A place to grow

Phils want to de­velop pitchers in­stead of re­ly­ing on free agents

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Scott Lauber

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.

MICHAEL DILL/MICHAEL DILL

Phillies pitch­ing prospect Spencer Howard, 23, continues to progress at Dou­ble-A Read­ing. He has a 3.32 ERA through four starts.

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