The Philadelphia Phillies have a major problem with their starting pitching. Their offseason signees, namely Chase Anderson and Matt Moore, have been woefully ineffective. Anderson and Moore have combined for a 7.81 ERA in 7 starts. The Phillies are 2-5 in those seven starts. Neither starter has made it to the fifth inning. The back end of the Phillies rotation is putting their offense and their bullpen at a major disadvantage with their lack of quality innings.
The Phillies need to address this issue sooner rather than later. The problem however, is they do not have a clear internal option. Vince Velasquez (6.75 ERA) has proven time and again he is not a viable option either. Spencer Howard is stretching out to be a starter again, but apparently the plan is to use him as an opener and he is already on an innings limit. Finally, the Phillies sold their other high minors pitching depth to Boston for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree last season.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will most likely have to look outside of the organization to remedy the rotation. But, seeing as the season is only 21 games old, it’s impossible to really gauge the trade market. Buyers and sellers haven’t really taken shape this early and even eventual clear sellers may want to wait before waving the white flag. This leaves the free agent market.
Here are three options for the Phillies if they choose to make a change. Disclaimer: There is a reason these players are still available a month into the season. None of them are likely to provide a major impact, but it is reasonable to expect them to be upgrades on Moore and Anderson, at least marginally. There is the added caveat of the $210 competitive balance tax. As it stands, the Phillies have roughly $12.8M of room under the tax. They need to add at least one starting pitcher and a starting center fielder with that room if they do not choose to go over.
This is probably the most likely of the bunch. The 32-year-old right hander has a career record of 150-125 with an ERA of 4.40 in 355 games. Porcello was with the Red Sox for Dombrowski’s entire tenure with the team from 2015-2019, however Dombrowski was named president after Porcello was acquired. He went 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA over 964 innings pitched in 159 starts over that span.
Porcello had the best season of his career under Dombrowski in 2016. He went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 33 starts and won the American League Cy Young Award. However, he has a 4.87 ERA in 110 starts since that season. Porcello made 12 starts for the Mets last year and went 1-7 with a 5.64 ERA. He does not miss many bats (8th worst whiff% in 2020) and relies on getting weak contact to offset his 91 MPH average velocity. He played on a one year, $10M contract last year.
Leake is perhaps most famous for being called up to the majors by the Reds in 2010 without playing in the minors at all after being drafted in 2009. The 33-year-old is 105-98 for his career with a 4.05 ERA in 301 games. He averages just under 30 starts a season for his career. The right hander has played for four teams since being traded by the Reds at the deadline in 2015.
Leake’s best season was in 2013 when he went 14-7 with a 3.31 ERA in 31 starts for the Reds. Since being dealt by the Reds in 2015, Leake has a 4.29 ERA in 133 games. He has not pitched since 2019 as he opted out of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Leake went 12-11 in 2019 with a 4.29 ERA in 32 starts for the Angels and Diamondbacks while having the third lowest average fastball velocity among qualified pitchers at 88.6 MPH. Arizona declined an $18M option on Leake with a $5M buyout after 2020, making him a free agent.
Last but not least, here is a familiar face. Cole Hamels, now 37, is not the same pitcher who threw a no-hitter in his last start with the Phillies in 2015. Hamels does have a 3.75 ERA in 128 games since leaving the Phillies, but his 2020 was alarming. Hamels made just one start for the Braves after singing a one year deal worth $18M. He lasted just 3 ⅓ innings and allowed 3 runs before being lost for the season with left shoulder fatigue. That is after he was diagnosed with triceps tendinitis in the spring before the COVID shutdown.
The once durable left hander seemingly has had the strain of 2,698 career innings catch up to him. Hamels has the best overall recent numbers of these three and has the added bonuses of familiarity and being left handed. But his 2020 does not bode well for his ability to pitch consistent innings at his age.