Vince Velasquez has been a frustrating figure throughout his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies. Fans know the story — the talented, hard-throwing righty has flashed his abilities on the mound, but has never been able to put it all together on a consistent basis.
Still, the 28-year-old serves a purpose on this team. In an organization that seriously lacks major-league ready starting pitching depth, Velasquez remains one of just a handful of Phillies pitchers capable of eating up big-league innings as a starter at a somewhat serviceable level.
For better or worse, the Phillies could still use a pitcher like Velasquez going forward. But it’s no guarantee that the team even tenders him a contract for 2021.
Velasquez is set to enter his third year of arbitration this offseason following his fifth season in Philadelphia. Since the Phillies acquired him from the Houston Astros ahead of the 2016 season, the right-hander has a 4.76 ERA in 99 starts and 112 appearances overall.
Perhaps his two most memorable starts as a Phillie have largely told the tale of Velasquez’s time with the team. His 16-strikeout shutout of the San Diego Padres in his second start with the Phillies showed the swing-and-miss stuff, while his 2 1/3-inning clunker in 2019 in which he blew a 7-0 lead to the Miami Marlins showed the short and disappointing outings that have followed Velasquez throughout his career.
Of course, Velasquez’s production has largely been somewhere in between his best and worst outings. He has never replicated that second start with the team, but Velasquez has struck out 10 batters per nine innings with the Phillies. His outings have tended to be shorter, closer to five innings per start in his career. But at the very least, the Phillies should have a fairly good idea of what they are getting out of Velasquez — a pitcher that can strike hitters out and will generally battle for about five innings.
That archetype is not the ideal starting pitcher, but it’s still one the Phillies could use as depth in the future. There are not too many starting pitching options that are entirely ready on the major league roster or in the upper minors.
The team just traded two starting pitching options – Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold – to the Boston Red Sox this past trade deadline for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.
This left the Phillies leaning on options such as prospect Adonis Medina and (usual) reliever David Hale, in addition to Velasquez, to start games as the team fought for a playoff spot down the stretch.
Medina had a decent outing in his debut, but only lasted four innings and struggled in his last minor-league season in 2019. Hale was also serviceable, but is better suited as a reliever.
With Jake Arrieta set to become a free agent and Spencer Howard — who has never thrown more than 112 innings in a season — coming off a shoulder injury, the Phillies will likely need to use their starting depth again next season. Velasquez may be one of the better options as a swingman that could pitch out of the bullpen or as a starter when needed.
The right-hander would probably get a raise from his $3.6 million salary from this past season prior to proration. And as the Phillies try to bolster a team with many holes while still seemingly unwilling to go over the luxury tax threshold, they may wish to shed Velasquez’s salary. That won’t change the fact that they will need starting pitchers to take down innings next season. Starting pitchers don’t typically come cheap in free agency, so the internal option of Velasquez might be the best one.
If the team does bring back Velasquez, it may not have the ability to sign other necessary pieces while saying under the luxury tax. If it lets him walk, the Phillies might not have the pitching to make the additional pieces worthwhile.
Either way the team decides on whether or not to tender Velasquez a contract, it goes to show that the Phillies are in a tough spot with many decisions to make, and an interim general manager in place to help make them.
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