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Phillies' Starting Pitching: A Look at What Could Have Been

By Brandon Musso, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Its really not much of secret anymore: the Phillies need starting pitching. The front office went into the season feeling very confident with the starting rotation they already had. Despite a fairly strong market for starting pitchers, GM Matt Klentak and company opted not to sign or trade for an arm to join the mix.

Now their failure to upgrade or bolster the starting rotation is coming back to bite them in a big way. An underachieving offense combined with a starting rotation that is giving up homeruns at an historic rate, has the Phillies sitting in third place 6.5 games back of the first place Braves. 

Its now the unofficial halfway point of the season as the MLB heads in the All-Star break. It seems like a good time for an assessment of how some of the free agent pitchers that Klentak passed up on, are faring with their new teams. 

Charlie Morton

Certainly at the top of my list this offseason, Morton should of been at the top of the Klentak’s list too. The former Phil’ spent the 2016 season in Philadelphia, starting just four games before a hamstring injury put him out for the remainder of the season. He then signed with the Astros where he revitalized his career. Logging 146 innings in the 2017 season, Morton pitched to the tune of a 14-7 record with 3.62 ERA in 25 games started. In 2018, arguably the best year of his career, Morton threw for 15-3 record with a 3.13 ERA on his way to his first All-Star game selection. He threw 167 innings in 30 games started, eclipsing the 200 strikeout mark for the first time in his career. 

Signing a two-year deal with the Rays this past offseason, Morton is again turning heads.  He’s on pace to break all of his previous career records. In 19 games started, Morton has posted a 10-2 record with a staggering 2.32 ERA. He’s already reached the 100 inning mark while also having struck out 142 batters. Numbers like that make it appear that Klentak made a major mistake by not inking him to contract in the off-season.

JA Happ

Morton wasn’t the only former Phillies starting pitcher on the market this off-season. Happ, entering his age 36 season was also on a free agent. Apart of the Phillies 2008 World Series team, he left in 2010. Afterwards, he spent parts of his career with multiple teams including the Astros, Mariners, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Yankees. His best years came with the Blue Jays, particularly in 2016 and 2018. In 2016, he went 20-4 with 3.18 ERA in 32 games en route to a sixth place finish in the Cy Young voting. Although not his 2016 numbers, he still posted pretty stellar numbers in 2018. In a split season between the Blue Jays and the Yankees, he tallied 193 strikeouts over 117.2 innings while posting a 17-6 record with a  3.65 ERA. His efforts earned him his first All-Star appearance of his career.

Through the halfway point of this 2019 season, Happ isn’t enjoying as much success. He carries a 7-4 record but his ERA sits at 5.02, well above the mark he has set over the last few years. Although not a major mistake, the veteran Happ might not have been a bad option for the Phillies. 

Dallas Keuchel

Throughout the off-season and even into the 2019 season, Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel garnered a lot of attention. The two veteran pitchers were still on the free agent market well into the season, queuing fan bases across the MLB to clamor for at least one them to sign with their team. The Phillies’ fan base was no different, particularly for Keuchel. He has a track record of success in his career with the Houston Astros and with the extreme struggles of the starters playing out in front of our faces, it almost seemed like a no brainer to bolster the rotation and sign him. However, the Phillies front office had other plans and were never seemingly “in” on Keuchel. On June 7th, he inked a one year $13 million deal with the division rival Atlanta Braves. 

Since his signing, he has only made three starts so the sample size is still rather small. However, in those three starts Keuchel hasn’t doesn’t anything too impressive. He holds a 2-2 record with a 3.60 ERA. The jury is still out on whether it was a smart move to pass on him but he was definitely an option for the Phillies at one point.

Patrick Corbin

Corbin was the prized starting pitcher on the market this past winter. After spending his entire six year major league career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he finally hit the market and it seemed pretty clear he wasn’t returning to the desert. 

Although many predicted he would wind up with his childhood team, the New York Yankees, many teams still made a strong push to add the 29 year-old. The Phillies were among those teams as they got him on a visit to Citizens Bank Park and even got in the inner circle of “favorites” to sign him. He ultimately shocked many by choosing the Washington Nationals on a 6-year $140 million dollar deal. It turned out the Yankees weren’t as interested as originally thought and wouldn’t go as far as the Nats did. 

Thus far with his new team, Corbin seems to be pitching close to his normal track record. He has a 7-5 record with a 3.34 ERA. He’s thrown 113.1 innings while striking out 129 batters.

For the Phillies the reality of signing Corbin is much different of that if the other starters mentioned here. The 6-year $140 million deal would have likely changed the course of their off-season had they offered that much money. It sure seemed like it played a large part in taking the Nationals out of the Bryce Harper sweepstakes and likely would have changed the Phillies chances at getting him as well. Despite the large amount money spent by the Phillies this off-season, they still seem content on staying under the luxury tax. Corbin and Harper would have certainly put them over it. So while Corbin would have really helped bolster the rotation, the money he was commanding may have been out of the Phillies price range.

Gio Gonzalez

Although not one of the bigger names out there in free agency this offseason, Gio Gonzalez is a veteran arm as he entered his age 33 season in 2019. He has had some stellar years in his 12 year MLB career, making the All-Star game twice. In 2011 with the Oakland A’s, his first All-Star appearance, Gonzalez went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA. The following year with the Nationals, Gio had a career year as he won 21 games and posted a sub three ERA. He also eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark by setting down 207 batters in that fashion. 

In the years following, he slipped down to a rather average but consistent pitcher. He hovered around 10-11 wins with 3-4 ERA. After his 7-year stint with the Nationals, Gonzalez was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers at the 2018 trade deadline before his contract expired. As he free agent, he inked a minor league deal with the Yankees but subsequently left as he was stuck at the Yankees Triple-AAA affiliate. He finally settled down by singing back with the Brewers. He has pitched just six games with them, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.19 ERA.

At the moment, it appears Gio might have been a good option despite his current stint on the injured list. A veteran consistent arm is something that Phillies certainly could use in the rotation right now and he certainly fits the bill.

As you can see, there were plenty of free agent starting pitcher options, some good, some bad. By choosing none this offseason, Klentak has left himself in quite a predicament. The Phillies are now in need of multiple pitchers and if Klentak doesn’t add any then where do the Phillies go from here? Time will tell but for now Phillies nation waits, hoping a fresh face will soon revitalize this struggling rotation.

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