Not sign­ing Corbin could bite Phillies in a big way

With play­off hopes slim, se­ries started ver­sus lefty they let join the Na­tion­als

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Matt Breen

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.

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