Phillies remaining patient in starter search
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If an agent has an unemployed starting pitcher as a client, it is a safe bet he has talked with the Phillies in recent weeks.
The Phillies probably like the attention.
It means pitchers still need homes, which means the Phillies can remain patient and wait for the market to come to them. Everybody in the baseball world knows the Phillies are looking for starting pitching. Everybody knows they have money to spend. But the Phillies have no plans to overpay for one, either.
The Phillies are interested in Jacob Arrieta, who remains the biggest arm available. But MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Thursday that the Phillies have been in contact recently with Lance Lynn's agent, and that the Phillies might be open to signing two of the remaining free-agent starters.
That, however, is highly unlikely.
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But it is reasonable to assume the Phillies have heard from Alex Cobb's agent in recent weeks, too. Lynn and Cobb are considered the top two consolation prizes for teams that miss out on Arrieta.
Of course, if the Phillies are reluctant to sign Arrieta for more than three years, which was explained in a story Monday, they are even more unlikely to sign Lynn or Cobb to a long-term contract. Previous reports had Lynn and Cobb seeking multiyear contracts similar to ones signed in recent seasons by Ian Kennedy (five years, $70 million), Mike Leake (five years, $80 million) and Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million).
The Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million contract in December, but even that might be too much for the Phillies.
First, the Phillies, like most teams, do not consider Lynn and Cobb elite-level starters. So rather than sink tens of millions of dollars into a No. 3-5 starter, they believe it makes more sense to move forward with the arms they already have in the system in Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, etc., and find an ace later.
The analytics for Lynn and Cobb, like the analytics for Arrieta, give the Phillies serious pause. Lynn and Cobb do not miss many bats. Lynn ranked 77th (19.7 percent) and Cobb ranked 98th (17.3 percent) out of 125 starting pitchers (100-plus innings) last season in strikeout percentage. Lynn ranked 82nd (10.2 percent) and Cobb ranked 131st (7.5 percent) out of 139 starting pitchers (1,500 or more pitches) in swinging strike rate.
At least Lynn limited the hard contact. Of the 128 starters that generated at least 300 batted balls, he had the second-lowest hard-hit rate (26.4 percent).
But Lynn's walk rate (10.1 percent) ranked 13th. He also had the biggest gap (1.39) between his FIP (4.82) and ERA (3.43), indicating he overperformed his numbers.
Cobb (0.50) ranked 29th with a 4.16 FIP vs. a 3.66 ERA.
The 2018 projections for Lynn and Cobb have them anywhere between 1.5 WAR and 2.8 WAR, which is roughly average.
Those numbers reinforce the Phillies' belief that a multiyear contract is unwise.
Second, both Lynn and Cobb rejected qualifying offers from the Cardinals and Rays, respectively. It means the Phillies would have to forfeit another top Draft pick -- they already lost one when they signed Carlos Santana in December -- plus $500,000 in international money to sign either of them.
It is a steep price to pay.
So if the Phillies sign Lynn or Cobb, it seems they will have come to them with a contract the Phillies cannot refuse. That might mean a one-year contract or a two-year deal with a relatively low average annual value. It could happen, but so could Arrieta. And if the Phillies sign none of them? They are confident they can find a pitcher in the future.