The Phillies have been aggressively shopping for controllable pitching this winter, as the team has “inquired on just about every young starter that could be traded this winter,” Matt Gelb and Matt Breen of Philly.com report. This list of targets include their previously-reported interest in Chris Archer, and the Phillies also checked in with the Blue Jays about Marcus Stroman and the Royals about Danny Duffy.
It’s clear that Philadelphia is looking to take its rebuild to the next level, after signing Carlos Santana and even adding veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek on multi-year contracts. The rotation remains a major need for the club — Aaron Nola is the only member of a young projected starting five that looks like a solid bet for 2018. It has been expected that the Phillies would try to land at least one veteran innings-eater this winter, though they’re apparently also setting their sights higher for a pitcher that could contribute when the team returns to contention.
Of the two new names mentioned in the Phillies’ search, Stroman is by far the less likely to be available. The Jays are planning to contend in 2018, and moving Stroman would be an even bigger indicator of a total rebuild than even a trade of Josh Donaldson, given that Donaldson is only under contract for one more season. Stroman, by contrast, still has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining. MLBTR projects him to earn $7.2MM this winter through the arb process, and while Stroman’s price tag will continue to grow through his arbitration years, Toronto will happily shoulder that cost if Stroman keeps producing as he did in 2017. Stroman posted a 3.09 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.65 K/BB rate and a league-best 62.1% grounder rate over 201 innings, cracking the 200-inning threshold for the second consecutive season.
Duffy, on the other hand, has already drawn a lot of trade attention this winter, with the Cubs, Yankees, and Orioles reportedly among the teams interested. The Royals seem to be on the verge of a rebuild given all of their expected free agent losses, though they aren’t yet “aggressively shopping” Duffy’s services. It was just 11 months ago that K.C. locked Duffy up on a five-year, $65MM extension with the hope that he would be one of the cornerstone pieces of the next era of Royals baseball, though it remains to be seen just how extensive a rebuild the Royals may have in mind. If the team hopes to reload over a year or two, Duffy will still be an asset for when Kansas City aims to once again open a contention window.
If a longer rebuild is necessary, the $60MM remaining on Duffy’s contract makes him a logical trade chip. The Phillies certainly have the open payroll space to accommodate his salary; Santana, Neshek, Hunter, and Odubel Herrera are the only players beyond the 2018 season. Philadelphia has widely been expected to target the top stars of next year’s free agent class, though the team has gotten a jump-start on that plan now by landing Santana. Given the Phillies’ payroll flexibility, they could try to land their desired pitching help by offering to take another big and/or undesirable contract off the the other team’s hands with little prospect capital going back in return. (In the Royals’ case, for instance, the Phillies could offer to take on Ian Kennedy’s deal in order to land Duffy.)