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November 17, 2023

MLB free agency: Weighing the Phillies' rumored starting pitching options

From bringing back Aaron Nola to other free-agent options in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Sonny Gray, Blake Snell, or even a trade for Corbin Burnes or Tyler Glasnow, which starting pitcher should the Phillies really pursue this winter?

The Phillies need a starting pitcher to put behind Zack Wheeler, and they'll have their options to find one this offseason. 

But until the winter meetings start in a couple of weeks, we're pretty much in a holding pattern until that first domino of free agency finally falls. 

There will be rumors aplenty until then, and there already have, linking the Phillies to various names like Sonny Gray, NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and of course a way of keeping Aaron Nola around

All options, however, have their pros and cons, along with varying levels of viability.

Here's an attempt at rounding up every rumored name, along with the Phillies' chances with them, in one place...

Aaron Nola

Comfortable but not cheap

Likely the biggest, and definitely the most familiar option. 

Nola would like to be back, and the Phillies would love to have him back, but total value and term on a new contract is going to be the deciding factor. 

As time goes on, it's only looking more and more likely that Nola's going to land a deal worth around seven years and pushing $200 million, bringing it down to a matter of whether the Phillies would be willing to match that, especially if the pursuit devolves into a bidding war amongst other pitching-needy clubs. 

And would that be worth it? To many around baseball, probably. Nola pitches a ton of innings, racks up even more strikeouts, and has put up some impressive postseason performances

But from the perspective of Phillies fans, who have watched him up close for years? Yeah, he's been great. There's no denying that, but there's also no denying that the disastrous blowup start is always a spin of the wheel away. 

You know it's coming. You just never know when, and when it does happen, like it did a little too often this past season, it can really hurt – see Game 6 of the NLCS. 

Still, Nola is arguably the best proven pitcher on the market this winter, so there has to be the discussion of whether the Phillies can do better. 

The answer to that isn't exactly clear. 

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

The big swing

Well, unless they go for the high-profile ace coming over from Japan. 

Yamamoto is going to be pricey – like Nola  – is going to have a lot of interest from other clubs, and also working against the Phils is the fact that they have next to no history of signing free agents out of Japan. 

But now would be as good of a time as any to start changing that. 

Yamamoto is coming off an impressive showing pitching for Japan in the World Baseball Classic back in the spring, and an outright dominant season hurling for the Orix Buffaloes back home in the Japanese Pacific League, which included a no-hitter in front of MLB execs

The right-hander has got devastating stuff, and he's only 25, so while Dave Dombrowski would be spending a lot, it'd be for the health of the Phillies' rotation both immediately and for the long term.

Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery

The routes for shorter term

Gray, a righty, posted a sub-3 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP in 32 starts for the Twins this past season, but he just turned 34. 

Montgomery, a lefty, put a 2.79 ERA and a 1.094 WHIP in 11 starts after the Rangers acquired him from St. Louis at the deadline, then went 3-1 in six appearances on the way to Texas' first World Series title. He'll turn 31 next month. 

Both represent slightly older options, and perhaps maybe a slight step down from Nola, too. However, one of the hangups the Phillies seem to have with re-signing Nola is contract length. 

Nola's looking at probably seven years for his next deal. 

Gray and Montgomery are projected to be within 4-6 years and more than likely at a lower, but still expensive cost. 

It would offer the Phillies a bit more flexibility though, especially knowing that Wheeler will be due up for a deal after 2024. 

Blake Snell

Won the Cy Young, but...

OK, so Blake Snell won the NL Cy Young and that absolutely does count for something, but – as Phillies Nation's Destiny Lugardo originally pointed out – he did so pitching significantly fewer innings compared to the other two finalists (180.0 to Zac Gallen's 210.0 and Logan Webb's 216.0) and with an inflated walks per nine innings rate (5.0) to counterbalance his absurdly high strikeouts per nine clip (11.7). 

Additionally, he's been inconsistent from year to year and only just reached the 180 innings mark for the first time since 2018 – only the second time he's done so in his eight-year career too – lending to the idea that his 2023 might've been an exception rather than the rule. 

Again, the 30-year-old lefty did win the Cy Young, and that means something – especially now that he's won it twice. And he was one of the early names linked to the Phils in free agent rumors, too. 

But I wouldn't let that shiny new award distract so easily here. The Phillies at least don't seem to be, per The Athletic's Jayson Stark:

But here’s one often-rumored name they appear to be just lukewarm on. That’s the likely NL Cy Young, Blake Snell, whose walk rate, inconsistency and lack of year-in, year-out volume make him almost the diametric opposite of Nola. However, if Nola hits the exit ramp and Yamamoto goes to a team with a richer history with Japanese players, Snell could still be in play. [The Athletic]

Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow

The trade plays

With a year of team control remaining for each, Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes and Tampa Bay's Tyler Glasnow are names being thrown around on the speculative trade market

Obviously, moves for either of them will cost the Phillies something in the way of prospects and roster players rather than a hefty check, but they should still be two names worth looking into if the Brewers or the Rays are in search of a trade. 

Burnes is a three-time All-Star, the 2021 NL Cy Young winner, and one of the Brewers' top starters. He made 32 starts and pitched 193.2 innings this past season, posting 200 Ks, a 1.069 WHIP, and a strikeout per nine rate of 9.3 to a walk rate of 3.1 

Glasnow, who has been steadily working his way back from injury and a hybrid Tommy John surgery in the past couple of years, made his return in 2023 and put in 120.0 innings over 21 starts, recording a 3.53 ERA, a 1.083 WHIP, and 12.2 Ks per nine to 2.8 walks per nine. Next season also stands to be his first fully healthy one since suffering his initial elbow issues.

And for what it's worth, here's Glasnow talking about the Phils and the CBP atmosphere during their recent postseason run on the Foul Territory podcast:

Don't forget: Dombrowski is no stranger to making the huge offseason trade.

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