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The Phillies should still sign another veteran starting pitcher

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor  

Even after Jeremy Hellickson accepted the $17.2 million qualifying offer extended to him by the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2017 season, general manager Matt Klentak shouldn't be done constructing the team's starting rotation for 2017.

Hellickson, who was the team's Opening Day starter in 2016, figures to get the Opening Day nod again in 2017. Jerad Eickhoff posted a 3.65 ERA and 2.9 WAR (per FanGraphs) over 197.1 innings in 2016, likely earning him the No. 2 spot in the rotation. After that, things aren't as clear. 

While all indications are that Aaron Nola's recovery is going well, the former first round pick could still very well have a set-back this offseason that causes him not to be ready for the regular season. Even if he does have a clean bill of health entering the 2016 season, he's likely to be on an innings limit in 2017

While Vince Velasquez has the highest upside of any pitcher expected to be in the team's rotation, he doesn't exactly scream stability. He consistently seems to have injury concerns and it remains possible that the Phillies will consider trading him at the MLB's Winter Meetings next month. 

For the fifth spot in the rotation, the Phillies currently have four potential options. Zach Eflin has had surgery on both of his knees in the last three months. Alec Ascher and Adam Morgan probably fall into the category of being spot starters, who are too good for Triple A, but not good enough to consistently be starters. Morgan may even end up being a reliever. And top pitching prospect Jake Thompson, who is still just 22, occasionally flashed potential in his 10 starts last season, but more regularly looked in over his head, posting a 5.70 ERA. 

Even with ample options for manager Pete Mackanin to choose from, the overwhelming feeling you get when looking at who could be in the team's rotation for 2017 is that they are probably a veteran short. The Phillies may end up with six or seven qualified starters, but better that than not having enough pitching. 

On top of all the moving parts the rotation already has, the Phillies should be prepared for the possibility of an injury to either Nola or Velasquez. Neither will probably pitch much late in the season, barring surprise contention. Hellickson could be traded at the non-waiver trade deadline. Heck, if the right offer came along, the Phillies would probably listen on Eickhoff. And any pitcher could have a surprise in-season injury, much like Charlie Morton did when he tore his hamstring in April, which ended his season. 

Those prospects make the idea of buying low on someone like the aforementioned Morton, who is currently a free-agent, an interesting idea. Derek Holland, who when healthy consistently eats innings, could be a fit. The Phillies probably wouldn't be interested in spending on someone like Jason Hammel and paying Hellickson one of the highest salaries for a starting pitcher in club history, but other names such as Edison Volquez, Jhoulys Chacin and Alfredo Simon could be fits. 

Regardless of who the Phillies would add to further bolster their rotation, it's clear that Klentak cannot simply stop at retaining Hellickson for the 2017 season. 

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