The Phillies Nation staff has spoken at length regarding Odubel Herrera’s five-year, $30.5 million extension since the announcement last week, and rightfully so. In essence, Herrera is the first building block the Phillies will use to rebuild the franchise from the ground up.
So, if Herrera is the first piece, who’s next in line to be labeled as a building block?
Many thought the next piece for sure was Maikel Franco. Franco enjoyed a cup of coffee with the club in 2014, hitting .178 in just 14 games. The third baseman started 2015 back in triple-A to polish his game a bit more. And Franco forced the Phils’ hand when scolding the baseball at a .355 clip in 33 games. When the slugger got the call in mid-May, Franco continued his hot streak in pinstripes with a .280 average, 14 home runs and 50 runs batted in. A wrist injury in August derailed any shot of Franco contending for Rookie of the Year honors.
Franco was going to break out in 2016, right? Wrong. The 24-year-old still has his fair share of approach shortcomings, resulting in especially foolish at-bats.
Others thought Aaron Nola would be a sure-fired untouchable after racing through the minor league system. Nola’s solid 6-2, 3.57 ERA rookie campaign garnered lots of attention heading into 2016. And for the first two months, the right-hander’s 2.65 ERA backed up the hype. Then, Nola curiously fell off a cliff, posting a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of the year before an elbow injury shelved him for good. Now, we have to doubt whether Nola will return to form.
The emerging candidate
Now, the most consistent force on the Phils would be the “throw-in” from Texas, Jerad Eickhoff. The right-hander raised eyebrows at the end of 2015, making eight starts for the Phils en route to a 2.65 ERA, in which seven of those outings resulted in quality starts. Our own Michael Sadowski wrote a detailed piece on Eickhoff’s numbers in 2016; the 26-year-old hurled five innings or more in all but two of his 33 starts (includes a rain-shortened start in September) and allowed three runs or fewer in 27 starts. But Michael also noted Eickhoff’s shortcomings, which is facing the lineup for a third time, as the right hander sports a 9.72 ERA in the sixth inning. Despite that, however, Eickhoff still finished 2016 with a team-leading 3.65 ERA.
Eickhoff has proved his worth over the year-plus he has pitched in Philadelphia. An instrumental part of his success is his durability; Eickhoff made every scheduled start in 2016. If the 6’4” starter can get more often through a lineup a third time, that ERA could dip south of 3.00, which would qualify as an elite pitcher in the National League.
The Phils wouldn’t be able to ignore the consistency Eickhoff demonstrates on a nightly basis, so perhaps Eickhoff would be next in line for the Phils to extend. It’s tough to shun a guy who shows up every fifth day, knowing he’ll give the team a chance to win every time out, for two-plus years.
Let’s say Eickhoff maintains his ERA between 3.00-3.50. What would his worth be? Let’s take a look at a few pitchers who put up similar numbers to Eickhoff:
Ian Kennedy: Kennedy signed a 5-year, $70 million deal with the Royals prior to the 2016 season. Kennedy finished 11-11 with a 3.68, similar numbers to Eickhoff, including a 1.22 WHIP and 187 strikeouts. Kennedy, who is 32, will make $13.5 million in 2017 and more than $16 million in the remaining three years of his deal.
Santana signed a 4-year, $55 million with the Twins prior to the 2015 season. Santana, who pitched for Atlanta in 2014, finished 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA. The Dominican native tossed just shy of 200 innings with a WHIP of 1.31. Santana will pocket $13.5 million in the next two years for the Twins, who will be forced to make a decision with a $14 million team option for 2019.
Estrada signed a 2-year, $26 million deal with the Blue Jays in 2015. In the year prior for the Brewers, Estrada pitched to the tune of a 4.36 ERA. The right hander made $11.5 million last season and is slated to make $14.5 million in 2017.
One can also look to Jeremy Hellickson, who finished second to Eickhoff in team ERA (3.71) and just signed a $17.2 million qualifying offer this offseason to stay put in Philadelphia.
The going rate looks to be between $11-$17 million. Eickhoff is already 26 and turns 27 during the season – he’s just about in his prime years. The Phils could use the blueprint of Odubel Herrera and apply it to a potential Eickhoff deal. Eickhoff isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2019, which means he’ll be much cheaper to sign to a long term extension, a la Herrera. The Phillies could possibly get a bargain for Eickhoff’s line of work (something closer to $10 million per year, maybe even less), while still showing love in the process. And by the time a four- or five-year contract ends, he’ll be in his early-to-mid 30s.
Whatever the case, baseball is a funny game. The two possible foundation pieces could be the likes of a Rule 5 selection and a throw-in, not your two first round picks.