There is still time for the Phillies to make a big move for a top-of-the-rotation starter.
But at the same time, they’re still going to have to fill out a starting rotation that will get them to what is becoming a formidable bullpen in 2018. And if history is any guide – like, the last three years of history — the Phillies will look to sign or trade for a pedigreed starter that, for one reason or another, has lost his way and is looking for a change of scenery to right the ship.
It worked once (Jeremy Hellickson) and colossally failed the next two years (Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz). But if this how the team is looking, then here are five names they could be targeting, either through a trade or free agent signing:
Andrew Heaney. With the signing of Shohei Ohtani the Angels now have four guys fighting for three rotation spots in 2018. While it might behoove them to enter the year with a six-man rotation because of the injury issues with their potential starters, they might instead want to get rid of one and start having available payroll for a Mike Trout extension. Heaney is probably the odd man out of the team’s starting rotation mix because of his injuries and his middling performance the last two seasons. But he’s still young (entering his age-27 season), he’ll be just three years removed from a good rookie season before injuries hit, he won’t be a free agent until 2022 and has pedigree as a former top-50 MLB prospect. He’s worth the gamble of the small price the Angels likely would require.
Nate Karns. His 2017 season ended in May because of an injury, but he’s still a talented pitcher who may no longer have a spot in Kansas City’s rotation. And since the Royals are likely looking to start a rebuild, they might not want to go to arbitration with the western Pennsylvania native, even though he should be modestly priced. He’s been off-and-on hurt, but he’s still averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career and still is young enough (age-30 season) that he could put it all together one year. All of this could change if the Royals trade Danny Duffy before the season starts (we’ve said it before, a couple times, that Duffy should be a top target of the Phillies), but if Karns is available, the Phillies should be ready to pounce.
Travis Wood. What the heck happened to Travis Wood in 2017 (5.90 FIP, 1.734 WHIP)? Perhaps the switch to a more permanent role in the starting rotation screwed him up. If it did, was 2017 a learning year for him? Or was it proof that he should stick to his role as a swingman-type for good? That’s up to him, but if he intends to sign somewhere as a starter, it’s not going to be for a lot of money. And he’ll certainly have something to prove if he goes somewhere on a one-year contract after the disastrous 2017 campaign. His propensity to give up home runs (2.6 per nine innings in 11 season-ending starts for the Padres last year) is not well suited for Citizens Bank Park, but if no one else comes calling for him this winter, he may be a cheap, decent, veteran presence on the team.
Tyson Ross. It wasn’t that long ago that Ross was a very attractive name on the trade block and considered a great get for San Diego from Oakland. He was very good from 2013 to 2015 (all-star in 2014), but the injury bug bit and he was released by the Rangers at the end of 2017. Chances are he’s cooked … but someone will give him a chance during his age-31 season of 2018 to prove he’s not done. He’s now a risk to stay healthy and probably will get hit hard. But there is enough intrigue there for the Phillies to pony up at a cheap price to find out if he really is done.
RA Dickey. He doesn’t check any of the boxes the Phillies have looked for in a starter the last three years, but wouldn’t this be fun? Dickey will be 43 in 2018 and was nothing special last year (4.72 FIP, 1.368 WHIP). But he made 31 starts, threw nearly 200 innings and occasionally showed that he can still make that knuckler dance. When is the last time the Phillies had a knuckleballer we could enjoy? I can’t remember one in my lifetime. It would probably be hellish on the team’s young catchers, but it could make them better, too. And, as a bonus, it means the Phillies would never have to face him again. His ERA of 2.64 against the Phils is the lowest he has against any team he’s faced more than five times (.689 OPS against).