Cole Hamels

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

13 LHP options the Phillies may consider

Tim Kelly
October 16, 2018 - 10:44 am
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“We’re very right-handed, I wish we would be a little more left-handed,” wasn’t one of the headline-grabbing quotes from Philadelphia Phillies president Andy MacPhail’s season-ending press conference. And yet, it feels as though it should have been.

Related: Santana, Arrieta will still add value to Phils

In July, Ranger Suarez snapped a 267-game streak of the Phillies using all right-handed starting pitchers. While Suarez figures to be in the mix in 2019, this offseason may be the perfect time to add a left-handed starter, whether it comes in free-agency or via a trade.

Here’s a look at some external left-handed options that the Phillies could consider this offseason.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner was dominant in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, limiting the Braves to just two hits on 85 pitches in eight shutout innings. It’s a reminder that when healthy, the 30-year-old lefty is still one of the five best pitchers in the sport.

As 94WIP’s Joe Giglio pointed out, Kershaw’s potential impending free-agency hasn’t been discussed much. Part of that is because for the third consecutive season, injuries kept Kershaw from reaching the 200 innings mark. Another part is that the future Hall of Famer would have to opt-out of the nearly $70 million that he’s due over the next two seasons. Although it appears he will opt-out, it’s difficult to imagine Kershaw pitching for a team other than the Dodgers.

With that said, if he opts-out and reaches free-agency, anything is possible.

Kershaw, who will celebrate his 31st birthday during next Spring Training, has a fairly remarkable amount of innings on his arm already. Since his rookie season of 2008, Kershaw has racked up 2,096 innings. By comparison, National League Cy Young favorite Jacob deGrom, also 30, has 897.2 career innings. 34-year-old Max Scherzer has thrown just 20.1 more innings in his career than Kershaw. And Kershaw has thrown less than 180 innings in three consecutive seasons.

For the next two or three seasons, Kershaw may very well remain historically good when he’s on the mound. But he’s on the wrong side of 30 and it just feels like there are too many warning signs to ignore.  

2. Madison Bumgarner

Like Kershaw, Bumgarner could technically be a free-agent this offseason. But unlike Kershaw,  Bumgarner’s 2019 option is one that the club holds, and there’s a less than zero percent chance that the San Francisco Giants decline the former World Series MVP’s $12 million option.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Bumgarner couldn’t move this offseason. The Giants were 73-89 in 2018, which was actually an improvement over the 64-98 mark they posted in 2017. Future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy is entering the final season of his contract. The team dismissed Bobby Evans as their general manager late in September. When the Giants hire their next general manager, he could assess the team’s roster and decide that trading Bumgarner would be the most effective way to retool.

But like Kershaw, Bumgarner broke into the league at a young age - 19 actually. Through his age-28 season, Bumgarner has tossed 1,638.1 innings. That’s on top of over 100 career postseason innings. Between 2011 and 2016, Bumgarner topped the 200 innings mark every season. Over the past two seasons, he’s been limited to just 240.2 innings.

To be fair, two bad-luck injuries have limited Bumgarner over the past two seasons. In April of 2017, he sustained a grade-two sprain in his left shoulder (his throwing shoulder) while riding his dirt bike. In March of 2018, he broke his pitching hand when a ball was lined at him during Spring Training.

He hasn’t seen any notable velocity drop in the last two seasons - his average fastball velocity the past two seasons has been 91.4 miles-per-hour, as opposed to 91.7 miles-per-hour in 2016 - though he’s changed his approach as a pitcher. In 2018, Bumgarner used his fastball 34.2 percent of the time, down 14 percent since 2016. Meanwhile, his curveball usage increased to 22.2 percent in 2018, up nearly seven percent from 2017.

As he’s relied less on his fastball the past two seasons, Bumgarner has remained an effective pitcher when healthy, though the 3.1 combined fWAR he’s posted over the past two seasons feels underwhelming when you consider he averaged a 4.7 fWAR per season between 2014 and 2016.

At 29, it’s not unreasonable to think that Bumgarner, between injuries and a slight change to his approach, could rediscover the form (or find a new variation of the form) that made him one of the game’s elite starters. But when you consider acquiring him would involve surrendering prospects and signing him to a new long-term deal, trading for Bumgarner may not be as great of an idea as it sounds on the surface.

3. Patrick Corbin

“If he didn’t get $100 million, I would be [redacted] shocked,” an anonymous National League executive told Zach Buchanan of The Athletic of Patrick Corbin’s impending free-agency this offseason.

While the Arizona Diamondbacks are unlikely to give Corbin that type of money in free-agency, the New York Yankees have long been speculated as a landing spot for Corbin, who turned 29 in July. There appears to be some traction to that thought, as Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last week that the Yankees do indeed intend to make a push for the two-time All-Star this offseason.

Corbin’s excellence in 2018 was overshadowed by Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola. But he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, a 2.47 FIP and a 6.3 fWAR in 2018 - he was one of the seven best pitchers in the sport. Pairing him with Nola at the top of the Phillies rotation would give the Phillies a dynamic one-two punch.

The thing is, of all the high-profile free-agents this offseason, Corbin’s end destination may be the easiest to predict. The Yankees are interested in him. And in the midst of the finest season of his career in 2018, Corbin told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that it “would be great” to play for the Yankees, who he grew up rooting for.

4. Yusei Kikuchi

"He's a solid three (third starter), maybe better than that." That’s what a scout told Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports on Kikuchi, who he says the Phillies have kept tabs on.

The 27-year-old, if posted by the Saitama Seibu Lions, could be an interesting fit for the Phillies. He would check off the box of giving the Phillies a left-handed starter, while improving a rotation that saw four-fifths of its starters post ERAs north of five after the All-Star Break.

Since the Matt Klentak/Andy MacPhail front-office took over after the 2015 offseason, the Phillies have done their best to step out of their comfort zone. It’s been well-documented that the Phillies have invested a ton into becoming one of the more analytically savvy teams. But one other area where the Phillies were behind the curve in prior regimes was signing high-profile foreign talents. In the case of Asian players, the Phillies are at a geographic disadvantage. Teams on the West Coast will always have an advantage in luring Asian players. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox - who have employed other high-profile Asian players - are the exceptions. But signing Kikuchi, even if he isn’t as coveted as Shohei Ohtani, Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideki Matsui were, would be a major moment for the organization.

5. Cole Hamels

Like many, I was wrong about Cole Hamels. The Cubs traded next-to-nothing for him prior to the non-waiver trade deadline and hit the jackpot. After going 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts for the Texas Rangers, a change of scenery did wonders for Hamels, who went 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts for the Cubs.

Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer now face the interesting dilemma of either picking up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 or buying his option out for $6 million, which would allow him to become a free-agent. Given the spark that Hamels was for the Cubs, one would lean towards thinking exercising the option would make sense. But the Cubs also have $70.5 million committed to the quartet of Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana in 2019, so they may not want to commit $20 million to Hamels, despite how well he pitched for them.

Hamels and those close to Hamels didn’t shy away from discussing a potential return to Philadelphia over the summer. General manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies never seemed to make a serious push, but it’s unclear if they would be more interested in free-agency. Frankly, it’s hard to gauge what Hamels’ market would look like in free-agency - teams wouldn’t be shy to pay him in 2019, but it’s unclear how many years would they be willing to commit to Hamels, who will turn 35 in December.

The other scenario is that the Cubs pick up Hamels’ option and look to trade him. In that scenario, Hamels would be an intriguing target, though not one teams would likely be willing to part with substantive prospects for.

6. Derek Holland

When Holland has been healthy, the 32-year-old has been very productive.

He posted a 3.42 ERA, a 3.44 FIP and a 4.3 fWAR across 213 innings for the Texas Rangers in 2013. That was two seasons after going 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and a 3.0 fWAR for the Rangers in 198 innings.

Holland was actually released by the Chicago White Sox late in the 2017 season, where he tried to rebound after two consecutive injury-riddled seasons. But while the San Francisco Giants didn’t have a successful season in 2018, Holland regained some of his old form this season, which could make him an interesting free-agent option.

Holland topped the 170 innings mark for the first time in five seasons in 2018, posting a 3.57 ERA, 3.87 FIP and 2.0 fWAR. In signing Holland, the Phillies would take the risk that he isn’t able to stay healthy and his season becomes a wash, like past Klentak pickups Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz. However, both of those two pitchers found success after leaving the Phillies, a sign that perhaps the Phillies just haven’t had the best of luck.

7. Dallas Keuchel

Last offseason, the Phillies signed a former Cy Young Award winner on the wrong side of 30 to a lucrative three-year deal. Keuchel probably has more left than Jake Arrieta did after 2016, but like Arrieta, he’s not the pitcher he was when he reached 20 wins in 2015. He was the fourth best starting pitcher on his own team in 2018.

Still, like Arrieta last season, Keuchel will probably get a three of four-year contract in free-agency. It may take him being patient on the free-agent market, but he’ll get taken care of this offseason, even if it isn’t as well as it appeared he would a few seasons ago. Just don’t expect that type of contract to come from the Phillies.

8. CC Sabathia

Prior to the 2008 non-waiver-trade deadline, Pat Gillick and the Philadelphia Phillies were one of the teams that attempted to acquire reigning American League Cy Young Award winner from the Cleveland Indians. Ultimately, Sabathia was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he had one of the most dominant second halves in baseball history. In 17 starts for the Brewers, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, throwing seven complete games.

While Sabathia helped the Brewers to reach the postseason for the first time in the National League in 2008, he ran out of gas against the Phillies, as Shane Victorino helped the Phillies to dispose of Sabathia’s squad in four games. A year later, Sabathia, now a New York Yankee, won a World Series title at the Phillies expense.

Sabathia, now 38, just completed his 10th season with the Yankees. He’ll probably be on the outside looking in when his Hall of Fame case comes up, but despite incredible moments with the Brewers and Indians, he’ll be remembered as a Yankee.

And Sabathia, fresh off of having his right knee operated on for the second consecutive offseason, may very well return to New York for an 11th season. However, he told Marc Craig of The Athletic in September that he plans to play in 2019, even if the Yankees don’t want to retain him.

Depending on whether the Yankees are able to land Corbin in free-agency - and/or retain the next name on our list - the team could aim to re-sign Sabathia. Either way, Sabathia figures to reach free-agency for the first time in a decade. While the six-time All-Star may not be the workhorse he once was, he went 9-7 with a 3.65 ERA, 4.16 FIP and 2.5 fWAR in 29 starts spanning 153.0 innings in 2018. If he’s still capable of putting up those numbers in the American League East, you can bet he would be a productive addition to the Phillies rotation on a one-year deal.

9. J.A. Happ

Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported in July that the Phillies were interested in Happ, who began his major league career with the club. Ultimately, Haap was traded to the Yankees. Despite a 4.21 FIP in 11 regular season starts for the Bronx Bombers, Haap went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA, proving to be one of the summer’s best pickups.

Happ’s overall success in New York may get lost in the fact that he lasted just two innings and gave up five runs in Game 1 of the ALDS. That Haap - an All-Star in 2018, but the obvious weak link in the Game 1 matchup against Chris Sale - got the ball to open a playoff series for the Yankees suggests the team may aim higher this offseason as they look to keep pace with the Red Sox. In fact, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports says that while the Yankees could re-sign Happ, the aforementioned Corbin is their No. 1 starting pitching target this offseason.

That leaves the Phillies, who could use a stable veteran arm in their rotation as a pretty good fit for Happ, who will turn 36 later this month. Returning to the Phillies, a team that once traded him to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt, just as the team is ready to contend would represent things coming full circle for the former third-round pick.

10. Danny Duffy

The duo of Matt Gelb and Matt Breen, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, noted last offseason that Kansas City Royals LHP Danny Duffy was among the controllable starting pitchers that the Phillies had inquired on. Though there’s no indication that talks between the Phillies and the Royals ever got particularly hot, this could be something the club revisits this offseason.

Duffy, who will turn 30 in December, is owed just $46 million through 2021. A year ago, that made him one of the most attractive potential trade candidates. But after posting a 3.46 ERA and 3.5 fWAR in 2017, Duffy posted a 4.88 ERA, a 4.70 FIP and a 1.1 fWAR in 155.0 innings. The Royals, who finished with the second-worst record in baseball, ultimately shut Duffy down early in September with an impingement in his throwing shoulder.

A World Series champion with the Royals in 2015, Duffy famously tweeted in the midst of last December’s MLB Winter Meetings that he wanted to be “buried a Royal.” That may not happen, but trading him this offseason would seem to be selling low, something a small-market team like the Royals can’t afford to do.

11. Hyun-jin Ryu

In 557.2 career innings in the major leagues, Ryu has a 3.20 ERA and a 3.40 FIP. In 2018, Ryu posted a 1.97 ERA, a 3.00 FIP and a 2.0 fWAR in just 15 starts. When he’s on the mound, Ryu is an excellent No. 2 or No. 3 starter for a contending team, making him, in theory, a great fit for the Phillies.

But while Ryu turned in a dominant seven-inning performance for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS, it’s fair to wonder, given his injury history, if he would be a wise investment. He missed the entire 2015 season (and nearly all of the 2016 campaign) after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. Groin injuries have plagued the 31-year-old lefty over the past three seasons.

Ultimately, how appealing Ryu is as a free-agent could come down to whether he’s looking for a multi-year deal in free-agency. If there’s a team willing to be aggressive - like the Houston Astros were when they rewarded Charlie Morton with a two-year deal after the 2016 season, despite him making just four starts for the Phillies that year - then Ryu may not be a fit. But the Phillies have shown a willingness to spend short-term dollars, and if Ryu signs a one-year deal in hopes of showing teams he’s worth a long-term investment, he could make quite a bit of sense for the Phillies.  

12. Mike Minor

The former Atlanta Braves first-round pick wouldn’t be a sexy pickup, though he’s perhaps one of the more realistic names on this list.

Now 30, Minor posted a 2.2 fWAR for the second consecutive season, though his 4.18 ERA and 4.43 FIP across 157 innings for the Texas Rangers don’t jump off the page.

Still, the Texas Rangers are at the very least in the midst of a retool. Even if you admit that Minor is unlikely to top his 2013 season - when he went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA and 3.5 fWAR - he still could be worth taking a flier on. Minor is due $9.83 million over each of the next two seasons, and when healthy, he’s worth much more than that.

The other intriguing part about Minor is that while you likely would acquire him with the thought of him being your No. 4 stater, he was extremely effective for the Kansas City Royals out of the bullpen in 2016. In 65 games, he posted a 2.55 ERA and 2.62 FIP. It’s never a bad thing to have extra left-handed relief options, as evidenced by the fact that Hoby Milner entered the 2018 season as one of the Phillies two left-handed options and finished the 2018 season in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

13. Robbie Ray

There’s growing speculation that the Arizona Diamondbacks could tear things down this offseason. They are likely going to lose the aforementioned Corbin and A.J. Pollock in free-agency this offseason. Paul Goldschmidt can be a free-agent after 2019, and at 31, the Diamondbacks could consider moving the greatest position player in their franchise’s history.

So sure, a trade for Ray, a 27-year-old under team control through 2020, isn’t impossible. Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen called the team’s future “a little TBD” to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic last week.

The guess here, however, is the Diamondbacks will have a very high asking-price on Ray, who is just a season removed from going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA. And why wouldn’t they? Their top arm, Corbin, likely won’t return in 2019. The Diamondbacks reportedly were willing to listen to offers for Zack Greinke last offseason, and that was before his average fastball velocity dipped to just 90 miles-per-hour in 2018. Greinke, who will turn 35 next week, was still very effective in 2018, but considering he’s owed over $100 million between 2019 and 2021, there may be more of a sense of urgency to move him than Ray.

If both Corbin and Greinke aren’t with the Diamondbacks in 2019, Ray will slide to the top of the rotation with Zack Godley. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a price that could get the Diamondbacks to trade him, but it will likely be excessive for someone that profiles as a No. 3 starter on a contending team.

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