LAS VEGAS -- Could the Phillies really enter next season with the same rotation that finished last season? It seems more possible every day.
The Phillies prioritized free-agent left-handers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ to boost their rotation this offseason, but Corbin last week signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Nationals and Happ agreed to a two-year contract with a vesting option for 2021 with the Yankees. The Phillies never considered a six-year offer for Corbin. It is unclear if they offered five. The Phillies never offered more than two guaranteed years for Happ, who turned 36 in October. It is unclear if they included a third-year option, but whatever they offered, it appears it was not enough.
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"Our starting pitching was the strength of our team last year," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Wednesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings. "I know that it faltered at the end. I'm not trying to hide behind that. I know that they struggled late. But for most of the season, the starting rotation was the strength of the team. For us to make an acquisition, we have to be very confident that it is moving the needle and that it's a sound investment. I'm not certain we'll wind up on that, but we're going to continue to explore it."
Free-agent left-handers Dallas Keuchel, Yusei Kikuchi and Wade Miley are available. Keuchel and Kikuchi are clients of agent Scott Boras. They will not come cheap. In the case of Keuchel and Miley, the Phillies prefer starters that have high swing-and-miss rates. Kikuchi throws hard, but the Phillies might not view him as a significant upgrade over the team's current group that they will meet Boras' price.
The Indians are shopping former American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and right-hander Trevor Bauer. Kluber would "move the needle," but the price for him is understandably steep. The Phillies might not want to part with the players and prospects to land him. D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray makes sense, but he might not be available.
Other starters left the market Wednesday, further diminishing the Phillies' options. Right-hander Charlie Morton agreed to terms with the Rays. Lance Lynn did the same with the Rangers. The Nationals traded Tanner Roark to the Reds.
So yes, the Phillies' 2019 rotation might be Aaron Nola, Jacob Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez, with Jerad Eickhoff, Enyel De Los Santos and others in the mix. The Phillies' rotation last season posted a top-ranked 11.9 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. But after it compiled a 3.81 ERA and 3.57 FIP through July 31, it posted a 4.77 ERA and 4.04 FIP the rest of the way.
"It was more apparent last year that we needed to add to our rotation than it is now," Klentak said. "I'm not telling you that we're going to do something for sure or we're not going to do anything. I don't know. But our rotation was in pretty good shape last year. A lot of these guys now have a full season in the big leagues and learned a lot going through some growing pains. The depth behind them is a year more developed and ready to compete at the Major League level. We're going to continue to explore that market, and if there's an upgrade that makes sense, we will absolutely pursue it. We're not going to do it just to do it."