With the second-half emergence of Rhys Hoskins, the Philadelphia Phillies lineup probably isn't especially far away from being ready to compete for the playoffs. Their starting pitching, on the other hand, isn't close. Perhaps they'll attempt to make a serious dent in that this offseason.
Aaron Nola, assuming health, looks as though he'll be near the top of the team's rotation for some time to come. After him, there's not much. Jerad Eickhoff, who looked like a No. 3 starter in 2016, had a disappointing 2017 season and is now finished for the season with a hand injury. He still projects to be part of the rotation moving forward. After that, the group of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Mark Leiter Jr. and Ben Lively feel like back-end-of-the-rotation starters, at best. And it's unclear what, if anything, the team will get out of Vince Velasquez moving forward.
While the team is loaded with young pitching talents at the lower levels of their minor leagues, there's a lot that can happen between Single-A and the majors. The Phillies may also want to bump their timeline up a little this offseason. They did, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, check in on controllable starting pitchers prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
With all of that in mind, general manager Matt Klentak should make a call (and potentially a push) for one controllable starting pitcher this offseason: Toronto Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman.
The 26-year-old, who is under team control through the 2020 season, has a career ERA of 3.67, though advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP suggest that he's been even better than that. He profiles, probably similar to Nola, as at least an elite No. 2. His pitch repertoire gives him an even higher upside than Nola.
Would the Blue Jays be willing to trade their ace? ESPN's Buster Olney suggested in early July that with their window of contention firmly shut, president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins might be ready to begin rebuilding their roster. While they may view Stroman as someone they can build around, there would be a ton of interest in him if the Blue Jays did market him, with Olney reporting that the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs all scouted Stroman prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. The Cubs, according to Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com, did make a call on Stroman before acquiring Jose Quintana.
Stroman, of course, wasn't moved, and there wasn't any indication that any team had traction on trade talks for the former first-round pick. The Phillies should still make a call this offseason, because they have quite a few things that could be of interest to the Blue Jays.
The first is the aforementioned minor league pitching depth. Sixto Sanchez, presumably, is off-the-board. The hope in trading for Stroman would be that Sanchez could eventually join a rotation that features Stroman and Nola. Franklyn Kilome, who has elite stuff and was impressive between Clearwater and Reading this season, could be of interest. Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez could also be of interest.
With Anthony Alford, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays potentially have a few position players to rebuild around. Adding a few pitchers with high upside in a return for Stroman would be a nice place to start setting the table for a young pitching staff.
Additionally, the team has quite a few players on their major league roster that could be secondary pieces in a trade. Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr all can play three outfield positions, which not only makes them more valuable to the Phillies, but potentially more intriguing to a team that may trade for them. The Blue Jays probably wouldn't be interested in Tommy Joseph, but Cesar Hernandez, and, to a lesser extent, Freddy Galvis, could also be of interest to the Blue Jays.
The other thing that the Phillies have that could be of interest in a trade for Stroman is financial flexibility. In a trade of Stroman, the Blue Jays, in theory, could ask a team to take on the contract of Troy Tulowitzki. While Tulowitzki has been a Hall of Fame caliber players when healthy, he's owed $68 million through 2021, and hasn't played more than 140 games since 2011.
Normally, I would caution greatly against taking on a 32-year-old middle infielder that was never especially durable and seems to be getting less healthy (and productive when healthy) by the year. But this may be a risk worth taking.
First of all, it would net the Phillies Stroman and may slightly lessen the return they have to give up. Secondly, the outside chance that Tulowitzki is able to give you some production, whether it comes at shortstop or third base, is intriguing.
Regardless of that, the Phillies have a young team, one that won't become especially expensive until the end of the decade, when Tulowitzki's contract expires. The Phillies could afford to take on Tulowitzki's contract for the small chance he's able to provide some production. If not, the team could afford to take a loss on the $68 million owed through 2021, whether that means him becoming an oft-injured bench player or the team altogether releasing him.
The point of taking on Tulowitzki, of course, would be to land Stroman. There's an argument to be made that landing a player like Stroman would give the Phillies a better chance to land a franchise-altering free-agent next offseason, like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Regardless, it would give the team formidable 1-2 at the top of their rotation for years to come, with Sanchez, who has displayed No. 1 potential in the minor leagues, likely to join them at the end of this decade.
There are other controllable starters that the Phillies could potentially target, such as Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays or Gettit Cole of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the idea of adding an ace pitcher from the Blue Jays sounds both familiar and enticing. And the Phillies match up in a potential trade very well.