Opinion

Phillies need to focus on free agent pitchers, not position players

This past offseason, General Manager Matt Klentak wanted to bolster his corner outfield spots, both being two of the weakest positions in all of baseball last season. Klentak did that, in theory, by signing nine-year veteran Michael Saunders and 12-year veteran Howie Kendrick. The Saunders signing turned out to be a disaster, as the Phillies DFA’d the $9 million outfielder in June. Although Kendrick wasn’t a failure, the Phillies weren’t able to extract the value they hoped because of the right-hander’s injury problems. Kendrick played just 39 games before being dealt for a lower-level prospect to Washington.

Depending on how you look at it, Kendrick’s first DL stint could be looked at as a blessing. Aaron Altherr, who tore it up in spring training, was able to get substantial playing time rather early in a breakout season. It’s apparent that Altherr is, at worst, a fourth outfielder. But we would’ve never known, until now, if Altherr was a piece for the future (whether he’d serve as a member of the Phillies or be a trade chip).

Kendrick’s second DL stint also made room for another youngster that was ready for the major leagues: Nick Williams.

The same guy who we knew was going to be traded at the deadline, in two separate scenarios, gave two others players well-deserved looks at the majors. That’s why the Phillies should stay away from signing any starting-caliber veteran position players this offseason.

The position players are pretty much etched in stone (barring some wild offseason deal for an elite player). The Phillies will have an infield that will roughly look like: Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery (and/or Cesar Hernandez), Freddy Galvis (and/or JP Crawford), Maikel Franco and Jorge Alfaro.

The outfield will probably have Altherr, Williams, Odubel Herrera, and possibly Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens.

It’s time for a 100 percent youth movement at the position spots, and with players already 23 and 24 years old, it’s time they get their shot without being blocked.

Then there’s pitching

The Phillies need to spend their attention on the pitching staff, as many more questions marks arise.

First off, injuries are always a concern for a pitching staff, especially in the Phillies’ case. Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and to a lesser extent Jerad Eickhoff have all had injury histories. Nola and Eflin were shut down last year, and Velasquez is on his third DL stint since 2016. Eickhoff has also made a trip to the DL this season. Depth in the rotation is essential because of that, alone.

Besides Nola, who else are we truly confident in?

Eickhoff has taken a step back. Nick Pivetta and Eflin are wild cards every time they take the mound. Velasquez’s problems are well-documented. Ben Lively has been OK and Jake Thompson has an ERA over 5.00 in Lehigh Valley.

Due to injuries and the possibility of other starters bombing out, the Phillies need some stability in the rotation. Offering two- or three-year deals to pitchers like Jake Arrieta and/or Yu Darvish may not be the worse thing in the world. By their second or third year, the Phillies will be ready to win, and potentially have better pitchers on the way to succeed them. Talking about you, Franklyn Kilome and Sixto Sanchez.

By that point, the entire Phillies roster could be homegrown and ready to win for years to come.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Brian Thompson

    August 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

    I believe they should focus on getting a solid veteran catcher that the young pitchers can rely on. Only then can we begin to genuinely evaluate the pitching staff. He must be a plus defensively with an attitude to match. If he can handle a bat that would be a plus

  2. bruce

    August 17, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    With the exception of Nola (hoping he continue to stay injury-free), rotation starters have been erratic, inconsistent and frankly, pathetic. It’s obvious to me, seeking help in pitching should be the Phillies’ number one priority this off-season.

  3. Jaron B

    August 17, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I agree that the focus should be on acquiring a starter and reliever. I agree with Brian T and think a veteran catcher would benefit the Phillies (sorry Rupp). I’m not sure if the catcher can help the position players overcome adversity as much as another veteran at defensive positions 3-9. He needs to focus on mentoring the catchers and helping the pitchers. Therefore, for this offseason, I’m in favor of also signing a veteran to a position, perhaps a bench player if we can. If not, I agreed that it is not critical but is very important to have that balance.

    Looking good for much of next year but am worried about a sluggish first 1-2 months.

  4. Craig Glessner

    August 18, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Ok so Philly Nation wants a veteran catcher, I’m looking at the list of free agents available after this year and other than Lucroy who would block Alfaro which is not what we want the only name on the list is Chooch. The rest are yard sale players with no value so the question is Chooch an upgrade over Rupp. I like the idea of Arrieta and Darvish but we need to give Eshelman and Liebrandt, looks and figure out what the hell we can really expect from Thompson,Eflin,and Lively. Does anyone else wanna just get Velasquez into the bullpen? I say September we give these pitchers a shot we can only go up already on the bottom. Don’t stop believing Philly Nation just look at the Astros

  5. Mitchell Nathanson

    August 19, 2017 at 9:50 am

    I think it’s frightening whenever somebody points to a team on pace to lose 104 games and says that, going forward, their everyday lineup is “etched in stone.” Really? Jeez, I hope not. Let’s be realistic here — Galvis and Hernandez are nice players but if you could upgrade you would. Cross your fingers with Kingery but it wasn’t all that long ago that JP Crawford was a sure-fire HOF’er. Now it’s no longer blasphemy to suggest that he might be DFA’d by the end of the 2018 season. Franco has major problems as a hitter and Alfaro cannot catch at the AAA level, let alone the bigs. Cozens currently is struggling to hit above .200 in the minors, Roman Quinn cannot stay healthy, and Altherr, while a nice player, also seems to be injury-prone. Really, the only “piece” you can count on in 2018 in the everyday lineup is Herrera. Let’s face it — this is an historically awful team and there really isn’t all that much on the way within the organization. The last two drafts so far are looking increasingly suspect. Too early to make a solid call on them, yes, but the early returns aren’t great. This is an organization in trouble, from top to bottom. Everyone and everything should be on the table. In short, this organization is a hot mess.

  6. Ken Bland

    August 19, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    A few things stand out to me in reading this article and the comments.

    And not necessarily in any order.

    One, this team could use a big bat. Not easy to find, of course, but a pretty reliable middle of the order guy. A core hitter. A Votto or Cabrera type. Preferably on the way up, or close to peak now. Hoskins appears as close to an answer, but that’s high conjecture at this stage, but he looks damned good so far, and a 1-2 punch would be that much better. Schmidt AND Luzinski, Utley AND Howard, that sort of thing.

    Another thing that stands out is everyone has answers, but nobody speaks to those making the decisions, or the people coaching them. Maybe a slightly different subject, but a very underlying role in future roster strategies. This is not necessarily a lineup of multiple potential all-stars, but I’m interested to see who down the line performs much better than now and if a change of scenery or coaching is a factor. I won’t be very surprised if it is.

    As to who’s deciding these things, I was never enamored with McPhail or Klentak, but they are where they are, and as a fan, one can only hope for the best. Sure, other organizations have rebuilt, and had post season participation, even success, but every blueprint is a new adventure, and sometimes, it takes multiple tries before eventual success turns into sunnier days.

    Regarding the argument for exploring free agency for pitching, couple things to remember. One, starting pitching is becoming less of a focus (maybe cyclical, maybe not) around the game. McPhail is less a fan of more than 3 year deals for starters than previous Phillie regimes for a long time. Despite the TV windfall, I would expect less aggressiveness in this area than one might wish for. Besides, as I alluded to, and admittedly there might be a lot of wishful thinking in this, but it’s possible that there’s a communications gap with the coaching and the multiple guys who are coming up short. Maybe, at least.

  7. Mitchell Nathanson

    August 20, 2017 at 9:40 am

    The major problem with this organization is that they appear to believe that they can operate in their own, private universe. At one time or another Middleton, McPhail and Klentak have all said something to the effect of “we don’t want to overpay” for either a pitcher, or power hitter. Of course, nobody does. However, when the market for a quality starting pitcher is X dollars, then it’s not overpaying if you have to pay a guy that amount to get him. McPhail, et. al, believe that it is. That’s the problem. Instead of paying market prices for a quality starter, the Phils have cheaped out and scoured the bottom of the barrel for guys like Morton, Buchholz and Hellickson. And they’ve gotten what they paid for. Same with Saunders, Kendrick, etc.

    This organization is in dire straits. There are ZERO pitchers of quality on the imminent horizon within the farm system. That should dictate that they go out and pay market value for a guy like Arrieta. Sure, that’s going to cost them some money and some years but that’s the market and they’re a large market team which just got a huge windfall in cable television money. They can afford it. But they’ll never do it. Instead, we’ll get a couple more guys like Morton and Buchholz and be told that those guys can really be great if they can just pitch like they had during the month or so (in the past two or three years) when they were more than mediocre. Then they’ll pitch like they had for the most part during that time and the Phils will shake their head and say “well, things happen and this one just didn’t work out.” Big surprise.

    • Ken Bland

      August 20, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      I don’t agree about Jake. He’s pitching well now, has been a legitimate ace, and has a decent shot at helping his next employer. But a decent shot isn’t to be confused with the long list of starters over 30 that have come up short value wise since a way back when. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being ace like for most, if not all of the length of the deal, Jake might be a 7-9, but over 30 and all reduces the likelihood. I’ve got what I believe to be a better idea.

      It’s not so simple as to target a guy since the other club is also trying to improve, but why were the Phils (I presume) not on the phone at least TRYING to be a player in the Mike Fulmer and Sonny Gray deals. Both are controllable for a while, talented, and young. I don’t know that either the Tigers or Yanks would have had any interest in what the Phils prospects look like, but it wouldn’t have hurt to try. I hardly guarantee that Ruben would have been on those 2, or that type of thinking, but he was a player. These guys haven’t shown they are, although admittedly, the future might change that. But I miss that aggressiveness and winning.

  8. bruce

    August 20, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    There is another daunting factor for the Phillies management when considering the worthiness of a trade for a high priced quality pitcher or position player. Most if not all have a partial or full no-trade clause in their current contract. It’s very likely they would not release that provision of their contract for an interested team with the worst record in baseball.
    Best route for the Phillies is the free agent market with the lure of big megabucks. Their won-lost record certainly will not be an attraction for available free agents. And that is an understatement (smile).

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