Phillies Free Agency: Ranking the Top Options at Starting Pitcher
On Monday, amid a flurry of activity. Phillies starting pitcher Zach Eflin chose to decline a $15M option for the 2023 season and teammate Noah Syndergaard also became a free agent, opening up two potential spots in the rotation.
For anyone that witnessed the Phillies loss to the Astros in the World Series, it should be clear that the Phillies need to add depth to their pitching staff. When the time came, they couldn’t rely on Bailey Falter to start a big playoff game and navigating a 7-game series without a solid 4th pitcher put them at a great disadvantage.
After a great rookie season, Bailey Falter appears to have put himself in the running to make the rotation on Opening Day but only the Phillies know whether or not they view him as a long-term option and someone who can start a playoff game.
There is also a handful of younger pitchers in the minors (Andrew Painter, Griff McGarry, Mick Abel) that will have a chance to make the team throughout the season. Yet, rookies rarely throw more than 100 innings in their first professional season and should not be counted on by a team hoping to return to the World Series.
If the Phillies indeed decide to dip into the free agent starting pitcher market, it should be with the goal of coming away with someone who can eat innings during the regular season and potentially start a playoff game.
Projected Phillies Starting Rotation:
- Zack Wheeler
- Aaron Nola
- Ranger Suarez
- Bailey Falter
Carlos Rodón, LHP
2022 Opening Day age: 30
Projected contract: 5 years, $130 million ($26M AAV)
Carlos Rodón may very well be the free-agent starting pitcher on the market, due to the fact that Jacob DeGrom and Justin Verlander will be 34 and 40 respectively on Opening Day. Phillies fans are clamoring for the team to sign both Trea Turner (who we featured yesterday in our shortstop preview) and Rodón who played together at NC State and made the Wolfpack’s only trip to the College World Series in 2013.
Rodón is a former 3rd overall pick in the 2014 Draft that struggled to live up to his #1 starter expectations with the Chicago White Sox. The last two seasons with the White Sox in 2021 and the Giants in 2022, Rodón was statically one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in baseball, producing an elite 10.5 WAR.
There is little question whether Rodón has elite stuff, he does. Carlos throws in the upper-90’s with a fantastic breaking ball that led to a 2.88 ERA last season in the Bay. If you only focused on the past two seasons, then Rodón would be a slam dunk ace who would demand a record breaking deal. But his history with durability and the subpart statistics he posted in his first six years in the league call into question whether he will remain elite over the course of a 5-year deal.
Signing Rodón to his expected contract AAV at $26MMM would make him the Phillies highest paid starting pitcher, surpassing Zack Wheeler. Since the Phillies signed Wheeler, he has made his contract look like a bargain based on his elite performance. Rodón’s addition could either give the Phillies the most dominant starting pitching rotation in the National League or become an albatross contract similar to Patrick Corbin with the Nationals.
It was only 2 season ago in the 2020 Covid season that Rodón posted a ghastly 8.22 ERA in only 7 innings. The year before was another injury plagued season with a 5.19 ERA over 34.2 innings.
So the question becomes whether you would rather sign DeGrom or Verlander to a short term deal at $35MM+ or take a risk on Rodón and his sporadic history as a top end starting pitcher. The Phillies would have to believe that Rodón will start one of the first two games of a playoff series to make this large of a commitment worth it.
Chris Bassitt, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 34
Projected contract: 3 years, $53 million ($18M AAV)
Later in this article, I will openly take a dump on one New York Mets starting pitcher in Taijuan Walker. But I am actually a big supporter of Chris Bassitt and how his game would translate to the success in Citizens Bank Park. Bassitt recently declined the one year qualifying offer (19.3MM) from the Mets and instead will likely seek a multi-year deal at or near that same AAV.
Bassitt will be 34-years old in 2023. Yet, even as he advances in age, his numbers remained very similar to his past 5 seasons. In 2022, he logged a 15-9 record, 3.42 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He also started Game 3 of the National League Wild Card Series for the Mets at Citi Field, a game the Mets lost 6-0 to the San Diego Padres.
Unlike his teammate Taijuan Walker, Chris Bassitt has logged 2.1 WAR or more in each of the last four seasons. His ERA was higher in 2022 (3.42), a slight tick up from his time pitching in a more friendly park in Oakland. Bassitt induced hitters into ground balls at a career-high rate of 49.1% in 2022 and logged over 150+ innings for the second straight campaign.
If the Phillies are comfortable with his elevated age and injury profile, then I think Bassitt would be a fantastic choice to be the 4th starter in the rotation, who when pitching well has the ability to start a playoff game. If the Phillies are serious about making a World Series run again next season, I would hope they recognize that they cannot have a pitcher like Noah Syndergaard starting in Game 5.
I full support the Phillies signing Bassitt given the financial terms of the deal are in line with his age and career numbers.
Jacob DeGrom, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 34
Projected contract: 3 years, $132 million ($44M AAV)
The past two years the once immortal Jacob DeGrom has struggled with injuries, tossing only 156 innings combined. That’s just 26 total starts for a guy that was making a whopping $44M per season. Now DeGrom is rumored to be demanding another multi-year deal at or above that $40M threshold.
For a Phillies team already looking like it will exceed the luxury tax, potentially adding on another monster salary to the payroll may be too rich even with the tantalizing upside that DeGrom offers.
Its a simple equation; If DeGrom returns healthy in 2023 and is back to being one of the best pitchers in the National League then the 40M+ is worth it. If not, the decision to sign DeGrom would leave the Phillies dangerously thin.
I believe the Phillies are much better off spending a large percentage of their payroll on an everyday player like Trea Turner or Carlos Correa rather than rolling the dice on the arm of a 34-year-old coming off 2 injury plagued seasons.
Justin Verlander, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 40
Projected contract: 2 years, $72 million ($36M AAV)
After a World Series defeat, I think every Phillies fans is well acquainted with Justin Verlander. There’s no getting around it, Verlander is one of the greatest pitchers of the 21st century and is favored to take home his 3rd Cy Young Award after dominating to the tune of an 18-4 record with a 1.75 ERA in 2022.
The only question mark surrounding Verlander is his advanced age and how hungry he remains to compete on an every day basis. It’s expected that Verlander will receive a 2-year deal with a raise on his $25MM he made last season. I doubt that Verlander has interest in playing for the Phillies, but if he did would it be smart for them to make such a large financial commitment to a pitcher moving into some uncharted historical territory?
Personally, I would rather take a risk on Jacob DeGrom coming back from an injury plagued season than depending on a 40-year-old Verlander. But I completely understand why a team wouldn’t hesitate to hand Verlander 35MM+ AAV over 2 years.
Verlander opted out of his contract on Thursday morning, officially making him a free agent.
Ross Stripling, RH
2022 Opening Day age: 33
Projected contract: 3 years, $36 million ($12M AAV)
Stripling, a native of Blue Bell, PA is an extremely average 38-38 with a 3.78 ERA over his 7-year career with the Dodgers and Jays. His effort in the 2022 season is widely considered to be career-best, after producing over 2.5 WAR for just the second time. Stripling doesn’t throw the ball with high velocity, strikeout hitters, or force hitters into ground balls at an elite rate which makes him a risky bet to pitch inside a hitter friendly park like CBP.
However, Stripling did throw over 100 innings for the second straight season and could perform the role of a back end of the rotation innings-eater. I think the Phillies would be better off signing a free agent pitcher from a lower tier willing to take a one year prove it deal. I don’t see any value in giving a pitcher of Stripling’s ability a multi-year deal with an AAV of 10MM+
For me, even though Stripling is a native of the Keystone State, he remains a hard pass.
Taijuan Walker, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 30
Projected contract: 4 years, $60 million ($15M AAV)
As one of the last people of my generation who still participates in a fantasy baseball league, I know more than I would like to admit about Taijuan Walker. Many Phillies fans are also familiar with his work over the last few years with the New York Mets. In short, Walker is a guy that bounces around from team to team all season, never stringing together enough quality starts to warrant a roster spot, but around every month he pitches a solid game with 10 strikeouts.
In 2022, Walker tied his career-best mark with 2.6 WAR and also posted the most wins (12) in his 10 years in the show. On paper, Walker would make a fantastic 4th or 5th starter on a contending team. Starting pitchers of his caliber have routinely signed 1 year deals in the $15-20 million range.
But Walker, who will be 30 when the 2023 season starts, will surely be looking to turn a career-year into the security of a long term deal. I don’t think Dave Dombrowski or the Phillies front office is particularly interested in handing out long term money to a pitcher who won’t be able to start a playoff game.
Unless the Phillies can convince Walker to take a higher AAV in lieu of a long term deal (very unlikely), I don’t believe the Phillies would be a good fit for a pitcher with such a spotty track record. In my opinion, signing a veteran pitcher coming off a career year to be in the back end of your rotation is a bad allocation of resources and I trust that the Phillies know this too.
THE BARGAIN BIN:
Noah Syndergaard, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 30
Projected contract: 1 year, $13.5 million
Phillies fans are well aware of Syndergaard’s limitations after an up and down few months in red pinstripes. Last season Thor carried a number above $20M, so cutting his contract by 1/3rd would certainly make his performance ceiling more palatable. There’s also reason to be optimistic that 2 being 2 seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, the big right hander from Texas will continue to improve his velocity and control.
I have no issue bringing back Syndergaard on a 1-year-deal, but would be hesitant to offer him anything stretching over multiple seasons.
Jose Quintana, LHP
2022 Opening Day age: 34
Projected contract: 2 years, $28 million ($14M AAV)
The Phillies had a chance to trade for Quintana at the trade deadline last August and chose instead to go with Syndergaard, while Quintana was shipped to St. Louis for the playoff run. Quintana is the definition of a veteran, crafty lefty, who no longer possesses above-average stuff.
Quintana pitched 160+ innings in 2022 after struggling for the previous two seasons and would be worth a shot on a deal that does not full guarantee the 2nd season. In the 12 games he started for St. Louis after being acquired from Pittsburgh, Quintana pitched to the tune of a 2.01 ERA.
Sean Manaea, RHP
2022 Opening Day age: 31
Projected contract: 1 year, $15 million
Manaea, a former 1st pick of the Athletics, he has produced 3 seasons over his 7-year career above 3.0 WAR. After being traded to the Padres before the 2022 seasons he struggled mightily in San Diego, posting a 4.96 ERA and grading out as a below-average starting pitcher.
There is a chance that the Padres could offer Manaea the 1-year Qualifying Offer at 19M with the hope that he finds his control and rebounds in 2023. If he does receive the QO, then any team that signs him would also be handing over a draft pick in addition to the risk of bringing him in on a multi-year deal.
I think Manaea falls into the Syndergaard camp, as a guy worth a shot on a 1-year deal if there is no draft pick attached to his signing.
2022 Opening Day age: 32
Projected contract: 2 years, $25 million ($12.5M AAV)
Perez had a career year, producing an elite 5.0 WAR in his 11th season in the big leagues. Statistically he was among the best 20 starting pitchers in all of baseball in 2022 and will most likely turn that performance into a multi-year deal. Much like Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt, Perez has a nasty ground ball rate above 50% and if he can turn in another season with a 20%+ strikeout rate he could be an extremely effective #4 starter.
Perez would be an interesting choice for the Phillies if they are indeed determined to improve the back end of the rotation.