Klentak: Phillies Would ‘Love’ to Sign ‘Front-Line’ Starting Pitcher

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

A significant part of the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies early-season success — and likewise late-season collapse — came at the hands of their starting pitching staff. A Major League second-best HR/9 rate and sixth-best ERA in the first half, for example, fell to a ninth and 10th-worst, respectively, in the second half.

Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are locks for 2019 — the former due to his Cy Young Award-caliber performance in 2018, and the later, in part, due to his significant contract obligations through at least the 2020 season. As is, fighting for the last three rotation spots would be Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Enyel De Los Santos, Jerad Eickhoff and Ranger Suarez, among others.

While many of the Phillies' young starters — other than Nola — showed promise in 2018, Phillies Vice President and General Manager Matt Klentak said Thursday on SportsRadio 94 WIP that he would "love" to sign a "top-end, front-line starter" this offseason.

“That makes us no different than the 29 other teams. Everyone is looking for that," he said. "We’ve talked — for the last three years or so since I’ve been on the job — about the importance of starting pitching. If you have good starting pitching, you have a chance to win every night.

"Even in some of our early rebuilding years, where we weren’t a very good team, we tried to run out an incredible Major League staff. I think, for the most part, we did that. Obviously, it’s getting better now."

Phillies Starting Pitching Rankings, 2018

1st Half

2nd Half

Full Season





















So, if the Phillies were to dig deep into their pockets and sign a front-line starting pitcher — on top of potentially also acquiring Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper — which free agents could be considered? The following are free agent-bound starting pitchers, according to MLBTradeRumors.com's 2018-19 MLB Free Agent Tracker: Brett Anderson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jeremy Hellickson, Marco Estrada, James Shields, Gio Gonzalez, Tyson Ross, Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Tommy Milone, Nate Karns, Garrett Richards, J.A. Happ, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Edwin Jackson, Wade Miley, Yovani Gallardo, Drew Pomeranz, Jason Hammel, Trevor Cahill, Anibal Sanchez, Lance Lynn, Doug Fister, Josh Tomlin, Martin Perez, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz, CC Sabathia, Derek Holland, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Tillman, Charlie Morton, and Miguel Gonzalez, among others.

Corbin and Keuchel highlight the list, while there are other pitchers, like longtime Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who could opt-out of their current contract and enter free agency.

Klentak said that looking back at some of the Phillies' starting pitching staffs at the beginning part of the decade — with Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt — it is no surprise those teams won "90 or 100 games every year."

"When you control the first 5, 6, 7 innings of a game with that kind of dominance, you’re going to win a lot of baseball games," Klentak said. "I would love to add that guy. We’re definitely going to be open to doing so. Not surprisingly, those guys are very expensive … either in player talent — in the form of a trade — or in free agency. We just have to evaluate if that makes sense."

While the thought of adding a star-caliber arm intrigues Klentak, he noted the age and potential growth of the Phillies' current young core in Eflin, Pivetta and Velasquez.

"Aaron Nola is an outlier for a guy, that at 25, is having Cy Young-caliber seasons. Most pitchers, when they’re in their mid-20s, are still learning, growing, getting better and developing," Klentak said. "I think that’s what is notable about Eflin, Pivetta and Velasquez … those guys should still be on the ascent in their careers."

Klentak added that if the Phillies were to sign a starter through free agency, the club would need to factor in what that would mean for its current players.

"Is there a corresponding trade we can make with one of our guys to add something in an area we need to address elsewhere?" said Klentak. "We don’t particularly want to option [Eflin, Pivetta or Velasquez], because they were really good for 4-and-a-half months. They’re certainly really good Major League starters."

Read: Klentak: Phillies ‘More Than Likely’ to Explore Long-Term Contracts in Free Agency

When considering Eflin, Pivetta and Velasquez, it is also important to note Arrieta, who signed to a three-year, $75 million contract last offseason, with team options through the 2022 season. Arrieta, a one-time Cy Young Award winner, All-Star and World Series champion, took a step back in 2018, posting his first sub-.500 win-loss percentage since his rookie season in 2012.

Despite Arrieta's underwhelming production, Klentak said that that will not necessarily hinder the club to pursue an upgrade to the pitching staff, although it would be considered to "balance payroll."

"The fact that we have $25 million on the books for Jake [Arrieta] next year, and $20 million the year after that, that affects our team payroll, obviously," Klentak said. "The fact that it’s coming from a starting pitcher, or that it is Jake Arrieta specifically, that has less to do with it. It’s more just how we balance out a payroll.

Free agents have until 5 p.m. on Friday to exclusively negotiate — or sign a one-year qualifying offer before Nov. 12 — with their 2018 club. Then, it is fair game for any club to sign any free agent. This offseason will surely be interesting for the Phillies, to say the least.

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