The Phillies flashed Patrick Corbin’s image last November on Phanavision, spoke with J.A. Happ’s representatives during the winter meetings, and expressed mild interest in Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi.
But they ultimately chose last offseason to neglect their starting rotation. They dined with Corbin, but shied away from a six-year commitment. Why pay for Happ, the Phillies thought, when they had Jerad Eickhoff? Morton and Eovaldi? The Phillies passed and dreamed on Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez.
They opted to see what they already had behind Aaron Nola instead of plugging their rotation with a free agent. The first half of the season -- the Phillies’ current four starters not named Nola have a 5.23 ERA since June 1 -- let them know how bare their pitching was.
The Phillies will enter this offseason with an altered mindset. They will need to address their starting rotation. But why wait for winter?
Instead of piecing together their rotation this month by acquiring a rental before the July 31 trade deadline, the Phillies would be smart to pay what it costs to add a starter who is under contract past 2019. The free-agent market this winter is thin behind Gerrit Cole, who will seek the type of deal the Phillies did not want to give Corbin.
The Phillies, both in their bullpen and rotation, also are well aware how fragile free-agent pitchers can be.
The Phillies can add their starting pitcher this month and their first call should be to Toronto as the last-place Blue Jays prepare to unload their veterans, none of who will be as much in demand as 28-year-old Marcus Stroman.
The righthander earned his first All Star nod this season with a 3.18 ERA in 18 starts.
Stroman, if he were available, would be one of the premier free agents this winter. But he won’t hit the market until after 2020 and that should be enough for the Phillies to be interested.
He doesn’t generate huge strikeout numbers -- seven per nine innings -- but he owns the American League’s best ground ball rate, which would play well in Citizens Bank Park. Adding him this month would be just as much about next October as it would be about this October.
“2015 and 2016 were some of the best times of my life, being in the playoffs and pitching in those times,” Stroman said at the All-Star Game. “That’s why you play the game. That’s the moment you play it for, to play in those pressure situations where you need to thrive and people are counting on you. I never shy away in those moments.”
If the Phillies miss on Stroman, they could pivot to Tigers lefthander Matt Boyd, a 28-year-old who is under contract for the next three seasons. He has a 3.87 ERA in 18 starts and the fourth-best strikeout rate (11.94) in baseball. He would give the rotation a needed left-hander.
The price for Stroman and Boyd will be steep, as the Phillies are not the only playoff contender in the market for starting pitching. But they might be the most desperate. Jake Arreita has a bone spur in his elbow and the Phillies were already looking to address their fifth starter. They now could have two vacancies to fill.
Any deal should begin with the Phillies keeping third baseman Alec Bohm and starting pitcher Spencer Howard off the table.
Bohm has produced this season at three different levels. Howard, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, is looking the part at high-A Clearwater after the Phillies proclaimed him the best righty in the 2017 draft. Both prospects are on track to arrive next season.
Stroman admitted this week that he pays attention to trade rumors on social media. He even liked a tweet that said he could be the next ace of the Yankees.
The Yankees will be in on the Long Island native. Those rumors will only intensify in the final weeks of the month as contending teams look for pieces to get them to October while also keeping an eye on next season. And that is the outlook the Phillies need to have.
“I’m extremely passionate and extremely competitive,” Stroman said. “I want the ball in each and every moment. I’m scared of no one and I don’t think there’s any moment that is too big that I can’t take in and compete.
"I love the spotlight and I’m just looking forward to whatever my future holds.”