Arms for the Phillies to eye in free agency | David Murphy

Arms for the Phillies to eye in free agency | David Murphy

Forget Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn. At the moment, they project as the cream of the starting pitching crop on the upcoming free-agent market, where the Phillies should be looking for at least two veteran arms to slot in behind Aaron Nola in a rotation that has struggled to keep them in games this season. If previous markets are any indication, which they usually are, each of the three will be looking for a deal of at least four or five years. For a team that is one starter away from serious contention, such a deal could make sense. For the Phillies, though, it makes little sense to agree to a deal that will materially affect their ability to sign free agents in future offseasons given the unlikelihood that they are ready to contend in 2018.

Besides, they’re an imperfect bunch. Darvish is on track to reach 200 innings for the first time since 2013, and while he hasn’t been as dominant as he was when he first arrived in the majors, he still figures to be in line for a contract of at least five years and averaging $18 million to $22 million per year.

Arrieta has a 3.49 ERA in 152 innings for the Cubs, but a deeper look inside his numbers raises some concern about a pitcher who will be 32 years old and did not log his first season of 160-plus innings until 2015. In 2014-15, Arrieta struck out 27.2 percent of his batters and averaged 1.18 ground balls per fly ball. This season, his strikeout number has dipped to 23.4 percent, and his ground-ball ratio has plunged to 0.84.

Lynn, meanwhile, is more of a middle-of-the-rotation arm. After missing all of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lynn has picked up where he left off, logging 157 2/3 innings in 27 starts with a 3.14 ERA and strikeout and walk numbers in line with his solid career averages. But if Mike Leake and Ian Kennedy can get five-year contracts at $14 million to $18 million per season, Lynn certainly can.

So what does that leave for the Phillies?

Nothing you are going to get excited about.

Three examples, with their ages in 2018. . .

1) Marco Estrada, Blue Jays, 34 years old

Neither young enough nor accomplished enough to warrant a huge contract, he would seem to be in line for a repeat of the two-year, $29 million deal he signed with the Blue Jays before 2016. That would make a lot of sense for the Phillies. He averaged 178 innings per season in 2015-16 with a 3.30 ERA and a solid 7.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 line. He’ll come close to 180 innings again this season, and while his ERA is up to 5.04, his 9.0 K/9 strikeout rate is higher than any season since 2012. He has struggled with his command at times this season, mostly during a 12-start stretch in which he issued 41 walks and allowed 10 home runs in 64 1/3 innings. He walked at least four batters in seven of those starts, including five straight in late June and early July.

2) Jhoulys Chacin, Padres, 30 years old

After a rough couple of seasons, the onetime Rockies up-and-comer (194 innings/3.62 ERA in 2011, 197.1 innings/3.47 ERA in 2013) has revived his career after signing a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Padres this offseason. He has a 4.10 ERA in 147 innings with averages of 7.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 — hardly the stuff of bidding wars, but a lot better than the production the Phillies have received from anybody not named Nola. He has always been erratic. In fact, he’s hit six of the last 50 batters he faced, including four in his most recent start. Given the volatility he’s shown throughout his career, even a one-year deal would be a gamble. But for a team like the Phillies, there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal.

3) Alex Cobb, Rays, 30 years old

Cobb will be one of the more interesting cases to monitor on this year’s market. He’s been a different pitcher since missing all of 2015 and most of 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In the two seasons before his injury, he posted a 2.82 ERA with impressive averages of 8.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9. This year, he is striking out fewer batters (16.2 percent, down from 22.5 percent in ’13-14), and allowing more fly balls (a 0.88 GB/FB ratio, down from 1.29 in ’13-14). Still, he has a solid 3.69 ERA pitching in the AL East and averages of 6.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9. In his last 12 starts, he has a 2.90 ERA with 49 strikeouts, 16 walks and eight home runs in 77 2/3 innings. A month shy of 30, he is younger than most of the other starters on the market, but this is just the second season in his career that he’s reached 150 innings. Somebody could decide that Cobb is worth the risk on a longer-term deal, but if he ends up in the market for a one-year contract with the aim of building his value for the following offseason, the Phillies could make an aggressive bid.

The rest of the market includes the usual assortment of bounce-back candidates and replacement-level veterans.

Three names. . .

1) Josh Tomlin, 33 years old

Had a decent season for the Indians in 2016: 174 innings, 29 starts, 4.40 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9. The ERA isn’t there this season (5.38), but his rate stats are similar to where they were last year. In his last four starts before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, Tomlin had walked just one batter with 22 strikeouts and 14 hits allowed in 24 1/3 innings.

2) Andrew Cashner, 31 years old

The Rangers will certainly take his 125 2/3 innings, 21 starts and 3.44 ERA, but it has come with a career-low 1.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, compared with career marks of 7.1 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9). Once upon a time, his fastball sat 95-97, but it has dropped to an average of 93 this season. Some upside. Plenty of downside.

3) Wade Miley, 31 years old

Averaged 192 innings per season from 2012-16 with a solid 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 line. He’s really struggled with his command this year, averaging 5.2 walks per nine in 27 starts for the Orioles, which helps to explain his 4.99 ERA.

This is pretty much the same pond the Phillies have been fishing the last couple of years, though they’ve done most of their work trading marginal minor leaguers for back-of-the rotation veterans on expiring contracts (Charlie Morton, Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz).

If you have any better ideas, mail your suggestion cards to Citizens Bank Park.

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Published at Tue, 29 Aug 2017 13:32:22 +0000

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