The Phillies currently have 4 very solid options in the starting rotation entering the 2021 season. Aaron Nola has proven to be the team’s top arm and last year’s free agent signing, Zack Wheeler, was a great addition to the top of the rotation. Zach Eflin looked to be the most improved player on the team in 2020 as his 2-seam fastball was dominant at times and his ability to go deep in games was very encouraging out of a third starter. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard got his feet wet in the majors, but his season was over quickly due to injury. Howard showed dominant ability in his minor league career, but at this point in time he is a question mark after a rough start to his Major League career. His command was off at times and it felt like he did not have that “put a way” pitch that keeps pitch counts down and extends the outing. Small sample size but starting off struggling and ending the season to injury makes me a little worried.
The best part about the 2021 season will be the end of Jake Arrieta stealing money from the Phillies. Arrieta’s 3-year, $75 million deal has expired and he will never have to pitch for the Phillies again. The Phillies signed Arrieta to try and move this team in the right direction, instead he caused more problems than he cured. When Jake wasn’t getting roped on the mound every 5th day, he was either injured or starting locker room problems within the team. He called out the team for not playing hard in 2019, and had a lot to say about Gabe Kapler’s shifts. His Phillies career ended early this year due to a pulled hamstring during a pitch that drilled a batter, a moment that summed up his Phillies career. For $75 million he went 22-23 with a 4.36 ERA and 3 season ending injuries.
The Phillies will most likely need to pick up a free agent starting pitcher this offseason and there are some intriguing names in this year’s class. The group is led by 2020 NL Cy Young Trevor Bauer who has made quite the name for himself with his cocky attitude and his social media presence. Bauer is a smart, hard working guy who I think would be a perfect fit in Philadelphia with the passion he plays with. I don’t think Middleton wants to spend this offseason but adding a guy like Bauer could be the difference maker for this team. It is definitely a dream scenario, but one I think makes a lot of sense. Don’t expect the Phillies to be in the Bauer sweepstakes, though.
I expect the Phillies to sign their 5th starter on a one-year deal, someone to be serviceable at the bottom end of the rotation. Here are a few directions I think the Phillies should look into to cap off the 5th starter.
Corey Kluber (35)
Kluber, a two-time CY Young award winner, has battled injuries the last two seasons. In 7 starts in 2019 with the Cleveland Indians, Kluber went 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA, 38 strikeouts in 35.2 innings pitched. He signed a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2020 season and he pitched just one inning for them before having a season ending injury.
Kluber’s best days are most likely behind him but there is still a chance that when fully healthy he could be a very serviceable option. He will most likely get a one-year “prove it” deal this offseason and I think the Phillies should definitely be interested in the 35 year old right hander.
In his last full season in 2018, Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA, 222 strikeouts in 215 innings, while finishing third in CY Young voting. I don’t expect this Kluber to show up in 2021, but he very well could be the steal of the offseason.
J.A. Happ (38)
Signing Happ to be the Phillies 5th starter would not have fans very excited and it would put more pressure on Spencer Howard to produce, but at the end of the day he is a solid veteran who could eat up innings for the Phillies.
Happ had a pretty solid season for the Yankees in 2020, starting 9 games, pitching a 3.47 ERA in 49.1 innings pitched. In his last full season he got roughed up a bit having a 4.91 ERA in 161.1 innings in 2019. To his credit, there is a lot of offensive talent in the American League East and pitching in Yankee Stadium is definitely not good for your ERA.
I also think the Phillies need a left handed starting pitcher regardless of the talent level just to change the look during a 3-game series. Happ started his career in Philadelphia and was pretty successful, it would not surprise me to see a one year reunion deal with the Phillies to be the 5th starter in 2021.
Garret Richards (33)
Garret Richards has spent most of his career being injured but when healthy he has shown ace potential.
He hasn’t pitched a full season since 2015 with the LA Angels where he was very good. In 2015, Richards went 15-12 with a 3.65 ERA in 207.1 innings pitched. From 2016-2019, his seasons ended short due to injury but if you combine all of his stats from those seasons, he has been very impressive. In that time span he had a combined 3.36 ERA in 147.1 innings pitched, while striking out 159 batters.
He did manage to stay healthy in 2020 with the San Diego Padres where he appeared in 14 games (10 starts), pitched a 4.03 ERA in 51.1 innings.
It is no doubt a risk bringing in a guy who has spent more time hurt in his career than playing, but when he is healthy he has been a very successful pitcher and I think he will be very affordable this offseason. At 33 years of age, there definitely could be some solid years ahead of him.
Mike Minor (33)
Like J.A. Happ, Minor is also a left handed option. Minor is a buy-low candidate as he struggled big time in 2020. Minor was the top deadline trade option starter in 2019, but the Texas Rangers decided to hold onto him in hopes of a bright 2020 season where they opened up a new ballpark.
Minor was dealt to the A’s during 2020’s trade deadline for a much smaller package than the Rangers would have gotten in 2019. Minor went 1-6 with a 5.56ERA in 56.2 innings pitched in 2020, a major step back from 2019. In his 2019 campaign Minor was one of the top left handed pitchers in the American League, going 14-10 with a 3.59 ERA in 208.1 innings, while striking out 200 batters.
Minor might be seeking a 2 to 3 year deal and the price tag will be a little lower than he is probably expecting, but it’s a good chance for the Phillies to get a solid middle of the rotation left hander that has top end potential. Even though he struggled in 2020, Minor is still one of the top arms in this free agent class so expect many teams to be interested in the 33 year old left hander.
I think some other possibilities for the Phillies are Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, Porcello who won a CY Young with the Red Sox in 2018 has been very bad since leaving Boston and Wacha pitched very poorly for the Mets last season. These are not guys I would endorse but I could definitely see bargain bin diver John Middleton to be interested in this mediocre right handers.