Not signing Corbin could bite Phillies in a big way
With playoff hopes slim, series started versus lefty they let join the Nationals
Just win, baby. Gabe Kapler will do his best Al Davis this week in Washington, but it likely will not be enough to rally his team for five games in four days against the Nationals.
“We’re going to have to win out,” Kapler said after the Phillies lost two of three to Cleveland.
The Phillies could win their final eight games and still miss the playoffs. They will face Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg. Good luck. The Phils’ wild-card chances are running thin, and they’ll likely be extinguished before the team leaves D.C. A disappointing season is entering its final week.
“We understand that’s a tall task,” Kapler said of winning the final eight games. “We also understand that’s a possibility. There’s not a guy in that room that’s not going to fight to the very end.”
The Phillies began a five-game series Monday night by facing Patrick Corbin, the Nationals left-hander who has a 2.76 ERA since the All-Star break and has registered the National League’s second-highest groundball rate in the second half and still struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings.
Facing Corbin is a challenge for any lineup and it is a challenge the Phillies could have avoided had they signed him this winter. The Phillies hosted Corbin last winter at Citizens Bank Park, but ultimately walked away when the Nationals offered Corbin a six-year contract, one year longer than the Phillies were willing to go.
The Phillies are leery of signing pitchers to long-term contracts. Team president Andy MacPhail said after last season that 80% of what happens in
baseball is decided by what happens on the mound, but “going out and trying to procure pitching either through free agency or trades when they get into their 30s is a dicey proposition.”
That’s why the Phillies walked away from Corbin. But a year earlier, they signed Jake Arrieta — then a 32-year-old who was showing signs of regression — to a three-year contract. Both Corbin and Arrieta will be 34 when their contracts are complete.
Arrieta’s contract was shorter, but his average annual value is higher than Corbin’s. The Phillies are paying Arrieta a premium price ($25 million per year) for his age 32, 33, and 34 seasons. The Nationals are paying Corbin $23.3 million for his age 29-34 seasons.
The first half of Corbin’s contract will likely cover his prime years as one of baseball’s elite left-handers. The second half could include his regression. For the Nationals, that’s fine. They’re paying for what they get in the first three years, not the last three.
But the Phillies, when they signed Arrieta, paid a price but did not receive the rewards of having the pitcher in his prime. That’s where it gets dicey.
Imagine if the Phillies were able to sign Arrieta to a six-year deal before the 2015 season. They would have signed a Cy Young winner and a pitcher who had a 2.71 ERA over three years. The Phillies would have had an elite pitcher in his prime. And that’s the bet the Nationals made on Corbin: Give us three elite years.
The Phillies will have to sign a free-agent pitcher this offseason. Last year, they walked away from Corbin and clung to Nick Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin. That did not work.
This year’s Corbin is Gerrit Cole, the Astros right-hander who leads the free-agent class and will attract even more suitors than Corbin did. The Phillies will be in on him. This time, the Phillies can’t walk away.
Notes: In case you were watching “Sunday Night Football” or the Emmys, the Phillies were boat raced Sunday night in Cleveland. Vince Velasquez and Rhys Hoskins struggled and the Phillies were pushed to the brink of wild-card elimination.
If the Phillies miss the playoffs, it will be the eighth straight season without postseason baseball in Philadelphia. Of the 15 National League clubs, only the Phillies, Marlins, and Padres have failed to make the playoffs after 2011.
None of the three have had a winning season in that span, and only the Marlins have had a second-place finish.