It's no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies need quite a bit of starting pitching help heading into 2018. It's less clear if former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, who can be a free-agent after this season, would make sense for the Phillies.
This past week, ESPN's Buster Olney discussed the impending free-agency of the World Champion pitcher with Tim Kurkjian on the Baseball Tonight Podcast. Olney suggested that while he thinks many of the league's normal big spenders won't make a push for Arrieta, the Phillies are among the teams that would make sense for him:
"The three teams that I came up with, and I'm curious to get your input on these, because I don't think the Cubs are going to re-sign him - I would be surprised if they end up being the team that makes that investment. I think the Yankees have other financial concerns, I know the Red Sox have other financial concerns. The Dodgers aren't going to necessarily spend on a big free-agent, they want to cut back on their payroll this winter. The three teams that I came up with are the Phillies, the Braves and the Angels. And you do wonder about the Rangers, who, of course, if they don't re-sign Yu Darvish, are going to have to find a way to replace him. And I bet you Jake Arrieta would love to go back to his home state of Texas."
I'll admit, my first reaction upon hearing this was to scoff. And I still feel fairly comfortable in being opposed to it, though I do understand that it's not as clear cut as I initially thought.
After a disappointing first three months of the season, Arrieta was dominant in July, posting a 2.25 ERA across five starts. He was even more impressive in August, posting a 1.21 ERA in the 37.1 innings he pitched in his six starts. He's lowered his ERA on the season to 3.36, and has returned to looking like one of the game's elite starters in the past two months.
Arrieta is well connected to the Phillies front-office, as he began his career in Baltimore, where current Phillies president Andy MacPhail was the team's general manager. MacPhail didn't draft Arrieta, but he got to see a young Arrieta, who despite failing to pan out in Baltimore, unquestionably had the strong work-ethic that helped him to become a Cy Young Award winner. Current Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and assistant general manager Ned Rice were also in the front-office at that time. Only Rice was still there when the team traded him to the Cubs in July of 2013.
While we are sure to hear much about the connections between the Phillies front-office and Arrieta, it may not mean much this offseason. The front-office may be well aware of the quality of person that Arrieta is, but giving a 32-year-old a $100 million plus contract would seem to conflict with the "grow the arms, buy the bats" philosophy that MacPhail has used during his career.
If the Phillies were an Arrieta type arm away from being a World Series contender in 2018, perhaps this would make more sense. The problem is, they are going to loss over 100 games in 2017, and even with Arrieta, they wouldn't project to be a playoff contender until at least 2019. As well as Arrieta has pitched the last two months, the fact that he struggled for the first three months of the season can't be ignored, especially when you are trying to project what he'll be in three or four seasons. His xFIP is still 4.05, his four-seam fastball velocity is down a couple ticks this year and he's going to be 32 before the 2018 season starts.
By the time the Phillies are contending, they may not need Arrieta to be an ace, as some combination of Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome and Jojo Romero will hopefully have joined Nola in what has a chance to be a special rotation. From that perspective, signing Arrieta may just make the Phillies a better team in the immediate future, which wouldn't be the worst thing. But he's going to be 32 before next season, and the idea of paying him $20 million plus per season at the end of this decade to be a No. 4 starter doesn't seem to make much sense. That's money that could be used to fix holes in the lineup and/or the bullpen, that would instead be going to a pitcher that's well past his prime.
Perhaps the best argument for signing Arrieta this offseason is that he would probably make the Phillies a better team in 2017, and his name would give the team more credibility. As the team attempts to lure one of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado after the 2018 season, they may look more attractive with a former Cy Young Award winner and World Champion at the top of their rotation.
But the best path to actually building a good team may involve parting with prospects to land one of Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman or Gerrit Cole this offseason, because the next time the Phillies will be ready to contend, they will all still probably be in their primes. And free-agents aren't stupid, they know that they have a better chance to win long-term if they sign with a team that has, for example, Stroman in his late-20s as opposed to Arrieta, who will be approaching his mid-30s.
If the Phillies were to sign Arrieta to a five-year deal this offseason worth over $100 million, no one's going to kick-and-scream about it. But so much in free-agency is about timelines lining up, and Arrieta's timeline probably doesn't line up with the timeline of the Phillies returning to contention.
Rockies manager Bud Black said Friday that the team is "talking about" calling up Ryan Howard. Howard would not be eligible for the postseason, though, as he wasn't on the 40-man roster by 11:59 p.m. on August 31. So it seems pretty unlikely the Rockies will give Howard a spot on the 40-man roster just to have him pinch-hit a few times in the final month of the season. But we'll see what happens.
In the meantime, this past week was the anniversary of a few important home runs during Howard's career.
August 31, 2006 - Howard, while playing against the Nationals in the lovely RFK Stadium, hit his 49th home run of the season. This allowed him to pass Mike Schmidt, making him the organization's single-season home run king:
September 3, 2006 - On this day 11 years ago, Howard became the first Phillie to ever hit 50 home runs in a season. For good measure, he hit three total shots that day, en route to winning the National League MVP:
- While I'm lukewarm-at-best on the idea of the Phillies signing Arrieta, I really have no interest in Yu Darvish. He's a few months younger than Arrieta, but he hasn't been especially good this year and has always had issues with injuries. No, thanks.
- I think there's a very real chance next year that Hector Neris is pitching the eighth inning and Edubray Ramos, assuming he continues pitching this well, is the team's closer.
- For as good of a season as it's been for Rhys Hoskins, his fellow Bash Brother, Dylan Cozens, has had a pretty disappointing year. He's hitting just .211 and approaching 200 strikeouts after an awful month of August. The power hasn't disappeared, but it's fair to wonder in an organization that's deep in outfielding talent and seems to have first base covered, what Cozens' future is.
- I will say this: I sat behind the away dugout at a recent Lehigh Valley IronPigs game, and got to see how giant Cozens is after he singled and was standing on first base. If there's ever been someone who 6'6, 235 pounds doesn't seem big enough for, it's him.
- I'm a fan of Matt Klentak's decision to claim both Juan Nicasio and Kevin Siegrist over the course of the past week. As the 2008 Phillies will tell you, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good when trying to build an elite bullpen. The Phillies seem lucky that the Pirates questionably decided to waive Nicasio, who has had a good season. Perhaps Siegrist will get healthy and resemble more of the pitcher that he was in 2015 and 2016. He's under team control for one more season, so the Phillies have a chance to potentially find a consistent lefty specialist, all while Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner have had good success since the All-Star Break.
- Barring an incredible month from the Seattle Mariners, this is probably going to be the final month of Carlos Ruiz's career. Fans like to suggest that key players on championship teams would make great managers, but Ruiz, should he choose to, probably does have a future in coaching.