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MLB Trade Deadline: Breaking down Phillies potential starting pitching targets



ANAHEIM, CA – MAY 25: Texas Rangers pitcher Mike Minor (23) in action during the first inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels played on May 25, 2019 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire)

As the 2019 MLB trade deadline draws ever nearer, it appears as though the Philadelphia Phillies are going to be buyers. Entering their weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies are 50-47 and in contention for an NL Wildcard spot.

The pitching staff is the main point of emphasis as the July 31st deadline approaches. There are rumored to be a number of teams inquiring on their top prospect arms, and the Phillies have been repeatedly linked to many of those teams in their own search for a veteran to front the rotation.

So, let’s take a deeper dive into those veteran arms. What could they bring to the Phillies rotation as a pitcher, and what would be the effect of their contracts on team finances going forward.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the Phillies did not have a left-handed pitcher in their rotation until today’s signing of Drew Smyly. For a brief stint they ran out young Cole Irvin, but it doesn’t appear that he is going to cut it if the Phillies want to be playing October baseball. At this time there are four potential trades the Phillies could make to add an even stronger left-handed arm via trade.

Smyly, who opted out of his minor league contract with the Milwaulkee Brewers, really struggled over 51.1 innings with the Texas Rangers this season, posting an 8.42 ERA. The advanced numbers of a 8.05 FIP and 6.35 xFIP don’t suggest that he was a victim of bad luck. It may turn out to be that Smyly is just simply a bad pitcher at this point, but the Phillies should be open to anyone who comes cheap, is experienced, and who throws with their left hand.

Moving on to the group of left-handed pitchers that can be acquired via trade over the next week and a half, we find a group where two of the four were previously MLB All-Stars, one is highly touted by the sabermetric community, and the final one has been an MLB All-Star who won multiple World Series.

LEFT-HANDERS ON THE MARKET

While we are worried about the present, we are also concerned about the future, especially if the cost in top prospects should prove prohibitive. So, let’s dive into what these pitchers are doing right now, and what they can bring to this 2019 Phillies rotation.

Pitcher Innings ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% fWAR
Matthew Boyd 120 4.13 3.55 3.36 32.2% 4.8% 3.1
Mike Minor 122 2.73 3.82 4.43 24.5% 8.9% 2.9
Robbie Ray 117 3.92 4.24 3.87 30.7% 11.5% 1.7
Madison Bumgarner 125.2 3.65 3.69 3.97 24.6% 5.0% 2.2

 

As you can see, this is a valuable bunch of players with 2019 All-Stars Matthew Boyd and Mike Minor leading the pack. Boyd, who is in his age 28 season, is having a career year. He has made changes in the way he attacks hitters with his fastball and slider leading to an 8% increase in strikeout rate while limiting the free passes to opposing hitters.

Boyd does play in Detroit, so losing the designated hitter in opposing lineups could help him a little. He may cost the Phillies a good bit to acquire, however. While he is 28-years-old right now, Boyd has three arbitration years left on his contract and won’t hit free agency until after the 2022 season.

Matthew Boyd of Detroit would be a nice pickup, but like each of these arms, the cost could prove prohibitive. (David Kujawa)

His ERA is the highest of this group. But as you can see, the advanced numbers love what Boyd is able to do in terms of strikeouts, walks and home runs. The only question with Boyd is whether this is a one-year wonder or the real deal.

Moving on to Mike Minor, we find a veteran left-handed pitcher in his age-31 season. Minor is on the verge of posting a career high fWAR in only 19 starts during this 2019 campaign. He has become one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball while throwing in a rough ballpark in Texas.

Similar to Boyd, he could benefit from not facing the DH in coming over to the National League. However, he is the oldest of the four pitchers here, and has some peripherals that suggest some regression may be coming. The FIP is fine, but in a year during which Major League Baseball is experiencing all-time home runs rates, it’s fair to worry they may catch up with Minor.

Currently in year two of a three-year contract with the Rangers, he is set to make $9.5 million next season and then become a free agent following the 2020 campaign. The ask is going to be high from the Rangers, but Minor has thrown well, and the contract isn’t too steep. Here it will really come down to whether the Phillies want to take on a 31-year old who is outperforming his peripherals for what will likely be a large asking price by Texas.

Robbie Ray has been a sabermetric darling at times due to his very nice strikeout rate. The question is whether he can put it all together and have a true breakout year. Ray can be inconsistent at times, but when he is on, it is something to see.

The least valuable by WAR of the arms, but he could make the most sense for the Phillies. Ray is the youngest of the group (27) and is under team control through next season. Matt Klentak would be buying a multi-year asset for his club. That factor could be built into the asking price, but I also believe this could be the lowest of the four prices.

While it’s true that Ray generates an elite number of strikeouts, he can also be his own worst enemy by issuing a very high number of walks. In fact, he carries the third-highest walk rate among qualified starting pitchers this season. As with all of these arms, he would instantly become the second-best starter on the Phillies. Incredibly unpredictable from start-to-start , and with the Phillies already depleted bullpen, that could prove to be an issue.

The most talked about name in the pitching market is Madison Bumgarner. Rumors involving the Phillies interest in the 2014 World Series MVP began during the off-season and have yet to stop.

While Bumgarner has been solid this season, it is important to separate the present and future player from his heroic past resume. At age 29, Bumgarner is not the pitcher who most remember. That is not to say he is a bad pitcher by any stretch, just that he is one with a somewhat depleted arsenal, one who is still learning to adjust to that fact.

Peripherals reveal that MadBum generates strikeouts and limits walks – which is a beautiful thing for any starting pitcher. The biggest red flag is that he has allowed the highest hard contact rate in all of MLB, and he also has a low ground ball rate. That could mean a bunch of home runs flying out of Citizens Bank Park this summer.

Bumgarner is set to become a free agent following this season. He also has an eight team no-trade list, and the Phillies are one of the teams on it. That could simply be a result of the club’s recent past of non-contention, or to help gain leverage towards an extension were he to actually be approached to approve a deal.

This is a fine group of talent. Any of the four southpaw arms would automatically become the Phillies second best pitcher. The primary questions remain: What is the price attached to them, and are the Phillies willing to meet that price?

RIGHT-HANDERS ON THE MARKET

There are also a pair of right-handed starting pitchers whom the Phillies have been tied to: Marcus Stroman and Zack Greinke. Both were 2019 All-Stars, each carrying an impressive resume. Let’s dive into their numbers and contract situations.

Pitcher Innings ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% fWAR
Marcus Stroman 110.2 3.25 3.72 4.1 19.1% 7.4% 2.3
Zack Greinke 128 2.95 3.2 3.62 23.2% 3.3% 3.2

 

Starting with Stroman, we see a pitcher often talked about as being one who messes with hitters timing, often utilizing different skills to generate outs other than strikeouts.

Stroman has an elite ground ball rate at 57.9%, which in this era of fly balls and if pitching his home games in South Philly, could be very important. The ERA and advanced numbers are fine, and with a guy who generates such high ground ball rates, I am not sure the xFIP matters as much. He has proven very valuable with a 2.3 fWAR mark.

This coming off-season will be his final year of arbitration. The prospect acquisition price is going to be high. The Phillies will likely have to compete with a wide group of teams, possibly including the Braves, to land Stroman. That price tag may just prove to be too exorbitant.

Zack Greinke could be the biggest difference making arm the Phillies could add. But his contract and no-trade clause are obstacles. (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire)

The most interesting name in all is that of veteran Zack Greinke. Over the past week, his name has been talked about more frequently. However, that may be assuming the Diamondbacks go into sell mode. They are just 1.5 games out of an NL Wildcard spot right now.

Greinke is the oldest of all the pitchers discussed at age 35. The Phillies would be acquiring a premier starting pitcher who has done a great job adjusting to a declining fastball. He mixes speeds and features four different pitches so keep hitters off balance.

Despite the declining fastball, Greinke has not suffered in the strikeout department. He does an excellent job of limiting free passes at 3.3%, so doesn’t hurt himself.

He would also be a multi-year addition, but one who would greatly effect the Phillies overall financial situation, at least for a couple of years. Signed through 2021 and set to make $70 million in those next two years, there is a chance his deal could create some luxury tax questions for the Phillies.

But the acquisition of Greinke would be a major sign that Klentak, and perhaps most importantly principal owner John Middleton, is keeping the team all-in for a 2019 playoff push. Similar to Bumgarner, he also has a no-trade clause that includes the Phillies. As with MadBum, that may not prove much of an obstacle, if the teams can reach agreement on a price.

Those price tags on any of these arms are going to be high – just varying levels of high. If they don’t make such a deal at this deadline, it is likely to severely hamper any efforts to reach the 2019 postseason. Even the most casual fan knows that the Phillies need to improve their starting rotation. Now it’s just a matter of when they address it: this deadline or in the off-season.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Lefty

    July 20, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    I dont see this particular team as enough of a realistic contender to mortgage the future. For a “one game win or go home” playoff? No thanks,
    I choose none of the above. In my opinion, play it out with the returning injured bullpen members, or low cost expenditures only. They spent a lot for Realmuto, maybe too much. What’s the hurry? We have Harper for the next 100 years. Patience and system developement seems like the right plan to me.

    • Robert

      July 22, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      I agree. Slow and steady wins the race, and they’re really not that far away from becoming a real factor for years to come.

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