By Theo DeRosa, Sports Talk Philly staff
In an interview with Philly.com's Mike Sielski on Thursday, Phillies principal owner John Middleton spoke about the direction of his club and the Phils' pursuit of skilled starting pitching.
Middleton said that he, like many, believes that the Phillies are "close," but that they shouldn't start spending tons of money in futile attempts to address their issues. That was the downfall of the 2007-2011 Phillies, after all: too much money tied up in long, expensive contracts. Ryan Howard's mammoth contract extension was the example to which everyone pointed, but far from the Phils' only bad investment.
Now, though, the Phillies are heading the other way, trudging slowly along the path to success and relevancy. They've brought up top prospects like J. P. Crawford, Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams. In a move that earned mixed reactions from local and national media, the Phillies dished out the first major contract of the offseason, a 3-year pact with Carlos Santana worth $20 million per year on average. The signing was meant to show the coveted free agent class of next offseason — Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and others — that the Phillies are a viable landing spot.
The acquisition of Santana, though, gives the Phillies a logjam in the outfield. Santana will play first, which pushes Hoskins to left field, where he was competent, while not skilled, during the 2017 campaign. Odúbel Herrera has center field pretty much locked down, so Williams and Aaron Altherr will be vying for the right-field job.
This will be the case unless one of the Phils' outfielders is traded. And that's looking more and more likely — general manager Matt Klentak has talked about the desire to obtain a young, skilled and controllable starting pitcher on the trade market. Possible names include Marcus Stroman, Michael Fulmer, Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer.
Middleton told Sielski on Thursday that Klentak has inquired into the latter two pitchers, and found the cost significant.
“What Tampa’s asking for Archer or what the Pirates are asking for Cole, I don’t want to say it’s extortion, but it’s an arm and a leg," Middleton was quoted as saying in the Philly.com article.
The Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates engaged in Cole talks yesterday, as the Yankees sought to acquire the right-hander without parting with top prospect Gleyber Torres. The Pirates' interest in trading Cole hinged on including Torres in the deal, as the two teams aren't yet near a resolution. To acquire Cole, it would seem that the Phillies would have to part with top prospect Sixto Sánchez at the very least. The price will be high to acquire Archer or Cole.
That is how it should be — the Tampa Bay Rays and Pirates don't have any reason to cash in their best trade chips for a meager return. Klentak did acknowledge the high price of acquiring starting pitching this offseason, as SportsTalkPhilly's Tim Kelly reported Wednesday. The cost for good young pitchers like Cole, or Archer (who isn't all that young at 29), is rightfully high.
The Phillies, though, have the chance to pay it. They have a glut of major-league talent in the infield — César Hernández remains on the trade block — and in the outfield. They have a strong farm system, slotted within the top 10 by nearly every assessor. And they have tons of money to spend, if they choose to either go the free-agent route or offer to pay down a player's bulky contract.
The Phils are close, as Middleton says. But to truly arrive, they must acquire a frontline starter, someone to pair with Aaron Nola and anchor a starting rotation full of questions. The cost may be an arm and a leg, but the Phillies have plenty to spare.