Before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Philadelphia Phillies will likely make at least one transaction. General manager Matt Klentak hopes that the club doesn’t get to a point where that transaction has to be for a starting pitcher.
Prior to Friday’s game against the San Diego Padres, Klentak seemed to suggest that the Phillies plan to stand pat with their current crop of starting pitchers.
“Starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year,” Klentak said to the collective media, which included MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. “We’re very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple-A, and we’re hopeful that’s going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the Deadline, because if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid.”
For much of the season, there has been speculation that the Phillies could pursue a reunion with 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. For his part, Hamels sounded excited about the possibility in an interview with Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer. But entering Sunday, his 5.05 FIP is seventh worst among qualified starting pitchers.
One former Phillies starter that the team reportedly has interest in is Toronto Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported last week that the Phillies have interest in the 2018 American League All-Star. Happ, a free-agent at the conclusion of the season, will make his first start since the All-Star Break Sunday afternoon. It will be a rather important start for the 35-year-old, given that he has a 9.75 ERA in his first three starts in July.
Still, those two highlight the starting pitching market right now, given that the New York Mets don’t appear serious about moving either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. Perhaps the Phillies could make a call to the New York Yankees on Sonny Gray, hoping to buy low in the midst of what has been a rather disastrous season for the former Oakland A’s star. But the starting pitching market simply isn’t very good this season, so it makes sense that Klentak and the Phillies front-office aren’t especially eager to dive into it.
Additionally, while the Phillies probably need to add another bat and reliever as they attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011, their starting pitching staff is probably good enough as currently constructed to reach the playoffs.
Aaron Nola, the team’s lone All-Star, has been one of the seven best pitchers in baseball in 2018. As PhilliesNation’s Matt Veasey wrote Saturday, Jake Arrieta needs to avoid his monthly implosions, but the former Cy Young Award winner is in the first season of a three-year/$75 million deal, so he’s not going anywhere. After starting the season in Triple-A, Zach Eflin turned in a 3.15 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 12 starts in the first-half of the 2018 season. Nick Pivetta may have a 4.58 ERA, but his 3.75 FIP and 1.7 fWAR suggest he’s been unlucky. In nine of his 19 starts in 2018, he’s struck out seven or more batters, looking like a front-line starter when his curveball is on.
Even Vince Velasquez enters the second-half of the 2018 season with a 3.79 FIP and 1.8 fWAR. For being the team’s fifth-best starter, the 26-year-old has been pretty respectable. Given that Velasquez has already thrown 22.1 more innings than he threw all of 2017, there’s a very high likelihood Velasquez will be moved to the bullpen at some point in the season’s final two months. But either Enyel De Los Santos or Cole Irvin could slide into the final spot in the rotation when that takes place.
So while things could change in the next nine days, it appears that Klentak and the Phillies are comfortable with the starting pitchers that they currently employ.