part of Arrieta at all, because his velocity has dipped a fair amount the last two seasons, his FIP was 4.16 last season (which may be his true talent level going forward), and I’m skeptical that he can bounce back at all without an uptick in velocity, which is unlikely as he moves deeper into his 30’s.

        Cobb and Lynn intrigue me a bit, though neither of their peripherals last year excite me.

      • Andrew R.

        February 12, 2018 11:41 PM

        We understood when hamels had a bad year in 09 after throwing over 260 innings in 08. Arrieta threw over 250 in ’16 and had a shortened offseason and suffered in 2017. However, Arrieta had a 2.16 ERA in the second half of 2017.

        And why are we so concerned about money? When it’s going to be a “problem” is in 2020…maybe. The luxury tax limit will be about $205M. I don’t think it’s something the fans should be worried about.

        How about we worry about wins. For 2018, Arrieta will provide more wins than broken Cobb or declining Lynn.

      • Ed

        February 13, 2018 01:55 AM

        Arietta is like…so done dude. Don’t over pay for past performance

      • awh

        February 13, 2018 02:15 AM

        Andrew, we simply disagree. BTW, I don’t count 250 innings in 2016 – I count about 219. he should be able to handle that workload.

        Also, his velocity has been declining the last two years :

        That is not a particularly good sign.

        Please do not misconstrue. I would love to see the Phillies sign a pitcher who will improve the staff, and if Arrieta could be had on a 3 year deal I’d be OK with it. I just think that giving him the contract length he is asking for is unwise.

        Remember the last two 30+ year old pitchers the Phillies signed to deals that stretched into their mid-30s. Even those contracts had lots of dead money at the end. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were great while they lasted, but even they eventually broke down.

      • Romus

        February 13, 2018 09:51 AM

        IMO, Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras will not settle for a three-year deal…even if it were for $99M.

      • ASK

        February 16, 2018 08:37 AM


        If the best offer that’s on the table is $110M / 5 years, Boras would take $99M / 3 in a heartbeat and he would spend the rest of the offseason promoting the fact that he got Arrieta 50% more AAV than Darvish recieved. Factor in the time value of money and it would be a no-brainer for Arrieta to take $99M / 3 (all other things being equal).

      • awh

        February 16, 2018 10:12 AM

        Ask, I agree. If Arrieta stays healthy and reasonably effective, 3/99 is a no-brainer. If he’s healthy at the end of the deal he easily makes another 11MM (to get to the 110) over the next 2 seasons – and probably more. If he got 2/25-30, he’d easily beat that 5/110 over the 5 year period.

        Who knows, though, what the Phillies would be willing to do? Also, we don’t know if Arrieta is even willing to come to Philadelphia, as he may want to go to a win-now team.

  2. Bill G

    February 12, 2018 04:39 PM

    Let’s make a move on Lynn. I feel like every Rays starter who moves ends up hurt on a regular basis

  3. Wawa Mike

    February 12, 2018 04:47 PM

    I’m still holding out hope for a trade. I’d make an offer for Fulmer or Duffy that Detroit or KC can’t refuse (not Sixto or Kingery).

    • Matt Winkelman

      February 12, 2018 05:04 PM

      There is no Fulmer offer that Detroit can’t refuse that doesn’t include at least one of Sixto, Kingery, and Crawford and probably two of them.

      Duffy is probably cheaper, but I still think the Royals would want one of the top 3 prospects or probably Medina and a major league piece like Williams.

      • Wawa Mike

        February 12, 2018 06:08 PM

        I’d offer Williams and a boatload of cash.

      • Andrew R.

        February 12, 2018 06:35 PM

        Medina and Williams is very doable for Duffy. There is so much time left for something to go wrong with medina. That would be a fair trade.

      • ASK

        February 16, 2018 08:28 AM

        Before people offer trade proposals, they should ask themselves, if I was a fan of the other team, would I be happy with that trade? If the answer is “absolutely not”, the offer is probably not worth posting. For instance, if I was a Tigers fan, I would be outraged if they traded Fulmer (assuming he’s healthy) for Nick Williams and a boatload of cash. The Tigers are rebuilding. Why would they trade a soon to be 25 year old starting pitcher who is under team control for 5 more years and has accumulated 6.6 fWAR / 8.3 rWAR in his first two seasons for Nick Williams and a boatload of cash?

      • Steve

        February 16, 2018 10:10 AM

        I think he meant Williams and cash for Duffy.

        Yeah, it’s going to take a significant package to get Fulmer, and it would probably have to include mostly top MiLB prospects, not anyone in the Majors except maybe Crawford.

    • Romus

      February 13, 2018 09:51 AM

      IMO, Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras will not settle for a three-year deal…even if it were for $99M.

    • Romus

      February 13, 2018 09:57 AM

      WaWa Mike…….KC lost Cain to free agency, they will want Doobie vs Williams for Duffy.
      Would you be willing to still do that trade?
      They already have Soler penciled in for RF…they need a legit CFer, with credible defensive abilities and who can also hit with MLB experience.
      Personally…i would make that trade, but KC needs to pony up a few more extras…like their 38th pick and some international money or a quality A ball pitching prospect.

      • Wawa Mike

        February 13, 2018 10:45 AM

        Romus …… Kansas City needs everything. They’re going to lose Hosmer. Maybe Altherr, Lively/Thompson, and Joseph get the deal done.

      • awh

        February 13, 2018 03:06 PM

        Duffy makes some nice change. He’s not a bargain.

        Duffy for Odie is a pretty even WAR swap with the Phillies taking on a lot more money and losing two years of control. If it cost them more money to extend Duffy at his current salary for as long as Odie is controlled, that’s another 30MM.

        With KC rebuilding they’re not likely to include a real prospect, so on a $$/WAR basis this trade woul be a huge win for KC IMHO.

        I’m not sure what could be done to balance out the trade.

      • Romus

        February 13, 2018 03:10 PM

        The CBA pick would balance it out for me.
        Further, the approx $1.8M slot value that comes with the pick, can go a long way to another high profile prospect.

      • Steve

        February 14, 2018 10:48 AM

        I’d rather not trade Doobie for Duffy and a comp pick. I’m definitely not doin Doobie for Duffy straight up. How about Altherr for Duffy straight up. He can play CF, is cheaper than Doobie, although less control years.
        I just think going into the season with an OF of Hoskins, Altherr, Williams has a potential for disaster. Williams is potentially too inconsistent offensively. We’re not sure how Hoskins will do with 150 games in LF, and if Altherr gets hurt we are suddenly very thin.
        How about Hernandez and Quinn for Duffy and the comp pick?

      • Romus

        February 15, 2018 02:51 PM

        Steve…I am with you on your suggestions….but do not thing Drayton Moore would be.
        He sees the same issues with Quinn and Altherr like everyone else. They both have to stay on the field …so it is a risk.
        Cesar is interesting but they already have Merrfield at 2nd who raked last year and though it may have been an anomaly for him…they may want to give him another look there to prove he belongs
        Comes down to selling their GM.

      • Steve

        February 16, 2018 10:19 AM

        Yeah, for sure. I’m not saying I solved the riddle on how to get Duffy, just saying Herrera doesn’t make sense.

        Duffy is intriguing, and an upgrade over our current #5, but he’s only thrown over 160 innings once, and we keep talking about needing someone to provide stability in the rotation.

        Also, IMO, trading assets to acquire Duffy is a sign that the FO wants to contend (at least for a WC) as soon as 2018 or 2019. Giving up Herrera goes directly against that. We would be extremely lucky to get durability and good production from all of Hoskins, Altherr, Williams and Quinn in 2018, let alone the next 2/3 years.

  4. tom

    February 12, 2018 08:09 PM

    If by some strange turn on events we can get Arrieta an a three year deal or Cobb or Lynn on a two year deal I think it makes sense. If not I’d rather take shot on Vargas who I think would be a good fit. We have no left handed starters and he has one of the best changeups in the game. Having him slot in between Nola and Valesquez whould really mess with a team’s timing. The real wildcard on this staff though is Zach Eflin. He came off double knee surgery the last offseason and he wasn’t there last year. He might really surprise, look st his 2016 AAA numbers.

  5. Bob D

    February 13, 2018 08:21 AM

    Arrieta has the highest ceiling so it is wise to shoot for him and risk that 3rd round draft pick (still a valuable pick at #3 in 3rd round). Lynn and Cobb are ok and would be an improvement, but… yeah not really a wow signing. Vargas and Garcia being leftys would be considered a slight upgrade and lefty which is not in rotation. The rest if signed would be depth options but not really an upgrade of what is already on roster/in camp. So other than adding depth – not really worth it. Too bad they missed out on Chatwood as he was one I thought would be a good add. And if things break their way and 1 or 2 pitchers on the bubble have a breakout year then they make up that wildcard gap.

  6. Steve

    February 13, 2018 12:07 PM

    “He’s a hard bird to kind of explain to people. I tell people all the time, ‘I can tell you all the stories. I can tell you how he is. And you’re going to look at me sideways and ask what’s so great about him?’ I’m telling you it’s a presence. I don’t know. He just brings out something that can’t really be put into words until you see it first hand.”

    – Corey Seager talking about Utley

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