If Patrick Corbin had any trouble imagining what he would like in a Phillies uniform, then he just needed to look toward left field on Tuesday afternoon as he toured Citizens Bank Park.
Corbin, one of the premier pitchers on the free-agent market, came to Philadelphia on Tuesday as the Phillies presented their sales pitch and flashed his face — with a Phillies cap attached — on the scoreboard. It is no secret that the Phillies will be active this winter. Pitching help — both in the rotation and bullpen — is near the top of their offseason list along with the hunt for a superstar position player. And Corbin could be the first move they make.
Team president Andy MacPhail expressed last month that he would like to see the Phillies' righthander-heavy starting rotation become a bit more balanced. Signing Corbin would do that. With Arizona last season, the 6-foot-3 left-hander had a 3.15 ERA and made his second All-Star team. He's 29 and posted a career-best 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings last season.
The Phillies know that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still at least two weeks away from making their decisions. Harper lives in Las Vegas, the site of the Winter Meetings, and it is expected that superagent Scott Boras will want to make his client the star of the show, which begins Dec. 10. But that will not stop the Phillies from being active earlier than that.
Signing Corbin would be a move that makes the Phillies — and their vault of money — even more attractive to Harper or Machado. Those superstars might be joining a team with a rotation headed by Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and Corbin. Corbin's addition could also allow the Phillies to use one of their young starters — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Zach Eflin — as a trade chip.
The free-agent market is usually filled with pitchers whose best years are behind them as teams pay for past performances. But there is enough evidence that Corbin is getting better. He had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and was shuffled to the bullpen in 2016. He bounced back. Last season, he relied less on his four-seam fastball and greatly improved his sinker and slider. He finished fifth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award and logged 200 innings for the first time since his surgery.
His xFIP — an advanced metric that is often preferred over ERA — was the second-best in the majors at 2.61. The Phillies value pitchers — and batters — who can control the strike zone. Corbin was just one of four pitchers last season to record a strikeout rate greater than 11 per nine while maintaining a walk rate lower than 2.25 per nine innings. The others were Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom — all three of whom were Cy Young finalists.
Corbin's career-best season came just in time for him to cash in on his free agency. But there's enough merit for the Phillies to believe that Corbin's season was not a fluke as they bet on the promise of his left arm. This winter, they have the chance to complete an almost unprecedented offseason by signing both a starting pitcher and position player who are elite talents and in their primes. They found out Tuesday what one of them will look like in a Phillies cap.