Much of the talk about the upcoming offseason has been centered on whether the Phillies will be able to bring back their two big bats in J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and how they will address the disastrous bullpen.
The Phillies may have missed the playoffs, but it was not at the fault of their starters. The rotation was solid in 2020, finishing with the 10th best ERA and 3rd highest fWAR in the majors.
Moving forward, the top three spots in the rotation are already solidified with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. This trio impressed during the 2020 season, as Wheeler excelled in his first season as a Phillie and Eflin took a step forward.
There are big questions as to how the Phillies fill out the rotation outside of those three. Jake Arrieta is entering free agency, and despite his inconsistencies, he was still a regular in the Phillies rotation and his production will have to be replaced in some form.
Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez both made several starts in 2020, but neither is a guarantee to stick in the rotation for the entire 2021 season. Here are the Phillies options to fill out the back of their rotation heading into next season.
Howard, the Phillies’ current top prospect, struggled following his first major-league stint in 2020. In six starts, he pitched to a 5.92 ERA before his season ended early due to a shoulder injury. He came off the injured list before the Rays series but was never used out of the ‘pen.
While he is likely to be effective long-term, the Phillies cannot count on Howard to be a member of the rotation for a full 162-game season. Even if he breaks out in 2021, he has never pitched more than 112 innings in a season and will likely be on an innings limit.
The Phillies will soon have to make a decision on Velasquez, who is entering his third year of arbitration. While he has been frustrating at times, Velasquez has given the Phillies production consistent of the fifth guy in a rotation and would be valuable to keep considering the uncertainty surrounding Howard.
Adonis Medina made his MLB debut towards the end of the season and pitched an OK game. While his stock as a prospect has fallen over the last two seasons, Medina could still make an impact as a back-end starter on the team as early as next season.
The Phillies will likely have to look towards free agency to add necessary depth considering the uncertainty of the back of the rotation.
It seems unlikely that they would pursue top-of-the-line options such as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman and Masahiro Tanaka considering the holes they have to fill elsewhere and the somewhat limited budget below the luxury tax. But lower-end options are available and could help round out a Phillies rotation that already has two ace-level pitchers at the top.
Mike Minor, who spent 2020 with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics, is a potential buy-low option. Minor did not pitch well in 2020 but had a 3.62 ERA in the previous three seasons. He represents a cheap bounce back option to improve rotational depth.
The Phillies could also take a flier on someone like Robbie Ray, whom they have been linked to in the past. Ray pitched to a 6.82 ERA in 2020 and struggled greatly with his command, walking nearly eight batters per nine innings. But he has shown excellent stuff in the past and would make sense on a one-year prove-it deal for a Phillies team not eager to spend big money.
There is a plethora of other players that could make sense. Corey Kluber could be a low-risk, high reward bounceback candidate at the right price. Jake Odorizzi and Jose Quintana will cost much less than the top pitchers available but have both proven to be solid arms throughout their career.
A trade should not be counted out, but given the amount of low-risk targets available in free agency, that is a much more likely route for the Phillies to take.
The top of the Phillies rotation, which was excellent in 2020, is set for the future and is arguably the biggest strength of the team. While making depth moves to solidify the back end of the rotation will be helpful moving forward, it is not nearly as important as reworking a historically bad bullpen this offseason.
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