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August 02, 2019

MLB rumors: Which starting pitchers will Phillies target to bolster their rotation in 2020?

Regardless of whether or not the Phillies make the playoffs to end the 2019 season, Matt Klentak and the Philly front office made a clear priority for the 2020 offseason when they decided to stick with "marginal moves" to improve their team at the trade deadline.

With very little by way of pitching depth or starting pitching talent, the Phillies seem to prefer spending money than prospects to bolster their starting rotation.

Here's what the Phillies currently have to choose from to finish this year and heading into next (the stats are with the Phillies only):

Aaron Nola2650-30, 3.42 ERASigned through 2022
Jake Arrieta3318-19, 4.17 ERAPlayer option for 2020 ($20m)
Jason Vargas36Debuts FridayTeam option for 2020 ($8m)
Drew Smyly301-0, 0.69 ERAUFA in 2020
Nick Pivetta2619-26, 5.36 ERATeam control through 2023
Zach Eflin2522-29, 4.95 ERATeam control through 2022
Vince Velasquez2722-31, 4.59 ERATeam control through 2021
Jerad Eickhoff2821-30, 4.15 ERATeam control through 2021

Which of the above pitchers do you trust, aside from Nola? Arietta will cost the Phillies $20 million next season while Vargas will likely be bought out for the $2 million the Mets sent over with him in his trade (unless he really impresses this summer). Smyly is two starts into his Phillies career and has been lights out. His career track record suggests he won't keep it up.

And then you have the four-some of 20-somethings the Phillies hoped would be the future of the rotation. How many more chances will these hurlers have? All of them have been relegated to the bullpen at some point this season and if they remain in Philly that may be their future role.

Really, in 2020, the Phillies have a Cy Young candidate in Nola, an aging star in Arrieta (currently pitching with bone spurs) who will undoubtedly exercise his option in 2020, and then an embarrassment of riches. 

Because the Phillies decided not to trade for a pitcher with team control at the deadline — like Mike Minor or Matt Boyd or Noah Syndergaard — they'll be shopping for help this coming winter.

Since they've shown to be gun-shy about trading for a pitcher, lets assume they'll feel the same this offseason. With that in mind, here's a look at 10 starters they could target this coming fall.

Gerrit Cole, Astros

Cole is the crown jewel of the pitching free agent market to come. He is just 29 and has pitched like the No. 1 overall pick he was in both Pittsburgh and Houston. In seven MLB seasons, the three-time All-Star is 87-52 with a 3.30 ERA. So far in Houston for the first place Astros this year he is 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA. The chance to sign a starter still in his prime, on the right side of 30, will definitely entice the Phillies. The Astros are not likely to re-sign Cole after acquiring Zach Greinke and his gigantic contract at the trade deadline. Philadelphia may have to back the brinks truck up to be the highest bidder, but he could be the missing piece for a serious Philadelphia title push.

Cole Hamels, Cubs

Would the Phils bring back one of the most important pitchers in team history for a victory lap? The 2008 World Series MVP will be 36 next season but when he's healthy, he pitches like he's still 26. In Chicago he is 6-3 with a 2.98 ERA through 17 starts. He battled an oblique injury but is expected to be back this weekend. If he were to sign a one-year deal he could appeal to Philly.

Dallas Keuchel, Braves

Can you believe it? Keuchel again? Many have wondered what would have happened had the Phils decided to sign the 32-year-old ace this offseason. Keuchel wound up signing with the Braves well after the season started and he's pitched better than pretty much every Phillies starter not named Nola.

Alex Wood, Reds, Tanner Roark, Athletics, Zach Wheeler, Mets 

These three were all mid-rotation trade candidates at the deadline that the Phillies seemingly passed on. Because they were rentals, they'll be free agents in November. Each is a veteran with a solid but not exceptional track record.

Madison Bumgarner, Giants

Perhaps the biggest name who wasn't traded at the deadline, San Francisco's Bumgarner, will be an unrestricted free agent in a few months. He has a 3.09 ERA over 278 career starts, has been an All-Star four times and is one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. He's also just 30. He had the Phillies on his no-trade list under his last contract. If he's open to coming to Philly, you can be sure the Phils would pay him.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals

We are mentioning Strasburg but he's not technically a free agent yet. The 31-year-old Washington ace has an opt-out opportunity. If he stays, he will make $25 million next season — but if he rejects the deal you can be sure the rumors will be incessant and the Phillies will be majorly interested.

Michael Wacha, Cardinals

Wacha will interest the Phillies as he is under 30, and might benefit from a change of scenery as he's struggled in 2019. After posting an ERA of 3.20 in 2018, he has a 5.15 mark in St. Louis this season. He may be a reasonable middle of the rotation pick up for Philly.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers

Ryu's contract will expire when 2019 concludes. He is pitching better than maybe anyone in the majors, with a 11-2 record and 1.53 ERA in L.A. this season. He has just 16 walks in 135.2 innings — a ridiculous rate. The Dodgers will no doubt try and keep him, but the 32-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent and the Phils will have him on their radar.

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