The Phillies will always be able to cling to the supersized image of Patrick Corbin wearing a red cap that shined last week on Phanavision. It was one of their top priorities to end this offseason with that image -- Corbin in a Phillies uniform -- as a reality. But in the end, it was just an image.
The Phillies whiffed on Corbin, as the free-agent left-hander agreed Tuesday to join the Nationals on a six-year deal worth $140 million, according to the Washington Post. Not only did the Phillies lose out on one of their top targets, but they lost him to a division rival. That’s a stinging loss.
But the search for another pitcher did not start and end with Corbin. The Phillies have plenty of time to add another arm to join Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta at the top of their rotation. They would prefer that pitcher to be left-handed to add balance to a right-handed-heavy rotation. But they will not add a left-hander just to add a left-hander.
“Am I optimistic? That’s hard to tell,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Monday night when asked whether he though the team could add a starting pitcher. “I can tell you this: We are open to the idea of adding to our rotation, particularly in the form of a left-hander to create more balance on our pitching staff. Whether we’re going to line up with a free agent or a trade partner to make that happen, I’m not sure. It’s not a secret. We’ve been talking to several pitchers. We’re definitely exploring that path.”
If the Phillies do explore a trade, there are candidates on the market who didn’t seem so obvious just five weeks ago. The Giants have made left-handed Madison Bumgarner available and the Phillies are certainly in the mix. He has just one year left on his contract, which means he would come with almost no commitment, compared with the six years the Phillies would have had to give Corbin. His strikeout numbers, and walk rates have all worsened in the last two seasons. But Bumgarner does not turn 30 until August and still posted a 3.26 ERA last season. He may not be dominant as he was once was, but a one-year gamble could be worth it, as long as the prospect haul is not drastic.
Cleveland is listening to offers on right-hander Corey Kluber, who turns 33 in April but logged his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings last season and recorded his second-straight sub-3.00 ERA season. Kluber has three years left on his contract, with 2020 and 2021 both being club options. The Phillies will certainly check in with Cleveland.
J.A. Happ is left-handed and could be had with less commitment than Corbin. The former Phillies pitcher turned 36 in October and ended his season with a 2.69 ERA in his final 11 starts after the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline. He may not be as flashy as Corbin, but he has proven to be a reliable, steady presence. Happ has logged at least 170 innings in three of the last four seasons.
Nathan Eovaldi, who ended his season with the World Champion Red Sox, is also a possibility. He has a history of elbow problems, which could be a concern. Eovaldi missed the 2017 season after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery and the first two months of last season after having another elbow surgery at the end of spring training. But Eovaldi’s average fastball, 97.82 mph, was just as fast this season as it was before surgery. He seemed to get stronger as the season progressed, finishing the year with a 3.33 ERA in his two months with Boston.
The Phillies could also return to Charlie Morton, who pitched briefly for them in 2016 before reinventing himself the last two seasons with Houston. Morton, who turned 35 last month, had a 3.13 ERA last season in a career-high 30 starts. He struck out 201 batters and walked just 64 in 167 innings. In his 11th season, Morton recorded the highest strikeout rate of his career. The Phillies may choose to bet on that success.
Morton’s Astros teammate, Dallas Keuchel, is also available, and he happens to be left-handed. He turns 31 on New Year’s Day and is coming off a season in which he made a career high in starts, with 34, but regressed in nearly every other category. Keuchel had a 3.74 ERA in 204 2/3 innings with 6.7 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per innings. He will likely yield a commitment longer than Morton and Happ, but shorter than Corbin. From 2014 to 2017, Keuchel had a sub-3.00 in three of those four years. He was one of baseball’s elite young arms, and that could be worth taking a chance on.
The Phillies will now likely have to settle with a consolation prize. But the search continues. The Winter Meetings begin Monday in Las Vegas. Finding a pitcher -- and courting Bryce Harper and Manny Machado -- will be on the agenda. The Phillies won’t have Corbin. They instead will have that one November morning when his face brightened their ballpark and the disappointment that followed a week later.