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November 05, 2018

MLB free agency rumors: Phillies expected to be 'major players' for Patrick Corbin in quest for top-end starting pitching

A lot of the talk surrounding the Phillies this offseason has focused on a pair of names, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. And for good reason. Those two are the top free agent hitters available this winter, and not only are the Phillies reportedly interested in signing one (or both), but they're also the current betting favorites to land Machado and Harper. 

But the Phillies, who despite a major improvement over recent seasons still failed to finish .500 or better in 2018, also need pitching help. Here's a look at their starting rotation from last season.

Aaron Nola 25 17-6
2.37 0.975 212.1 224
Jake Arrieta 32 10-11
3.96 1.286 172.2 138
Nick Pivetta 25 7-14
4.77 1.305 164.0 188
Vince Velasquez 26 9-12
4.85 1.343 146.2 161
Zach Eflin 24 11-8
4.36 1.305 128.0 123

While they have a young group of starters — with the obvious exception of last offseason's big-name acquisition Jake Arrieta — they could clearly use some help behind 2018 Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola, something general manager Matt Klentak admitted during an recent radio hit on WIP.

While many of the Phillies' young starters — other than Nola — showed promise in 2018, Phillies Vice President and General Manager Matt Klentak said Thursday on SportsRadio 94 WIP that he would "love" to sign a "top-end, front-line starter" this offseason.

“That makes us no different than the 29 other teams. Everyone is looking for that," he said. "We’ve talked — for the last three years or so since I’ve been on the job — about the importance of starting pitching. If you have good starting pitching, you have a chance to win every night.

"Even in some of our early rebuilding years, where we weren’t a very good team, we tried to run out an incredible Major League staff. I think, for the most part, we did that. Obviously, it’s getting better now."  []

While those words were expectedly vague from the Phillies GM and there are a number of free agent pitchers on the market this winter, it appears that one name could be at the top of the Phillies wishlist — in addition to Machado and Harper. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB free agency could get a little crazy this season. And Klentak and Co. appear ready to make a strong push for Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin, who was extended a qualifying offer, but will test his luck in free agency. 

In the baseball offseason, we live for the crazy, the signings or trades that stun us because of the dollar amount, the shock value or both. Think Albert Pujols to the Angels in December 2011, Zack Greinke to the D-Backs in December 2015, Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees in December 2017 — and any number of others.

So, what will qualify as crazy this offseason? The Bryce Harper and Manny Machado free-agent contracts, of course, loom as the early favorites. Many fans will decry the dollar amounts, which figure to exceed $300 million for each, forgetting that most owners are far wealthier than the top players will ever be, and that some occasionally long for shiny new toys, efficiency be damned. Yet, even aside from Harper and Machado, my guess is we’re going to see a whole lot of crazy, or at least transactions that will startle us, due to a number of shifting dynamics in the market: ... 

• The Phillies, operating in the sweet spot of burgeoning local TV money and few existing contractual commitments, are expected to be a major player for Machado or Harper and the top starting pitcher in free agency, Patrick Corbin. Going 0 for 3 likely will trigger a parade of angry fans down Broad Street, demanding answers.  []

Without even throwing a pitch for the Phillies, Corbin would bring something to the rotation that it's desperately missing: a left-handed starter. But that's just part of what the 29-year-old offers. In 2018, Corbin had the best season of his career, made his second All-Star Game and finished with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings for the Diamondbacks. 

But just because the Phillies have a need and plenty of money to spend, that doesn't mean landing Corbin is a no-brainer for Philly, largely because he's the best lefty free agent pitcher on the market and, as always, there are going to be others interested. 

And the Phillies aren't the only team with deep pockets.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to signing Corbin is that the New York Yankees appear to have him No. 1 on their list of targets this offseason. And the feeling may be mutual. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last month that the Yankees intend to make a push for Corbin. Corbin, a former second-round pick, told Bob Nightengale of USA Today in April that it “would be great” to play for the Yankees, who were his favorite team as a kid. It doesn’t appear the Yankees have serious interest in Harper, and it appears that unless Machado’s price drops drastically from some of the speculated numbers, the Yankees would prefer to spend on someone like Corbin.

An unnamed National League executive told The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan in September that he would be “shocked” if Corbin didn’t receive a contract in excess of $100 million this offseason. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected at the outset of free-agency that Corbin would receive a six-year/$129 million free-agent contract. $129 million may not be what it once was, but it’s still a hefty sum to give to a pitcher that’s already had Tommy John Surgery once. A team like the Yankees, who won over 100 games in 2018 and are looking to catch the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, would be more motivated to spend that type of money on a pitcher that will turn 30 next season than the Phillies, who went 80-82 in 2018.  []

Unlike NBA and NFL free agency, when all the signings seem to take place on the same day, MLB free agency is much more of a slow burn, so it may take some time before we know whether or the not the Phillies make good on their promise to be aggressive this winter.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the latest... 

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