Chris Jones was the first to note that free-agent lefty Patrick Corbin was in Philadelphia visiting the Phillies Tuesday, with a slew of beat writers later confirming the report. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia said Wednesday that the expectation was that after visiting the Phillies Tuesday, Corbin would visit the New York Yankees Wednesday. [UPDATE: Joel Sherman of The New York Post says that Corbin will meet with the Yankees Thursday.] ESPN‘s Buster Olney reported Wednesday that Corbin had met with Washington Nationals representatives as well, though it’s unclear exactly when that meeting took place.
In any event, it appears that with less than two weeks until the MLB Winter Meetings, Corbin could become the first major player to sign in one of the most anticipated hot stove seasons in baseball history.
SNY‘s Andy Martino tweeted Tuesday that Corbin is in “active conversations” with clubs, noting that his free-agent stint isn’t likely to be a long one. Martino also added that without a trade of Noah Syndergaard – something that could seemingly happen this offseason but probably not before a decision from Corbin – the New York Mets are an unlikely landing spot. He, along with Bob Nightengale of USA Today, seems to think that either the Phillies or Yankees will land the 29-year-old sooner rather than later.
Lost in a National League that saw Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola each have seasons that would win the Cy Young Award in most years was just how good Corbin was in 2018. In exactly 200 innings in 2018, Corbin went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, a 2.47 FIP and a 6.3 fWAR. Five years after making his first All-Star Game, Corbin returned to the Midsummer Classic in 2018. It’s not difficult to see how the Phillies think they would be vastly improved in 2019 with Corbin pitching behind Nola. It would give them two players that were among the 10 best starting pitchers in the sport in 2018.
At the same time, signing Corbin would come with some risks. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects that Corbin will land a six-year/$129 million free-agent contract. There’s risk involved with giving that to any pitcher, especially one that’s already had Tommy John Surgery. Even in his best season, Corbin saw decreases of over one mile-per-hour on his fastball, sinker and change-up in 2018. He also saw his hard contract percentage increase from 31.6 percent in 2017 to 41.7 percent in 2018. (In fairness to him, his medium contact rate went down by eight percent over the same period.) While Corbin is entering free-agency seemingly at the peak of his career – the same can’t be said for Dallas Keuchel or trade target Madison Bumgarner – the Phillies would have to be sure they are paying for the 2018 version of Corbin – or one close to it – to sign him to the type of deal he’s likely to receive.
The other thing working against the Phillies is that in an offseason where Bryce Harper or Manny Machado are perceived to be their top focuses, Corbin may be the Yankees No. 1 target. The interest seems to be mutual, as Corbin admitted to Nightengale this past summer that “it would be cool” to join the Yankees, the team he grew up rooting for. Given that the Phillies and Yankees appear to again be competing for a left-handed ace, lots of comparisons have been made to the 2010-11 offseason, when Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees and Texas Rangers for a shorter deal to return to Philadelphia. The difference in this case is that the Yankees are probably the team that just needs to get close to the best offer to land Corbin. The Phillies would need to best the Yankees offer, and even that may not be enough.
So it’s clear that the first domino may be close to falling in the most important offseason in Phillies history. Whether it falls in the Phillies favor or not is less clear.
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