The Phillies’ pair of playoff misses in 2018-19 prompted a managerial change, and with veteran skipper Joe Girardi now at the helm, postseason expectations are even higher. With those postseason aspirations comes the expectation of an active offseason — a topic which general manager Matt Klentak discussed with Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on the 94WIP Midday Show yesterday (link includes full audio). Unsurprisingly, bolstering the rotation is a key goal for the Phils.
“We’ve built a pretty solid core, we think, on the position-player front,” said Klentak. “So I think it makes sense for us to look to pour some more resources, and our time and attention, into improving our run prevention. That starts in the starting rotation.”
Aaron Nola will once again head up the Phillies’ starting staff in 2020, and Klentak said within the interview that Jake Arrieta is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training after undergoing August surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. (The hope, of course, is that better health from Arrieta will lead to better results than 2019’s 4.64 ERA in 135 innings.) Beyond that pairing, 25-year-old righty Zach Eflin seems likeliest to have a tentative rotation spot, although he briefly lost his starting gig in 2019. The team’s other primary starters in 2019 — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas — either struggled greatly (Pivetta, Velasquez), have since departed via free agency (Smyly) or both (Vargas).
At bare minimum, it’d seem the Phillies have two rotation vacancies to address. The good news is that this year’s free-agent market is deeper than many recent offseasons in terms of starters. Fans, however, shouldn’t necessarily hang their hopes on Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or Zack Wheeler coming to town. While Klentak didn’t firmly decree that the team won’t sign a player that has rejected a qualifying offer, he implied that the organization will need to stop doing so at some point.
“I’m more bullish on the farm system than some,” the GM explained when asked about improving his minor league talent base. “One of the things we’ve got to try to do, if we can, is to not forfeit draft picks, and that’s hard when you’re fishing in the deep end of the free-agent pond. But we lost our second-round pick last year and our second and third the year before. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s where Scott Kingery comes from. That’s where Spencer Howard comes from. That’s where Connor Seabold comes from. … We’ve got to try to hang onto that as much as we can.”
Again, it’s not a firm declaration that such a move won’t happen. The Phillies certainly have the payroll capacity, in both the short- and long-term, to add a high-end arm on the open market, and they’ve clearly been willing to make draft sacrifices recently. But if the preference is to maintain as much draft capital as possible, the team could also look to non-qualified free agents to bolster the staff. Cole, Straburg, Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Odorizzi are the five starters that received (and will likely reject) qualifying offers.
Reigning NL ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, though, and the Cubs opted not to extend a QO to old friend Cole Hamels, who just yesterday expressed interest in a return to Philly. Other notable free-agent names include Dallas Keuchel, Michael Pineda and Rick Porcello, among many others.
Beyond the pitching staff, Klentak briefly touched on some notable points pertaining to the lineup. McCutchen, like Arrieta, is expected to be ready for day one of Spring Training after suffering a season-ending ACL tear back in June. Barring setbacks, he’ll reclaim a spot in the outfield, but the composition of that unit is in many ways dependent on the status of Odubel Herrera, who sat out the final 85 games of the season under a domestic violence suspension.
Klentak was noncommittal on Herrera’s future when asked, instead focusing his response on the competition that arose in center field during his absence. Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Kingery impressed in center, per the GM. Kingery, in particular, drew extensive praise from Klentak, who noted that the 25-year-old’s versatility is not only a luxury for the manager but for the front office.
“If we’re looking to add a bat, for instance, we don’t have to look at just one position,” said Klentak. “We can look at a variety of different spots, knowing that Scott Kingery can not just capably, but masterfully, fill in defensively just about anywhere. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s our best defensive second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and center fielder.”
The Phillies have a pair of trade/non-tender candidates at second base (Cesar Hernandez) and third base (Maikel Franco) in addition to the aforementioned uncertainty in center field, making that comfort with Kingery at four different positions particularly noteworthy. That creates a relatively blank canvas for Klentak and his staff when looking to improve the lineup and/or the defense. As is the case with the rotation, Klentak will have virtually innumerable avenues to explore, setting the stage for another offseason of heavy lifting for the Philly front office.