A place to grow
Phils want to develop pitchers instead of relying on free agents
With the Phillies fans coming off a sour series loss to the Padres over the weekend, think about this: Entering the twogame series that began Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox are actually the more desperate team.
Heading into Tuesday, the Phillies, for as poorly as they have played, remained within two games of the second wildcard spot in the National League.
The Red Sox are very nearly buried. They were six games back in the American League wild-card race and trailed the Yankees by a whopping 16 games in the AL East.
The Phillies have a 9.6% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. The Red Sox are at 7.1 %.
When Aaron Nola took the mound for the Phillies on Tuesday night, the Red Sox got a look at something they haven’t had for a while: a homegrown, costeffective starting pitcher.
Hard to believe, Harry, as Richie Ashburn would undoubtedly say, but the Red Sox haven’t drafted and developed a fulltime member of their rotation since Clay Buchholz arrived on the scene in 2007.
We mention this here because the Phillies are reaching a crossroads with their rotation. They wagered on Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff taking steps forward this season in their development. Instead, each has regressed.
Their backslides have left the Phillies looking for solutions, including crossing their fingers that 23-year-old prospect Spencer Howard continues to progress in Double A. (He has a 3.32 ERA through four starts.)
The Red Sox overcame the inability to develop starters by buying free agent David Price for $217 million, trading for Rick Porcello and signing him to an $82.5 million extension, and emptying their farm system in a blockbuster ftrade or Chris Sale, whom they recently signed for $145 million.
The result: three consecutive division titles and a 2018 World Series crown.
Swell, but the bill is coming due. Price and Porcello have struggled this year, with the latter almost certain to leave via free agency at season’s end. Sale is done for the season because of elbow problems, and who knows what his future holds?
Nathan Eovaldi, acquired in a trade last season and re-signed to a four-year, $68 million deal, has been injured this season too.
The Phillies have firsthand experience with the perils of finding pitching in free agency. (See: Arrieta, Jake.) Other than Nola, they haven’t been successful recently with finding pitchers in the draft.
All of this underscores how much the Phillies need Howard to develop.
The alternative is unsustainable.
Notes: Good news on former Phillies second baseman Tony
Taylor, who is back home in Miami and recovering from a series of strokes suffered earlier this month while attending the team’s alumni weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
Cole Hamels’ return to the mound at Citizens Bank Park last week got us thinking about the possibility of a more permanent encore for the former Phillies ace. Hamels is eligible for free agency at season’s end. He also will turn 36 in December.
Given the likelihood that Hamels will be seeking a multiyear deal and the obvious risks of signing free-agent pitchers in their 30s ( see: Arrieta, Jake ), it’s worth looking at the aging curves of some recent pitchers to determine if a two- or three-year contract offer would be prudent.
Over the last 50 years, 66 pitchers have made at least 60 starts between ages 36 and 38. Of those, 44 have posted an adjusted-ERA of at least 100, which is considered the league average. And of those, 18 have pitched since 2000 (Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Rich Hill, Curt Schilling, Hiroki Kuroda, Greg Maddux, John Lackey, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, CC Sabathia, John Burkett, Andy Pettitte, Rick Reed, Mike Mussina, Tim Hudson, Kenny Rogers and knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield).
Hamels’ age 33 to 35 seasons, in which he has produced a 118 adjusted-ERA in 76 starts (448
1⁄3 innings, 3.89 ERA), suggest a pitcher who isn’t as effective as he once was but effective enough to be at least a solid No. 3 starter. Want to bet he finds at least one team that is willing to overpay him?
The Phillies need at least one, probably two starting pitchers. Hamels could help, but at what price?
Wednesday: Drew Smyly vs. Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello, 7:10 p.m.
Thursday: Of -day for Phillies, but Extra Innings carries on.
Friday: Phillies open a threegame series in Miami, 7:10 p.m. Monday: Phillies return home to face the Pirates, 7:05 p.m.
Phillies pitching prospect Spencer Howard, 23, continues to progress at Double-A Reading. He has a 3.32 ERA through four starts.