Sport: Thoughts on the Phillies’ pitching search, with four targets who could offer some value

Phillies in position for major free-agent move at shortstop after parting with Jean Segura

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Years ago, a former member of the Phillies’ front office was asked whether a certain pitcher could be a viable rotation piece. The longtime baseball man wrinkled his face and shook his head.

“Not in this ballpark,” he said.

As the Phillies evaluate this year’s crop of free agents and trade candidates in their annual attempt to cobble together a functional rotation and bullpen staff, it is impossible to separate the pitcher from the home stadium. This is true across baseball, to varying degrees. In few places is it as central a variable as it is at Citizens Bank Park. Every offseason forces the Phillies to confront a paradox. They are a team that needs to find value in the pitching market. Yet the pitching market does not view the Phillies as a great place to provide value.

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Consider a guy like Matthew Boyd. You might remember the name from the 2019 trade deadline rumor mill, when the lefty was mentioned as a potential fit for a Phillies team that was in the market for pitching help. At the time, he was in the midst of a second straight season of 31-plus starts, 170-plus innings and a league-average ERA. He would also finish the year allowing a league-worst 39 home runs.

Three years later, Boyd enters the offseason as one of those bounce-back candidates who can be attractive to teams who are looking to add some upside to their books at a minimal up-front cost. After a yearlong layoff due to an elbow problem that eventually required surgery, Boyd reemerged in the Mariners bullpen in September and showed enough stuff to make you wonder if he might have a solid next act as a reliever. He held opponents scoreless in nine of his 10 outings, striking out 13 batters in 13⅓ innings without allowing an extra-base hit. He struck out seven of the 26 lefties he faced. Only five of them reached base.

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In short, Boyd has the sort of profile that could be attractive to the Phillies, who currently have five open slots in their bullpen and rotation and few qualified internal candidates to fill them. Sign him to a low guarantee plus incentives, and maybe you get lucky. That’s certainly what the Giants were thinking last season when they gave Boyd $5.2 million despite knowing he would not be available for at least the first two or three months of the season. (They traded Boyd to Seattle in August.) Might a similar deal with a lesser up-front cost make sense for the Phillies?

The more relevant question might be whether such a deal makes sense for Boyd. After all, the Giants play in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in baseball. For a 31-year-old looking to rebuild his value and land another decent big-league contract or two, a place like Oracle Park is a much better place to put up the kind of numbers that would make him more of a commodity a year from now. All other things being equal, why sign up for 81 games in Citizens Bank Park?

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It’s a question that underscores the difficulty the Phillies face in attempting to build pitching depth during the offseason. Not only do they need to find pitchers whose skill sets translate to Citizens Bank Park, they also need to find pitchers who see the opportunity to pitch there as good career move.

Consider the Phillies’ experience with Matt Moore. He was a bounce-back candidate in 2021 when they signed him to a $3 million deal after a stint in Japan. He ended up allowing 15 home runs in 73 innings with a 6.29 ERA. One year later, Moore signed with the Rangers for $2.38 million and is coming off a season in which he allowed three home runs in 74 innings with a 1.95 ERA. Moore is now back on the free-agent market. But it’s hard to imagine a reunion with the Phillies, from either side’s perspective.

The considerations are the same at the top of the market. The Padres got plenty of value from Robert Suarez this season after signing him to a two-year, $11 million deal out of Japan. But he was a completely different pitcher outside of the spacious confines of Petco Park. At home, Suarez allowed 18 baserunners in 24 scoreless innings. On the road, he allowed 36 baserunners in 23⅔ innings, with four home runs and a 4.56 ERA. The Padres just signed Suarez to a five-year, $46 million extension. Clearly, it would not have made sense for the Phillies to offer him anything close.

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“It’s a volatile position,” Phillies president Dave Dombrowski said. “But you see a couple of clubs that right now, they’ve really gone big into it.”

Only a fool would rule the Phillies out of the top of the free-agent market, where veterans like Justin Verlander and Kenley Jansen could demand pricey short-term deals. But here are four pitchers who could offer the Phillies more value as they seek to bolster their pitching staff while also making a run at one of the four star shortstops available on this year’s free-agent market:

Andrew Chafin, LHP

There’s a lot to like about the 32-year-old reliever: a 2.29 ERA in 126 innings over the last two seasons. A 27.6% strikeout rate, 7.8% walk rate and 50% ground-ball rate in 2022 with the Tigers. Zero home runs allowed in 6⅔ career innings at Citizens Bank Park. Three home runs in 209 plate appearances against lefties over the last two seasons. Good numbers against righties. You’d expect him to be looking for multiple years above the $6.5 million option he turned down with Detroit. The only question is: How much above?

Chris Bassitt, RHP

He capped off a consistent, durable four-year run with a 3.42 ERA in 181⅔ innings for the Mets in his 33-year-old season. The Mets won both of his starts at Citizens Bank Park in 2022, with Bassitt allowing three runs and one home run with eight strikeouts and no walks in 11⅔ innings.

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Adam Ottavino, RHP

He’s heading into his 37-year-old season, but he’s coming off an excellent year: 2.06 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in 65⅔ innings with the Mets. In 12 career innings at Citizens Bank Park he has allowed one home run with 14 strikeouts and four walks. Presumably, he’ll be looking for a raise over the $4 million he earned in 2022. Would make some sense as a front-of-the-bullpen type.

Jose Quintana, LHP

Heading into his 34-year-old season, Quintana made the most of his bounce-back campaign, posting a 2.93 ERA in 165⅔ innings and throwing 5⅔ scoreless innings against the Phillies in the wild-card round. He has allowed two home runs in 23 innings at Citizens Bank Park. The Pirates signed him for $2 million last year after a rough 2021. A price tag around $10 million could make him an option to consider for the Phillies as they look for another starter.

The Phillies will also need to make as many low-cost dart throws as the market allows them. They hit on one last offseason in Andrew Bellatti, who emerged as a competent middle-innings type after signing a low-cost November deal.

As always, luck is a big component. A perfect offseason would see the Phillies emerge with a starter and two or three relievers who can make a positive impact. That’s a tall order, but it can be done.

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Last offseason, the Dodgers committed a combined $29 million over five years to sign pitchers Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Daniel Hudson, and Yency Almonte. Those four combined to throw 311 innings and allow 86 earned runs during the regular season. Heaney and Anderson combined to start 42 games.

The more common experience is that of the Cardinals. Last offseason, they spent $50.7 million over six years to bring in a trio of arms, the bulk of that in the form of a four-year, $44 million deal to former Mets and Blue Jays starter Steven Matz. That group gave them a total of 98⅔ innings with an ugly 5.75 ERA.

Stay tuned.

Phillies’ free-agent pitching options include few of the difference-makers they need

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